Acknowledged by many players as the greatest basketball
player of all time, voted six times the National Basketball Associationís most
valuable player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also one of the most visible Muslims in
the American public arena.† The 7í 2Ēnative upper Harlem, born Ferdinand Lewis
Alcindor, starred for UCLA before entering the National Basketball Association
with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969.† Alcindor later went to the Los Angeles
Lakers.† He was so dominant in college basketball that "dunking,Ēat which
he excelled, was formally banned from the intercollegiate sport.† As a result,
Lew Alcindor developed the shot for which he is personally the most famous-the
"skyhook"-which has been called the shot that changed basketball, and
with the help of which he was to score more than thirty eight thousand points
in regular-season NBA play.† When Milwaukee won the NBA title in 1970-71,
Alcindor, who was by then Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was the acclaimed king of
Lew Alcindor first learned his Islam from Hammas
Abdul Khaalis, a former jazz drummer ....† According to his own testimony, he
had been raised to take authority seriously, whether that of nuns, teachers, or
coaches, and in that spirit he followed the teachings of Abdul Khaalis closely.†
It was by him that Alcindor was given the name Abdul Kareem, then changed to
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, literally "the noble one, servant of the Almighty.Ē† Soon,
however, he determined to augment Abdul Khaalisís teachings with his own study
of the Quran, for which he undertook to learn basic Arabic.† In 1973 he
travelled to Libya and Saudi Arabia to get a better grasp of the language and
to learn about Islam in some of its "homeĒcontexts.† Abdul-Jabbar was not
interested in making the kind of public statement about his Islam that he felt
Muhammad Ali had in his opposition to the Vietnam War, wishing simply to
identify himself quietly as an African American who was also a Muslim.† He
stated clearly that his name Alcindor was a slave name, literally that of the
slave-dealer who had taken his family away from West Africa to Dominica to
Trinidad, from where they were brought to America.
[Ö] Kareem Abdul-Jabbar affirms his
identity as a Sunni Muslim.† He professes a strong belief in what he calls the
Supreme Being and is clear in his understanding that Muhammad is his prophet
and the Quran is the final revelationÖ
....For his part, Kareem accepts his responsibility
to live as good an Islamic life as possible, recognising that Islam is able to
meet the requirements of being a professional athlete in America.
Excerpts from His Book, Kareem
The following are excerpts from the second book
he wrote about his basketball career, Kareem, published in 1990,
telling his reasons for being drawn toward Islam:
[Growing up in America,] I eventually found
that .† .† .emotionally, spiritually, I could not afford to be a racist.† As I
got older, I gradually got past believing that black was either the best or the
worst.† It just was.† The black man who had the most profound influence on me
was Malcolm X.† I had read "Muhammad Speaks", the Black Muslim
newspaper, but even in the early sixties, their brand of racism was
unacceptable to me.† It held the identical hostility as white racism, and for
all my anger and resent meant, I understood that rage can do very little to
change anything.† Itís just a continual negative spiral that feeds on itself,
and who needs that?
.† .† .Malcolm X was different.† Heíd made
a trip to Mecca, and realized that Islam embraced people of all color.† He was
assassinated in 1965, and though I didnít know much about him then, his death
hit hard because I knew he was talking about black pride, about self-help and
lifting ourselves up.† And I liked his attitude of non-subservience.
.† .† .Malcolm Xís autobiography came out
in 1966, when I was a freshman at UCLA, and I read it right before my
nineteenth birthday.† It made a bigger impression on me than any book I had
ever read, turning me around totally.† I started to look at things differently,
instead of accepting the mainstream viewpoint.
.† .† .[Malcolm] opened the door for real
cooperation between the races, not just the superficial, paternalistic thing.† He
was talking about real people doing real things, black pride and Islam.† I just
grabbed on to it.† And I have never looked back.
Interview with TalkAsia
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar there was Lew Alcindor.† Now Lew Alcindor was what Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar was born as, he has since converted to Islam.† Something that he
says was a very deeply spiritual decision.† Tell me a little bit about your own
personal journey, from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.† Is there still
some of Lew Alcindor in you today?
KA: Well you
know that was who I started my life out as, Iím still my parentís child, Iím
still...my cousins are still the same, Iím still me though.† But I made a
choice.† (SG: Do you feel different? †Is it a different feeling when you take
on a different name, a different persona?) I really donít think...I think it
has more to do with evolution -- I evolved into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I donít
have any regrets about who I was but this is who I am now.
SG: And a spiritual journey, how important was
KA: Well as a spiritual journey, I donít think I
would have been able to be as successful as I was as an athlete if it were not
for Islam.† It gave me a moral anchor, it enabled me to not be materialistic,
it enabled me to see more what was important in the world.† And all of that was
reinforced by people, very important people to me: Coach John Wooden, my
parents, all reinforced those values.† And it enabled me to live my life a
certain way and not get distracted.
SG: When you embraced Islam, was it difficult
for other people to come to terms with that? †Did that create a distance
between you and others?
KA: For the most part it was.† I didnít try to
make it hard on people; I did not have a chip on my shoulder.† I just wanted
people understand I was Muslim, and thatís what I felt was the best thing for
me.† If they could accept that I could accept them.† I didnít...it wasnít like
if youíre going to become my friend you have to become Muslim also.† No, that
was not it.† I respect peopleís choices just as I hope they respect my choices.
SG: What happens to a person when they take on
another name, another persona if you like? †How much did you change?
KA: For me it made me more tolerant because I
had to learn to understand differences.† You know I was different, people didnít
oftentimes understand exactly where I was coming from; certainly after 9/11 Iíve
had to like explain myself and...
SG: Was there a backlash against people like
yourself? †Did you feel that at all?
KA: I didnít feel like necessarily a backlash,
but I certainly felt that a number of people might have questioned my loyalty,
or questioned where I was at, but I continue to be a patriotic American...
SG: For a lot of black Americans, converting to
Islam was an intensely political decision as well.† Was it the same for you?
KA: That was not part of my journey.† My
choosing Islam was not a political statement; it was a spiritual statement.† What
I learned about the Bible and the Qurían made me see that the Qurían was the
next revelation from the Supreme Being - and I chose to interpret that and
follow that.† I donít think it had anything to do with trying to pigeon hole
anyone, and deny them the ability to practice as they saw fit.† The Quran tells
us that Jews, Christians, and Muslims: Muslims are supposed to treat all of
them the same way because we all believe in the same prophets and heaven and
hell would be the same for all of us. †And thatís what itís supposed to be
SG: And itís been very influential in your
writing as well.
KA: Yes it has.† Racial equality and just what I
experienced growing up in America as a kid really affected me to experience the
Civil Rights Movement, and see people risking their lives, being beaten, being
attacked by dogs, being fire hosed down streets, and they still took a
non-violent and very brave approach to confronting bigotry.† It was remarkable
and it certainly affected me in a very profound way.