Former NFL safety Husain Abdullah reflects on being Muslim and American amid travel ban
Editor’s Note: Husain Abdullah, a former Vikings and Chiefs safety who retired in 2016 due to concussion concerns, is currently attending grad school at Southern Methodist University, where he’s studying Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management. He will be traveling to Rwanda to work with orphans of the 1994 genocide in March, and to Greece in the summer to work with Syrian refugees. An American Muslim, Abdullah spoke with and wrote to SI's Amy Parlapiano about the country’s current state of affairs and how to best move forward. His thoughts are below:
I wasn’t really aware of Trump’s executive order until Saturday.
Friday night I was with a group of fellow Southern Methodist University grad students, mentally and emotionally preparing for our trip to Rwanda in March. We watched a documentary of the genocide that took place while the world stood idly by. 800,000 slaughtered in 100 days. I was disgusted yet locked in, immersing myself in Rwanda, in 1994. I tuned everything else out.
So when a friend sent me a Snapchat video of a protest at DFW Airport, all I could say was “What’s going on?” He quickly filled me in on everything that was occurring and I shifted gears from an African genocide in 1994 to an unconstitutional ban targeting Muslims in 2017. I began gathering information from different news sites, reading articles as Twitter spit ‘em out, I was consumed. I couldn’t help but notice similarities of darker days in world history and U.S. history. We seem eager to race back in time.
Athletes can find motivation from anything. This downward spiral of morals, ethics and social injustice is my motivation to be a product of change for the better. Remember, this is coming from an African-American kid who grew up witnessing police brutality and the flooding of drugs onto the streets in the ’90s in Southern California.
Politics was something I never cared for because it didn’t care for me nor people who shared my skin color. That was the sentiment in my house and throughout the community, throughout Los Angeles County. But now, I realize with one law, one stroke of the pen, millions of lives are affected. From the Clintons calling blacks Superpredators in the ’90s to drones currently dropping bombs overseas and the dead civilians being labeled as “casualties of war”, politics are a game changer.
My conscience built as life experiences and my personal education progressed. While I was playing for the Chiefs in K.C., a couple of us players and personnel guys would gather during lunch breaks and exchange different viewpoints and ideas. We would read books and talk about current events. And when they talked politics, I was completely in the dark. Being around them, I’d just listen, gaining understanding on the world and different people’s political views. From Black Lives Matter to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, we discussed and paid attention to everything. We often reflected on the bubble we live in as NFL players and expressed our gratitude. Because the world is on fire. And it needs firemen. And I want to be of them. Of those who bring people together to understand one another without the oppression, without the bloodshed of innocent lives.
Unfortunately many people in the U.S. adopted the mindset from the second Bush era that “You’re either with us or against us.” This has trickled into our personal lives because the images of burning buildings are burned into our minds. Those feelings and emotions from that tragic day are carried in our hearts. But, “you’re either with us or against us” is problematic because it leaves no room for understanding. No room for growth.
President Obama mentioned in his farewell speech how people’s social media feeds are made up of people who only look like us and agree with us. The polarization of this country, the division and lack of understanding, is only creating more anger and animosity. And as soon as one person throws a stone, there will be a fight, a war. Our current president has already invoked World War III a few times. We’re a stone’s throw away.
One of the things I love most about football, about sports is how we learn to put our differences aside for the greater good of the team. We all show up in training camp ready to work towards a Super Bowl regardless of race, religion, class, etc. If we as Americans could adopt this same skillset of saying “this is my viewpoint, this is my belief, but I’m willing to listen and try to sincerely understand you” then I think we can learn to shift perspectives and gain a better understanding. As Americans, what is our Super Bowl?
“Muslim equals Terror.” “Islam equals Radicalism.” Those words have become synonymous with one another in this country. That’s what we’ve been fed since 9/11. We have to unlearn some things. And to paint two billion people with the same brush is causing Americans anxiety and an unwarranted headache.
Seriously, when they say “Muslim,” an image of a black dude from Pomona, CA with an L.A. Dodgers fitted that’s tilted to the east doesn’t come to mind. That’s who I am though, and I’m Muslim. Instead, when they say Muslim, an image of a Middle Eastern or Afghan or Pakistani person comes to mind. Or a modestly-dressed woman wearing a hijab. If this is your mindset, you’ve got some work to do. Because entire nationalities and countries have been linked with terror and fear, which allows our government to bomb and kill innocent people without public backlash.
For anyone interested, I would read the Qur’an for yourself. You can go to Quran.com if you don’t want to buy one. Ask a learned person about Islam if you want to broaden your perspective. Read from a non-Muslim like Karen Armstrong if you don’t want to speak with a Muslim. People can cultivate an understanding if they want to, but they have to take the first step.
Enough can’t be said about the activists and lawyers who’ve sacrificed their time to make sure the constitution is upheld. And I’m sure everyone is aware that there has to be activism with a plan. The whims of emotion are driving protesters to be heard which is a good thing, but it has to be sustainable or ultimately the cause will die. Emotions drive us but, they also drain us as well. Some people have fallen into hopelessness and despair, that’s bad emotional use. Even if it starts that way, use optimism to channel that energy to better yourself, your family and then humanity. We must not fall into despair.
In the event I was given the opportunity to speak freely to an attentive Donald Trump without interruption I'd like to say: “Stop the unconstitutional ban and rethink your strategies on keeping America safe. Ostracism leads to animosity and that animosity will produce hate. That hate will emanate both domestically and internationally which would give the adverse effect of what you intend to do, keep America safe. The President of the United States of America is the highest public service office in the world, a servant to the people. You must serve the public as a whole and not yourself nor only those who share and support your view points. Again, the ban is unconstitutional and must end immediately.”
For those who haven’t noticed, the athletes are awake. God removed one of the purest souls the world has ever seen this past year. With the departure of Muhammad Ali, may God have mercy on him, it’s like the sports world was revitalized in activism. From LeBron, Carmelo and other NBA players taking a stand to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, we are awake. Collegiate players are flexing their muscle and a generation of high school athletes are inspired as well.
Muhammad Ali, the greatest athlete of our time. A global and American icon. Unapologetically Black. Unapologetically Muslim. He wouldn’t remain silent during all this turmoil. And neither will we. Peace.