Saudi player juggles religion, soccer
Every morning before sunrise, Saleh Alkhdairi rolls out his prayer rug, kneels down facing east towards Mecca, he begins to pray and embrace God.
Alkhdairi, 20, will pray another four times each day. He is from Saudi Arabia and is one of three Muslims on the City College soccer team.
“There are two types of prayers. One is with actions and it requires ablution and a rug.” Alkhdairi said. “And there are the saying prayers. I pray the second one before every game on the field.”
Ablution is an act of cleansing ones self by washing the hands and face, rinsing the mouth, washing the arms to the elbows, wiping the ears, cleansing the whole head with a wet hand and finishing it by washing the feet.
“This is the most important duty for Muslims,” Alkhdairi said. “It taught me discipline and got me closer to God.”
Alkhdairi shows his discipline and faith through prayer but proves his willingness to sacrifice when it comes to observing Ramadan; the holy month of fasting in the Islamic religion.
During this period, he will not eat or drink anything when the sun is up. It just so happens that part of Ramadan coincides with August try-outs and training camp for the soccer team.
“Logically it seems so difficult, but at the same time, for some reason I felt like it wasn’t that difficult.” Alkhdairi said. “I don’t have an explanation for it. When I look back at it, I am surprised that I managed to do it.”
Though unable to eat or take a drink any water with teammates, he solidified his spot on City College’s roster.
“I didn’t find that much difficulty to adapt with the team.” Alkhdairi said. “It was very easy and I am used to this kind of training.”
Alkhdairi has played soccer since he was six and it has been a major part of his life, but when he first started his parents were worried.
“When I first played for clubs my family wasn’t very supportive. They thought it would affect my performance in school,” Alkhdairi said. “But when I succeeded in school and soccer they became very supportive.”
Alkhdairi specializes in playing holding-midfielder, a position with the primary role of breaking up opposition attacks.
“Alkhdairi is a fun and talkative person off the field,” said teammate Ebrima Njie. “But, when it comes to soccer, he is a very focused and serious player.”
Soccer is a major sport in Saudi Arabia and its national team is considered one of Asia’s most successful with three Asian Football Confederation cups. Even with soccer’s popularity, one would be hard-pressed to find it played in school.
According to head soccer coach John Sisterson, that could be the main reason why people from the Middle East come to the U.S.
“They don’t play organized soccer as they do here in colleges and universities.” Sisterson said. “It is more of a club sport.”
For Alkhdairi, it’s more about the education than the soccer. He wants to become a dentist and studying in America is a family tradition.
“I have always wanted to come to the USA. My father studied his master’s here, and I always heard stories from him when I was a child.” Alkhdairi said. “Now I’m here looking for a better education and I had a scholarship from the Saudi government.”
Approximately 5,000 Saudi students earn a scholarship every year to study in the United States. To get a scholarship from the government, students need to have high grades in high school and must take the standardized SAT and ACT test.
When asked what kind of misconceptions Americans might have about his homeland, Alkhdairi responded laughing that it’s not all deserts and camels.
“It’s completely not true. There are big modern cities in Saudi and tall buildings and there are all kinds of convenient transportation, not camels though,” he said laughing.
Alkhdairi and his teammates finish up a three-game road trip at Glendale Tuesday Oct. 23. The Vaqueros return home to face L.A. Mission on Friday, Oct. 26, at La Playa stadium for a 7 p.m. match.