Sonny Bill Williams: 'We've been taught to be embarrassed of Islam'

New Zealand rugby star Sonny Bill Williams reflects on his Islamic faith and how he felt compelled to speak out after the terror attacks in Christchurch.

Posted: Dec 12, 2019 10:40 AM
Updated: Dec 12, 2019 10:40 AM

After the Christchurch terror attacks, Sonny Bill Williams knew he had to speak out.

The 34-year-old felt the responsibility not only because of his status as an All Black -- a star of New Zealand's esteemed rugby team -- but also as one of the country's most recognized Muslims.

Over 50 people were killed in March after a gunman opened fire in two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The shooter, Australian citizen Brenton Harrison Tarrant, was motivated by anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideology.

"I was hurting, I know New Zealanders were hurting, Muslims were hurting, so I had to step up, I had to get into that space and be vulnerable," Williams, who recently announced he would be switching from rugby union to league having signed for the Toronto Wolfpack, told CNN Sport's Alex Thomas.

"Sometimes I didn't know what I was doing but I knew that I was trying to be positive and I think as New Zealanders we've really led the way in that space and talking about the elephant in the room."

READ: New Zealand's Crusaders change logo after Christchurch attack

At the time of the attack, Williams released an emotional message paying tribute to the victims, saying he was "deeply saddened that this would happen in New Zealand." He also visited survivors in hospital and attended a prayer meeting near Al Noor mosque where the attacks took place.

Williams converted to Islam in 2008 and says he wouldn't have achieved as much as he has as an athlete were it not for his faith.

"My soul was yearning for something, I didn't know what that was," he says, reflecting on the early days of his career.

"I was young I was, I guess, insecure. All I knew was rugby and rugby league. That game actually defined who I was. If I had a good game, I felt like I was a good person. If I had a bad game, I wouldn't want to leave the house.

"I think that's what Islam has given me. It's allowed me to be vulnerable enough to step into certain situations and environments and lead and thrive and put myself out there."

READ: Sonny Bill Williams hoping to 'open doors' with rugby league switch

Pushing positivity

Williams, a two-time Rugby World Cup winner with the All Blacks, bowed out of rugby union after this year's competition in Japan.

One of the most successful cross-code athletes in sport, he's played league, union and sevens at the highest level, as well winning all seven of his heavyweight boxing fights.

With his move to Toronto to play in rugby league's 13-a-side format, Williams is thought to be the sport's highest-paid athlete having signed a two-year deal worth $10 million.

He has regularly featured in the Muslim 500 -- a list of the world's most influential Muslims -- alongside Liverpool and Egypt forward Mo Salah, Manchester United and France midfielder Paul Pogba and UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov.

"Over time as I become more confident in the person, the man that I am, I think in today's society we've been taught to be embarrassed of Islam, to be embarrassed because of a few bad apples that are out there," said Williams.

"I'm not a politician, but I just do what I feel is right and I'm grateful and blessed that sport has allowed me to use that vehicle to push I guess a bit more positivity out there into the world."

READ: Sonny Bill Williams becomes the world's richest rugby player

Williams famously gave away his Rugby World Cup winners' medal to a fan who broke onto the pitch to hug the center, only to be tackled to the ground by a steward.

He ended his All Blacks career with a third-place finish at this year's World Cup having scored 13 tries in 58 appearances.

He now begins preparation for the new Super League season, where Toronto Wolfpack has recently earned promotion to the league mainly comprised of English teams. Toronto's first game is against Castleford on February 2.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1125420

Reported Deaths: 20490
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1305631493
Cuyahoga1173952263
Hamilton825481261
Montgomery536581062
Summit489381014
Lucas43799834
Butler40064614
Stark33876939
Lorain26072510
Warren24959312
Mahoning22738613
Lake21482396
Clermont20425261
Delaware19169138
Licking16879227
Trumbull16829492
Fairfield16825207
Medina15880276
Greene15565254
Clark14366308
Portage13450218
Wood13358201
Allen12064245
Richland11748213
Miami11047228
Wayne9275228
Columbiana9216236
Muskingum9144137
Pickaway8755123
Tuscarawas8724255
Marion8716140
Erie8146166
Ashtabula7280179
Hancock7050135
Ross7031165
Geauga6975153
Scioto6726108
Belmont6224179
Lawrence5964104
Union591649
Jefferson5729162
Huron5644122
Sandusky5498130
Darke5448131
Seneca5380128
Washington5373111
Athens527260
Auglaize507787
Mercer491785
Shelby484397
Knox4621113
Madison448066
Ashland446198
Defiance439499
Fulton436875
Putnam4358104
Crawford4120111
Brown410462
Preble3956107
Logan392279
Clinton391466
Ottawa376481
Highland366668
Williams357378
Champaign349860
Guernsey331554
Jackson321954
Perry299050
Morrow294943
Fayette289350
Hardin279665
Henry277467
Coshocton273061
Holmes2726102
Van Wert252365
Gallia251150
Adams250958
Pike244837
Wyandot235557
Hocking222963
Carroll201449
Paulding180142
Meigs151540
Monroe137945
Noble137939
Harrison115438
Morgan111724
Vinton87517
Unassigned04
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 90°
Angola
Mostly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 85°
Huntington
Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 87°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 90°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
84° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 89°
Cooler and drier air settles in across the region to round out the work week.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events