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Usman Khawaja Never Asked To Be Australia's Poster Child For Muslim Success

He's a Test cricketer, not the linchpin of an argument against Peter Dutton.

28/11/2016 11:19 AM AEDT | Updated 28/11/2016 3:24 PM AEDT
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Usman Khawaja. A bloke.

Usman Khawaja is a cricketer, and a bloody good one. That's the first and most relevant thing you need to know about him.

The second thing you might like to know is that Khawaja topped the run-scoring for both sides in the three Test series against South Africa, which Australia lost 2-1. You can wallow in all the nerdishly delicious stats from the series via Cricinfo.

The third thing you might like to know is that Khawaja is a Muslim who was born in Islamabad, Pakistan, which is interesting, but also largely irrelevant to his increasingly senior position within the Australian cricket team.

But over the weekend, a lot of people turned Khawaja's ethnic and religious heritage into a big thing, dragging him into a debate which he never asked to be dragged into. Here are a couple of tweets that did the rounds.

As you can see, these views were widely shared. There were others like them too. And what they all had in common was that they effectively made Khawaja a pawn in the debate over the inflammatory comments from immigration minister Peter Dutton last week.

Dutton, you'll recall, cited security advice that 22 of 33 terrorism offenders were second and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim Australians. These comments understandably made many people angry.

Meanwhile over in the cricket, Khawaja played a wonderfully crafted seven-and-a-half-hour innnigs of 145, which set up Australia's victory. And in the minds of some, the two narratives fused. Which wasn't really fair to Khawaja, as he has never, ever used his religious faith to make any sort of statement.

Jason Reed / Reuters
Ussie. Ussie. Ussie. Oi! Oi! Oi!

Khawaja has opened up once, and once only, about being Australia's first Muslim cricketer. That was in The Australian last year, and his interview contained a lovely line which served as a gentle tap on the shoulder to those who would politicise his identity to serve their own arguments.

"When I got that century at the Gabba, it was Slats (Michael Slater), I think, who said, 'That is the first century for Australia by a Muslim. Who was the first Christian to get a century for Australia?"

Touché. Khawaja also said in that piece in The Australian that his Muslim faith is an integral part of who he is, but that he's never made "a big fuss about it". If you're really interested, no, he doesn't drink, and yes, he prays, but not in the dressing room. He also puts his socks on before his shoes.

In highly politically charged times such as these, we can all fall into the trap of turning people like Usman Khawaja into symbols, into beacons of hope. Khawaja gives the very strong impression he'd prefer to be seen as a beacon of hope for a cricket team in recovery. Like many Islamic Australians, he's just doing what he he does without making a big thing of it.

In other news, Dutton found time to congratulate young Aussie opening batsman Matt Renshaw, who grew up in his electorate.

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