Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball Player, USA


He is the American basket player of an African descent who is widely considered as one of the greatest NBA players of all times. He was born on April 16th, 1947, in New York. Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor was the only child in a Christian family. He grew up in Harlem, New York and joined its school. He was the tallest, the most introvert but the best player until his graduation from UCLA( University of California, Los Angeles) where he joined its team.

During his 20 years in the National Basketball Association(NBA) from 1969 to 1989, he scored 38,387 points – the highest total of any player in league history – in addition to winning a record six Most Valuable Player Awards. He was known for his "Skyhook" shot, which was difficult to block because it put his 7 ft-2 in body between the basket and the ball. Abdul-Jabbar's success began well before his professional career; in college, he played on three championship teams, and his high school team won 72 consecutive games. He has subsequently been named by ESPN as the greatest college basketball player of all times. He retired when he was forty two of age and was nominated assistant coach of Los Angeles Club, becoming a key figure in the American professional league.

How he converted to Islam

Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) 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, and then changed to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, literally "the noble one, servant of the Almighty.” However, he determined to augment Abdul Khaalis’s 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 "home” contexts.  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.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar affirms his identity as a 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 revelation. For his part, Kareem accepts his responsibility to live as good an Islamic life as possible, recognizing that Islam is able to meet the requirements of being a professional athlete in America.

A part of Interview with TalkAsia

SG: Before 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, I’m still my parent’s child, I’m still...my cousins are still the same, I’m still me though.  But I made a choice.  I really don’t think...I think it has more to do with evolution -- I evolved into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I don’t have any regrets about who I was but this is who I am now.

SG: And a spiritual journey, how important was that?

KA: Well as a spiritual journey, I don’t 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 didn’t 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 that’s what I felt was the best thing for me.  If they could accept that I could accept them.  I didn’t...it wasn’t like if you’re going to become my friend you have to become Muslim also.  No, that was not it.  I respect people’s choices just as I hope they respect my choices.

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 Qur’an made me see that the Qur’an was the next revelation from the Supreme Being - and I chose to interpret that and follow that.  I don’t 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 that’s what it’s supposed to be about.

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.  It’s just a continual negative spiral that feeds on itself, and who needs that?

Malcolm X was different.  He’d made a trip to Mecca, and realized that Islam embraced people of all color.  He was assassinated in 1965, and though I didn’t 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 X’s 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.

Kareem now

He is a father of three sons and two daughters. He is an unmatchable basketball coach, and the last team he coached was Alchesay High School. Although he is now out of the limelight either in the world of sports, movie or authorship, he will continue to be highly commended and all basketball fans and coach will continue to remember his mythic jumps, artistic works in television and cinema, as well as his life which is full of wealth, fame and, above all that, the clean moral record which will continue to crown his life career.

 By Ahmed Yousef








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