It was in the cave of Hira that the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran. For rugby’s original wild child Sonny Bill Williams, meeting a Tunisian family who lived with their five children in a one-bedroom flat in the south of France proved pivotal to his conversion to Islam.
The New Zealander’s unshakeable belief in the Almighty has proved to be the making of one of the island nation’s most gifted — and controversial — sports stars.
“I was real close with them, and I saw how happy and content they were. And to see how they lived their lives, it was just simple,” Sonny Bill Williams, a prodigious rugby talent, professional boxer and tattooed poster boy, tells CNN’s Human to Hero series.
“One thing I’ve learned over my career is that simplicity is the key. On the field, off as well.”
“I’ve become a true Muslim,” added Williams. “It’s giving me happiness. It’s made me become content as a man, and helped me to grow. I’ve just got faith in it and it has definitely helped me become the man I am today.”
Williams became the youngest player to be signed by an NRL team, winning his first Grand Final as an 18-year-old with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2004, and was the youngest to represent New Zealand’s Kiwis league side.
“I grew up as a Christian, like many Polynesians do, and moving to Australia suddenly when I was 15, I learned a lot about Muslim faith,” he says.
It was in Toulon where, having fled Australia under threats of lawsuits from his jilted employer, his conversion to Islam was realized.
Having to adhere to the rule of Ramadan fasting has given him a new perspective on some of the things we take for granted.
“When you do Ramadan and you go for the whole month, you’re that much more appreciative of being able to eat food and drink water — that’s what it’s designed to do,” he says.
But faith in the divine can only do so much, he says — the rest is up to you.
“To be the best you definitely have to have some God-given talents, but you also have to have the drive and the will and the dedication,” Williams explains.
“Simplicity is the key and I just try to keep things as simple as I can. But I never lose that one thing that’s got me there — that’s drive, working hard, doing all the little things, ticking all the boxes.”