Muslim cleric asks if FIFA could ban sign of the cross in football games

A Muslim cleric sparked debate online after asking if footballers should be allowed to make the sign of the cross during a game.Reuters

A Muslim cleric has asked if FIFA could ban players from making the sign of the cross in celebaration during football matches.

Mohammed Alarefe, a professor and cleric from Saudi Arabia, was widely criticised when he asked if the sporting association disallowed making the symbol of the cross on one's chest in a match, according to the Daily Mail.

Alarefe tweeted on May 5: 'I've seen video clips of athletes, soccer players running, shooting and when they win they make the symbol of the cross on their chests and my question is if FIFA's rules forbid this.'

The tweet drew a range of responses online, with many reportedly criticising the suggestion, saying it was divisive.

Others pointed out that many players appear to bow in Muslim prayer when they kneel to the ground in celebration of scoring a goal.

One user, Sultan Alhusni, tweeted about an Egyptian player, Mohamed Salah, who plays for Italian club Roma. He wrote: 'I can't lie. Mohamed Salah and others kneel to pray when they score a goal and no one punishes them. Leave the sport to those who deal with it.'

Another said: 'Even Muslim players celebrate their own way, FIFA brings us together'.

Alarefe is a professor of religion at King Saud University in Riyadh, and has 17.4 million Twitter followers. He does not appear to have commented on the matter beyond his initial tweet.