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.
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In fact, he says, “You wait for it. You look forward to it.”
The seven-foot-tall Olajuwon—one of Islam’s most famous pop icons—has a well-known life story. The son of middle-class Nigerians, he grew up in Lagos and moved to the United States in 1980 to play basketball at the University of Houston. After helping the team reach the Final Four in 1982, ’83, and ’84, he signed with the Houston Rockets, which he helped lead to national championships in 1994 and 1995.
Olajuwon was immediately successful—but he wasn’t entirely happy.
“I’m the kind of person who always wants more,” he says. “I was successful materially, but I know life is much more than worldly success. I saw all these blessings God had given me. The way to give thanks is obedience to God.”
Recalling his Muslim upbringing in Nigeria, he sought out a Houston mosque. Everything began to fall into place, he says, when he heard the Muslim call to prayer for the first time in the United States. “The sound of the call, when you hear the call to prayer, you get goose bumps all over,” he says.
He began attending Qur’an study seminars and says he knew he needed to rededicate himself to his childhood faith.
In the midst of this rededication, he divorced his first wife—college sweetheart Lita Spencer, with whom he has a daughter, Abisola, 12. But in 1995, he married again, this time to Dalia Asafi. He has two daughters with Asafi—Rahma, 3, and Aisha, 15 months. He is rearing all three of his girls as Muslims.
Despite the culture shock of being a double minority in the United States—a black African and a Muslim—Olajuwon says he has found peace in his Islamic practice.
“Allah says in the Qur’an not to despise one another,” he says. “So the criterion in Islam is not color or social status. It’s who is most righteous. If I go to a mosque—and I’m a basketball player with money and prestige—if I go to a mosque and see an imam, I feel inferior. He’s better than me. It’s about knowledge.”
While traveling during basketball season, he often taxis to local mosques for Friday prayer. Often, he says, worshipers there want to drive him back to his hotel. “It doesn’t have to be because I’m a celebrity,” he says. “People know that whoever gives me a ride gets a big reward from Allah. It’s always for the sake of Allah.”