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.

"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 a da'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?"

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