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
“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.”
In fact, he says, “If you do it for the reward, you get punished. If you get the opportunity to take a brother back to his hotel, that’s a huge reward, because you’ve done a good deed.”
Olajuwon says he likes to talk about faith with his teammates, particularly devout Christians. Some of them, he says, “respond very well” to his polite--but persistent--efforts to convert them.
He says, for example, that when Christians talk about being “saved,” they are describing a reliance on Jesus as “truth.” But according to the Qur’an, he says, only Allah represents truth. And people who don’t trust in Allah, he says, are living in what the Qur’an describes as “the house of a spider.”
His conversations have led to some interesting exchanges. Once, a Christian teammate teased him for not eating pork. Olajuwon shot back: “If you followed your book, you would know you can’t eat it either.” (The Book of Leviticus proscribes eating pork, but that religious law is widely ignored by Christians.)
Another time, he got into an impassioned discussion of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity with a teammate. First, Olajuwon says, his colleague said that Muslims “just don’t understand the Trinity.” But eventually, Olajuwon wore the man down to the point that he gave in, saying, “Nobody cares about it anyway.” Olajuwon lets out a deep chuckle at the memory.
“If Christians follow the true teachings of Jesus, they come to Islam,” he says. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet--just like other prophets, such as Moses, Abraham, and Muhammad—who taught that people should submit solely to God, seek justice, and show compassion for each other.
Ever the evangelist, he is meanwhile anxious to spread Islam’s truths to other Muslims.