Islam and the Issue of Racism in the NBA

This year has not exactly been trouble-free for the NBA. For starters, it was new NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s fist year taking over for long-time commissioner David Stern. And in his first year, there was no shortage of trouble he had to deal with, especially when it came down to racism.

Let’s begin with the most obvious case he had to deal with: the situation with Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Clippers. The situation that arose was that there was a recording of him arguing with then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano back in 2013. The recording was filled with racism towards African Americans. There was a lot said, but one of the most prominent quotes was when he told Stiviano, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want, the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.” This quotation alone caused a massive uproar in the NBA. All-time great Magic Johnson called for Sterling to resign. The Clippers almost threatened to boycott, and one of their best players, Chris Paul, is also the head of the players’ union, so him almost boycotting was huge. This led to fears that the players’ union would boycott until their was justice for Sterling. Fortunately for them, there was justice, as Adam Silver delivered a smack down punishment where he banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million. People lauded and praised Silver’s hard line stance on racism, which led to not just his popularity but the NBA’s rising popularity for its hard stance. Other sports even looked up to the NBA to revise their own policies on racism. Although the NBA’s fame was rising, the problems were also mounting.

Just last month there was another issue with racism, as former owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Bruce Levenson, resigned due to an email he wrote to the team’s co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry in August 2012 that he called “inappropriate and offensive.” “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” Levenson said in the email released Sunday by the Hawks. “Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. I never felt uncomfortable, but I think Southern Whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”

But it didn’t end there. Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was also in trouble for racist comments. A letter from co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. cites Ferry telling the ownership group that Deng “has a little African in him.” “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,” Ferry said on the call, which was recorded. What does “a little African” even mean? Fans and the media denounced these comments and as a result Ferry has taken a leave of absence and is still on a leave.

From these two cases it is clear that racism is an issue in the NBA, and worst of all it is coming from higher levels of the organization. The people who are supposed to represent their franchises are failing and alienating fans, especially African Americans. This just proves that racism is just as prevalent right now than any other time in history. It is a problem that never seems to go away and is a concept people do not always understand. So what does Islam tell us about racism and how we should approach people? Well, there is a lot that Islam mentions.

For starters, in Islam it is mentioned  that mankind was made to get to know each other and not show malice towards one another. As mentioned in the Quran:

O mankind, verily, We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is knowing and aware. (49:13)

Key words, “you may know one another” and “Allah is knowing and aware.” One of the goals for mankind is for various groups to form alliances, help each other out, and become one society without mistreatment or discrimination. That everyone must be noble with one another and treat each other with courtesy and respect. And the quote “Allah is knowing and aware” is a very intimidating one. One who mistreats another will surely see punishment from the Lord Himself and He watches your every step you make towards another person or group. It is even mentioned in the Quran in regards to discrimination that:

The Day when excuses offered by the unjust shall not avail them. Theirs shall be the curse and a woeful abode. (40:52)


Allah is watching you and He will punish you for any sort of bad deed. You will be held accountable for racism and discrimination.

And Allah praises the diversity of mankind:

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors. Indeed there are signs in this for the men of knowledge. (30:22)

All of mankind is on an equal playing field in terms of knowledge and diversity is present. No matter what color or race you are there is an appreciation in the Quran of a person’s intelligence and their heart. Allah gives us the vote of confidence that no matter what race, you can present new ideas into the community and help out society and become friends with one another without harm. We all have equal capacity for knowledge. God gives no matter to race as the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ says:

God does not look at your shapes or your colors but He looks at your hearts (intentions) and your deeds. Creatures are the dependents of God and the closest among them to God are indeed the most useful to His dependents.

Again, another explicit statement mentioning that race does not determine anyone’s intelligence or personality. It is your heart that truly matters and nothing else. And the ones whose hearts are cleanest are the ones closest to God. Race does not show what a person’s heart is or who the individual really is.

In Muhammad ﷺ’s last sermon, he ﷺ says:

O people, remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character. Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly? …Then each one of you who is here must convey this to everyone not present.

The character is what counts. When Allah brings you in for the Day of Judgement He will not look at your skin, He will look at your heart judge your taqwa.

So it is clear that racism is not a part of a Muslim’s life and it should not be in society at all. When you see stories in sports where there is racism, just remember that Islam does not condone any of it and that Islam is a religion of equality. We must share good feelings with one another and not make a single person feel inferior. We all were made equals by God and we should treat everyone like equals, just as God will in the Day of Judgement. And before I finish this blog I just want to put a hadith I felt was powerful and something that relates to this topic and something we should all reflect on. Allah says:

O my servants, I made injustice forbidden on Myself and I made it forbidden amongst you; so do not commit injustice to one another.

This is literally as powerful as it gets. So if Allah, God Almighty Himself made injustice forbidden, than why should Donald Sterling get to commit injustice? Why should Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry get to commit injustice? And most importantly, why should WE get to commit injustice when the Lord banned it for Himself?


One Comment Add yours

  1. Heba says:

    Good points. There’s really no place for racism in Islam, and that’s something that everyone — even us, especially us — needs to analyze internally. We can all quote the last sermon, but we need to actively attempt to live it, too.


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