Departing All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams reflects on how Islam changed his life.

With the Gun Control Select Committee crisis bringing the Islamic crisis back to the media this day, the dutiful NZ media needed someone out of the can to portray Islam in a good light again. So here it is.
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Nothing to see here folks, it’s just ordinary Islam.

Departing All Black Sonny Bill Williams has opened up on his wild ways and how it left him with “emptiness in his heart”.

The 34-year-old midfielder was on Friday unveiled as a Toronto Wolfpack player after a sensational switch to the Canadian league club – a deal reported to be worth almost $10 million, making Williams the best-paid rugby union and league player in history.

One of the country’s most divisive sporting figures, the code-swapping superstar has been making headlines on and off the pitch ever since he was first signed to the NRL by the Bulldogs in 2002.

In a candid interview with the BBC, Williams admitted to being “at the other end of the spectrum” before converting to Islam while playing for French club Toulon 10 years ago.

“Look, I chased girls. I drank alcohol, spent lavishly and thought I was someone that I wasn’t. I lived that life and, in my experience, what did it give me? Hollowness and emptiness in my heart,” Williams said.

Sonny Bill Williams at his introductory press conference with the Toronto Wolfpack. Photo / Photosport

“It took a few years for the process, but I found Allah, I found Islam and it really allowed me to turn the wildness in myself into positivity.

“With the way that I have driven as a sportsman to succeed, those two together have allowed me to reach where I am today.”

Williams controversially left the NRL team in the middle of the 2008 season to join Toulon, leading to legal wranglings between the clubs.

He also regularly made front-page news for off-field troubles like speeding and drink-driving – and the infamous drunken encounter with Australian ironwoman and now wife of cricketer David Warner, Candice (née Falzon).

In the interview, Williams credit his faith and family for turning around his life.

“Alhamdulillah (thanking God) means everything,” Williams told the BBC.

“Drinking a glass of water – Alhamdulillah. Having an opportunity to speak to you – Alhamdulillah. Seeing my wife and kids – Alhamdulillah. I always have my creator in the front of my mind.”

Williams received global praise for visiting members of the community following the Christchurch massacre in March that left 51 people dead.

“Being one of the most high-profile Muslims in New Zealand and playing for the national team, the All Blacks, at the time, I knew that it was my duty,” he says.

“I am a pretty shy guy but I had to step up, and I knew I had to be vulnerable in that space. I stepped up and represented not just the Muslim community that was hurting, but also the New Zealand community.

“As New Zealanders, we have done that and are leading in that space – and I am proud to say I was a part of that.”

NZ Herald