What’s it like to be Muslim in the NBA?

With the NBA Season only just beginning, we take a look at the most famous NBA Muslim players who made their ways into the Hall of Fame without having to compromise their Muslim faith.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Played in the NBA from 1990 to 2001 with the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, and Vancouver Grizzlies. Abdul Rauf first became curious in Islam after his college basketball coach gave him the autobiography of Malcolm X. During his rookie year with the NBA, he started reading the Quran and soon after converted to Islam. In 1996 he was suspended for refusing to stand for the national anthem.  He protested “You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way,” After negotiating with the NBA, he agreed to return. However this time, he chose to recite a prayer during the anthem instead. This decision nevertheless eventually led to him being sidelined at the peak of his career and cost him millions of dollars he would have otherwise made.
“(Islam) puts everything into perspective… From the way I worship, to the way I communicate, to the way I give to charity, to the way I look at life. Visiting the elderly. Visiting orphans. It governs everything I do in a positive way.” Abdul Rauf

Hakeem Olajuwon

NBA Hall of Famer played from 1984 to 2002. Olajuwon was born as a Muslim in Nigeria and grew up in an “Islamic environment.” He would study the Quran every day, be reading it in airplanes and before and after his games. He would also fast, Ramadan, even when it fell in playing season. He surprisingly felt he played better when fasting, and in February 1995, which coincided with Ramadan, he won NBA player of the month. In 1994, he led his team to win the championships and was named MVP. He, however, chose to auction off his championship ring, due to Islam’s prohibition on men wearing gold. The following season, upon winning the championship again, the NBA offered him a platinum ring, yet he auctioned it off as well. When asked what his favourite verse in the Quran was, he replied:
“Oh, you who believe, if you obey and fear Allah, he will grant you Furqan [criterion to judge between right and wrong] and will expiate for you your sins and forgive you and Allah is the Owner of a Great Bounty.” Quran 8:29 “Being a Muslim gives you structure and discipline in your life. It makes you God-conscious, which regulates all of your actions. Islam is a complete religion which gives you a solution to every situation you may face in life…The Islamic principles are the most upright way of life, and when you practice that, it will reflect in your character.” Olajuwon

Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Played 20 seasons in the NBA and is the leading point scorer of all time. He converted to Islam after being inspired by the autobiography of Malcolm X while in college. He also changed his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1971 as a symbol of his new found identity. By going public with his conversion, he believed that he was adding his voice to the civil rights movement to denounce slavery and the religious institutions that supported it. Despite this, he states that he was drawn to the spiritually fulfilling personal aspects of Islam. His conversion upset many of his friends and family who felt he was rejecting his American culture, but he, in fact, was only reconnecting with his African roots and abandoning the ideologies of his former slave masters. In 1972, he travelled to both Libya and Saudi Arabia to study Arabic and learn the Quran for himself. _____________________________  

Current Muslim NBA Players

Currently, there are at least 12 NBA players who are Muslim according to the online magazine Muslim Matters and other media outlets:
Player Team
Enes Kanter New York Knicks (center)
Kenneth Faried Denver Nuggets (forward)
Gorgui Dieng Minnesota Timberwolves (center)
Dion Waiters Miami Heat (guard)
Al-Farouq Aminu Portland Trail Blazers (forward)
Jusuf Nurkic Portland Trail Blazers (center)
Omer Asik New Orleans Pelicans (center)
Ersan Ilyasova Atlanta Hawks (forward)
Dennis Schroder Atlanta Hawks (guard)
Salah Mejri Dallas Mavericks (center)
Mirza Teletovic Milwaukee Bucks (forward)
Rondae-Hollis Jefferson Brooklyn Nets (forward)
  Source: The Undefeated “Being Muslim in the NBA” Marc J Spears. Al Jazeera “Why Kareem Abdul Jabbar converted to Islam” May Allah bless all these inspirational men along with the many other NBA Muslim players that weren’t mentioned in this list.