Surprised to find himself in the eye of a cultural firestorm, the organizer of an Irvine flag football tournament for young Islamic men said Thursday that he will urge participants to change team names, which have angered some religious leaders.
"I'm going to lay out what happened and tell [the players] the seriousness of the situation," said organizer Tarek Shawky, the 29-year-old captain of the squad called the Intifada. "It's important to keep the entire community together, and we're responsible for our actions. I'm confident that they will make the right decision."
The damage control comes after nearly a week of widespread media reports on the league and the players' decision to use Intifada and Mujahideen as team names; another name, Soldiers of Allah, has already been changed.
Intifada, which means "uprising" in Arabic, is used by Palestinians to describe their struggle against Israel, while "mujahideen" is often translated as "holy warrior" and is associated with armed Islamic resistance movements.
Supporters of the football league said the controversial names were misunderstood by non-Muslims. League organizers insisted that the names were simply a sign of bravado and support for Muslims in the Middle East.
Jewish leaders and community members, however, said that the names at best were insensitive and at worst glorified terrorists. Also troubling, interfaith leaders said, was that in a post-Sept. 11 era these suburban American Muslims risked doing further damage to the image of Islam in the United States, regardless of whether they acted out of religious convictions or youthful machismo.
Shawky has received hundreds of e-mails -- some supportive, some hateful -- as well as dozens of interview requests from media outlets. Through it all, he has insisted that the players never meant to offend anyone. And he still can't quite understand the uproar that has ensued.
If given the chance to start again, "I would give the names Team No. 1, Team No. 2, Team No. 3 and Team No. 4," he said. "These are just kids who want to go out and play some football. They want to get this behind them."
But not everyone agrees that the names should be changed. Among them is Sabih Khan, another league organizer and former Irvine High football player. He blames the controversy on people who, he said, are taking the Arabic words out of context.
"We do not want to create any more controversy," he said. "We just want to resolve the situation, but there's no way we can resolve it. The people who are going off on us can."
One of the loudest voices criticizing the league's team names has been that of Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. He spoke out against the monikers on a CNN television program Wednesday night. He believes that the names chosen were too closely linked to terrorist groups and ran the risk of venerating them.
Irvine officials believe their quiet efforts to bring league organizers and community leaders together will lead to a resolution.
"It is important that we work through this," Mayor Larry Agran said, "without people outside of Irvine screaming at us -- people who have no clue as to the nature of our community."
He said the city had no official role in resolving the situation, adding that it could not legally prevent players from keeping the names. But he expressed confidence that the team members would change them.
Times staff writer William Lobdell contributed to this report.