by many players as the greatest
basketball player of all time, voted six times the
National Basketball Association's most valuable
player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also one of the most
visible Muslims in the American public arena. The 7' 2"
native 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," at 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 basketball.
Alcindor first learned his Islam from Hammas Abdul Khaalis, a former jazz
drummer and founder of the Hanafi Madhhab in Washington, D.C. 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." Soon, 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.
a follower of the Hanafi Madhab, 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 revelation. Objecting to having been pushed into
the Catholic faith by his father, he insists that his children will be
free to make their own choices.
his part, Kareem accepts his responsibilty 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.
(source:Islam in America, Jane Smith)