Muslims Look To Athletes As Faith Ambassadors

Posted on March 19, 2007


By Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service

[…] “It can be a struggle growing up Muslim in America,” said Saleem, whose family emigrated from Pakistan shortly before he was born. “So when you see other Muslims doing and succeeding at the sports you love, that can’t help but give you a lift.”

In their primes, Ali and Abdul-Jabbar gave the small population of Muslim Americans, comprising mostly immigrants and their children, figures who validated their identities and proved Muslims could succeed in America.

Today, there are more Muslims in U.S. sports than ever. But despite calls for better understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds, few Muslim athletes have emerged as ambassadors of the faith like Ali and Abdul-Jabbar. That leaves Saleem wondering about his children: “Who are going to be the role models for them?”

Ali began an improbable comeback in 1970, five years after Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened the nation’s doors to an unprecedented number of Muslim immigrants.

Three years earlier, Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight boxing title for declining to serve in Vietnam. The stand garnered Ali, who in 1975 left the Nation of Islam for mainstream Sunni Islam, admiration and criticism. To many Muslim Americans, Ali was a source of pride and hope. Please view a video showing some of Muhammad Ali’s boxing matches:

Congress honored Ali with a resolution on Jan. 17, his 65th birthday, noting his athletic and humanitarian accomplishments as well as his faith. “Ali is a devout Sunni Muslim and travels the world over, working for hunger and poverty relief, supporting education efforts of all kinds, promoting adoption, and encouraging people to respect and better understand one another.” [more]
After Ali fought his last fight in 1981, basketball legends Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon succeeded him as Muslim-American sports heroes.

Abdul-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in 1972, retired in 1989 as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to two championships and won admiration for fasting during Ramadan, when the NBA season and the Muslim holy month coincided. He retired in 2002. Please click below to view some of the highlights of Abdul Jabbar and of Olajuwon:

Video Highlights of Kareem Abdul Jabbar:

Video Highlights of Hakeem ‘the Dream’ Olajuwon:

“We don’t have the superstars now,” said Saleem, explaining that the likes of an Ali or Abdul-Jabbar come around once in a lifetime.

But a few Muslim-American athletes today are willing to act as bridge-builders between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“I feel I have to portray my religion as well as I can because a lot of times I am the first contact that people have with a Muslim,” said Hamza Abdullah, who plays in the National Football League for the Denver Broncos.

When the team travels to games, Abdullah dons a dress suit and a kufi, or Muslim prayer cap, hoping the image of a poised NFL pro will counter television shows like “24,” in which Muslims are depicted as terrorists. [more]

Please click here to read whole article.

Note from Rafik Beekun: Actually, Muslims globally can look to Ali and other Muslim athletes like him as faith ambassadors. Zineddine Zidane, in spite of the unfortunate headbutting incident during the 2006 World Cup (where he had been provoked), will always be remembered as one of the greatest soccer players ever, and he is a tremendous faith ambassador for all of us. Here is a clip celebrating his accomplishments:

Another great ambassador for Muslims is Hicham El Guerrouj. Please click below to watch Hicham break the world record for the one mile run.

In the field of super heavy weight lifting, Muslims can look to Hossein Rezazadeh, possibly currently the greatest super heavy weight lifter in the world. In the 2000 Olympics, Hossein was only 22 years old, and was competing for the +105kg (heaviest) weight lifting category. He went on the stage, moved his both hands upward, looked up and shouted loudly “ALLAH-HO-AKBAR (God Is Great)”, then he put his hand on the weight which was heavier then any man had ever picked, and with a snatch he was lifting the world record with the help of Allah. He had lifted 468 1/4 pounds (212.5 kg) in the snatch category (you have to lift the weight at once) and had just smashed the world record made few minutes ago. Next, in the, clean and jerk category (you have to first put weight below your neck and then raise it above you), he raised up 573 pounds (260 kg) on a single lift to to break another world Record of 1,025 1/4 pounds (465 kg). By the Grace of Allah, he won the Olympic super heavyweight gold.

At the World Weight Lifting Championships in 2002, he broke the World Record of total weight lifted by lifting 472.5 kg. He outclassed all of competitors in both clean and jerk, snatch categories to win 3 gold medals and becoming World Heavy Weight Lifting Champion by the Grace of Allah. Watch him as he perfoms his snatch record 213 kg and clean and jerk 263,5 kg lifts.

Finally, here is a video clip to be viewed only by our sisters. This shows Sister Ruqaya Al Ghasara winning a 200 meter sprint while wearing full hijab. The other female competitors are, of course, not dressed Islamically. She is a role model for all of us.

All of the above athletes are wonderful faith ambassadors and fulfill what our blessed Prophet Muhammad (s) has enjoined on all of us: “Allah loves, when one of you is doing something, that he [or she] does it in the most excellent manner.” We should follow this injunction in everything that we do, Insha Allah.