Hakeem Olajuwon A Ramadan Interview

One of the NBA's all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon talks about the gift of Ramadan and finding peace in Islam.

BY: Deborah Caldwell

 

One recent night in a Miami hotel room, Hakeem Olajuwon was painstakingly reciting parts of the Qur’an—first listening to practice tapes, then repeating the Arabic scripture.



“I’m shy, but sometimes my voice is so clear and strong,” he said. “Your tongue moves, and the Arabic language is so beautiful.” The Qur’an talks to him, says the Houston Rockets center. From it, he learns to be pious and to stay close to God.

Olajuwon, 37, could not be a more devout Muslim. He carries a compass so he can pray toward Mecca from any basketball arena. He reads the Qur’an on airplanes and visits mosques in cities where he plays. He gives 2½% of his annual income to the poor and arranges his daily errands around prayer times.

“God comes first,” says Olajuwon. “Paradise is not cheap.”

And, as he has every year for the last decade, Olajuwon is spending the Muslim holy month of Ramadan fasting from dawn to dusk, even as he plays professional basketball.

He awakens before dawn to eat precisely seven dates—the traditional Muslim fast-breaking food--and to drink a gallon of water. Then he prays for strength. He touches no food or liquid until sunset. Then he allows himself a well-balanced dinner--chicken, vegetables, and rice, perhaps.

When he plays an afternoon game, he pants for water—and drinks not a drop. Still, he says, “I find myself full of energy, explosive. And when I break the fast at sunset, the taste of water is so precious.”

As difficult as the month seems to most people, Olajuwon says it is a gift. “You feel so privileged, because this is a month of mercy, forgiveness, getting closer to God,” he says softly, in a voice accented with West African cadences. “You do more good deeds in this month. You read more of the Qur’an. You study more.

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