Long before 9/11, long before the bombing in Paris, long before Islam was in the forefront of Americans minds, basketball star Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The peaceful Abdul-Jabbar only spread terror on the basketball court, but still, he, to this day, has to defend his decision, which was made over 40 years ago. He explained it this way to Al Jazeera.
The question I’m often asked is why I had to pick a religion so foreign to American culture and a name that was hard for people to pronounce. Some fans took it very personally, as if I had firebombed their church while tearing up an American flag. Actually, I was rejecting the religion that was foreign to my American culture and embracing one that was part of my black African heritage. (An estimated 15 to 30 percent of slaves brought from Africa were Muslims.) Fans thought I joined the Nation of Islam, an American Islamic movement founded in Detroit in 1930. Although I was greatly influenced by Malcolm X, a leader in the Nation of Islam, I chose not to join because I wanted to focus more on the spiritual rather than political aspects. Eventually, Malcolm rejected the group right before three of its members assassinated him.
I’d imagine that since 9/11, being a Muslim in America is even tougher than it was when Abdul-Jabbar converted. For one thing, thanks to people like Bill Maher, who insist that all Muslims must stand up against those few who have been radicalized (although he doesn’t think it’s a few), Abdul-Jabbar finds himself in the position of being a spokesman for all Muslims.
In January, he penned an op-ed in Time Magazine that is more applicable right now, after the dreadful night of terror in Paris, than it was when he wrote it.
When the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross in a black family’s yard, Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts.
Another horrendous act of terrorism has taken place and people like myself who are on media speed-dial under “Celebrity Muslims” are thrust in the spotlight to angrily condemn, disavow, and explain—again—how these barbaric acts are in no way related to Islam.
For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.
He goes on to say that acts of violence are never about religion; they are about money. Unlike many, though, he doesn’t blame America for terrorism. He blames inequality and oppression. He also hints that we will never truly address terrorism unless we stop blaming Islam. That should be easy for us to do. We don’t blame Christians when someone like Dylann Roof shoots several African-American worshipers in South Carolina. We don’t blame Christianity when an abortion doctor is gunned down.
We are willing to let those be isolated events, but we do not give Muslims the same benefit of the doubt.
Featured image via Wikimedia