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
"In the United States, I have an opportunity to interact with Muslims from different parts of the world," he says. "People bring new ideas from their own culture and background and try to introduce them as part of Islam." But usually, he says, when they actually study the Qur'an, they learn otherwise.
"Here, the information is more accessible" than in most Muslim countries, he says, because American Muslims tend to place a premium on understanding their faith rather than merely practicing a brand of cultural Islam from the Old Country.
Olajuwon even corrects his parents at times. An example: In Nigeria, older people are expected to perform a special monthlong fast before Ramadan. "Not Islamic," he says. Another example: Forty days after someone's death, Nigerian Muslims slaughter a cow to celebrate and pray for the person. Again, he says, "not Islamic."
For Olajuwon, Islam is a constant presence, not a straitjacket, but clearly a garment that binds him.
He says there is "no negotiation" about praying five times a day. He washes his hands and mouth, turns toward Mecca, prostrates himself, and begins: "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful... You alone we worship... Guide us along the straight path, the path of those you bestow your favor."
All day, every day, he says he has "God-consciousness," an internal voice that regulates his every action. "You don't forget for a second," he says. "There's a constant communication. You don't lose this consciousness. When I'm doing errands, doing whatever, I'm conscious of prayer times."
This God-consciousness follows him onto the basketball court. His religion teaches him to be merciful and kind. That means, he says, "You play competitively, but you don't do things that are cheating or unfair or foul play. You report to a higher authority."
Might he someday, after basketball, train to become an imam-and teach other Muslims? No, he says, quietly. "That's a big responsibility."
But Olajuwon says he might like to be ada'ee,
a kind of information broker who explains Islam to people.
"I'm doing it now," he says, laughing. "And what can be better than this?"