Mohammad Yousuf formerly Yousuf Youhana, یوسف یوحنا; born 27 August 1974) is a Pakistani right-handed batsman. Prior to his conversion to Islam in 2005, Yousuf was one of only a few Christians to play for the Pakistan cricket team. Yousuf was effectively banned from playing international cricket for Pakistan, for an indefinite period by the Pakistan Cricket Board on 10 March 2010, following an inquiry into the team’s defeat during the tour of Australia. An official statement was released by the Pakistan Cricket Board, saying that he would not be selected again on the grounds of inciting infighting within the team.On 29 March 2010, Yousuf announced his retirement from all forms of international cricket, a direct reaction to the indefinite ban handed out to him by PCB. However following Pakistan’s disastrous first Test against England in July/August 2010, PCB decided to ask Yousuf to come out of retirement.
Yousuf was born in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan to a family who had converted from a Hindu low caste Balmiki to Christianity. His father Youhana Maseeh worked at the railway station, the family lived in the nearby Railway Colony. As a boy, he couldn’t afford a bat and so swatted his brother’s taped tennis ball offerings with wooden planks of various dimensions on surfaces masquerading as roads. As a 12-year-old, he was spotted by the Golden Gymkhana, though even then only circumstances dictated his ambitions and never thought of playing cricket, to make a living. He joined Lahore’s Forman Christian College and continued playing until suddenly giving up in early 1994. For a time he tried his luck driving rickshaws in Bahawalpur.
Yousuf, hailing from poor background, was plucked from the obscurity of a tailor’s shop in the slums of the eastern city of Lahore to play a local match in the 1990s. His well-crafted shots attracted attention and he rose through the ranks to become one of Pakistan’s best batsmen. He was set to work at a tailor’s when he was pulled back by a local club was short of players. They called him to make up numbers and made a hundred which led to a season in the Bradford Cricket League, with Bowling Old Lane, and a path back into the game.
Conversion to Islam
Until his conversion to Islam in 2005, Yousuf was the fourth Christian (and fifth non-Muslim overall) to play for the Pakistan cricket team, following in the footsteps of Wallis Mathias, Antao D’Souza and the Anglo-Pakistani Duncan Sharpe. He also has the distinction of being the first and so far only non-Muslim to captain the country, leading the team in the 2004–05 tour of Australia where he scored a century in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He converted to Islam after attending regular preaching sessions of the Tablighi Jamaat, Pakistan’s largest non-political religious grouping, whose preachers include Yousuf’s former team-mate Saeed Anwar and his brother.
His wife Tania converted along with him and adopted the Islamic name Fatima. However, the news was kept private for three months due to family reasons, before his announcement of their conversion publicly in September 2005. “I don’t want to give Yousuf my name after what he has done”, his mother was quoted as saying by the Daily Times newspaper. “We came to know about his decision when he offered Friday prayers at a local mosque. It was a shock”, his mother was reported as saying. However, Yousuf told the BBC that “I cannot tell you what a great feeling it is.” As part of his conversion, Yousuf officially changed his name from Yousuf Youhana to Mohammad Yousuf. Former Pakistan cricketer and sports commentator Rameez Raja, who himself is Muslim, acknowledged the significance of Yousuf’s new faith: “Religion has played an integral part in his growth not just as a cricketer but as a person.”