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by Rutgers University Muslim Students Association

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The Sports Forum

There’s so much going on in the sports world, yet most of it is for either entertainment, rooting for a team, rivalries, etc. What about the personal connection sports can make with us? This is where my blog comes in. Join me as I blog about how there’s a personal connection between us and sports, and that sports are more than just for entertainment.

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?

The NFL’s Domestic Issue and Islam

I’ll be blunt. There are a lot of issues with the NFL, and I mean a lot. From the fines players get, to the suspensions the players get, the unions, the alarming rate of concussions. But right now, nothing is standing out from the NFL more than the domestic violence from various players, and some of these players are of the best in the league.

It all began when Ray Rice was accused of beating his then-fiancée in an elevator, where he was arrested and charges were filed. He was initially suspended for two games by commissioner Roger Goodell. This suspension caused outrage from fans all over who believed the NFL did not take a strong enough stance on domestic violence and were not respecting womens’ integrity. But suddenly, a video surfaced of Rice punching and spitting at his then-fiancée, and one of the punches was so hard it knocked her unconscious to the point where Rice had to literally drag her out of the elevator. As a result, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely and the Ravens cut him from the team claiming they had not seen the video.

This story resulted in a firestorm of domestic violence stories coming from NFL players. They are now the main headliners when you go on ESPN or NFL.com. Other players accused of domestic violence include Adrian Peterson, who was accused on separate charges on beating two of his sons with a “switch” or a tree branch for disciplinary reasons. People questioned whether he went too far, as one of his sons suffered wounds to his legs, arms, and back, while in another incident his other son was seen having a wound and bandages on his head.  As a result he was placed on the NFL’s exempt list, where he now cannot participate in team activities until everything is sorted out.

Carolina Panthers defensive end (and their best one) Greg Hardy, who was accused of beating his then-girlfriend, is now awaiting a decision from the NFL. So is 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, accused of hitting his pregnant fiancée. He too is awaiting a decision. And recently Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was accused of punching his wife and throwing a shoe at his 18-month-old child. The violence just seems to be erupting at the wrong time.

As a result, the NFL retooled it’s domestic violence policy, where a first offense is a 6-game suspension and a second offense is a lifetime ban. The NFL attempted to make a response—now the question is how do we respond, how do we deal with issues of domestic violence? What does Islam say about domestic violence?

Now my initial response to this is what on earth is happening? How could someone beat the person they love? How could someone knock someone out or give their wives bruises? How does one truly love someone if they are being abusive? How does one beat their kids and give them very noticeable wounds? Times are changing and what may have been acceptable in the past could be considered unacceptable now. This also includes beatings of the people you love.

In Islam, there are verses that condemn domestic violence, and men are to treat their wives with nobility, kindness, and respect.

The nobler among you in the sight of God is the more righteous among you. (49:13)

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ gave his take on how men should treat their wives:

The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character. The best of you are those who are best to their women. (Tirmidhi)

And in another tradition:

The best among you are those who are kindest to their wives. (Tirmidhi)

The Prophet ﷺ  said that we should be kind to our women and be positive and patient with them. Treating a man’s wife with respect is a reflection of good Muslim character.

Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) instructs men to be nice to their wives and to treat them well to the best of their ability. A Muslim, or quite frankly people in general, should always remember that treating their women well earns Allah’s pleasure and an abundance of good deeds, but bad treatment will result in His anger. When a companion asked the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, “What is the right of a wife over her husband?”, he ﷺ said,

That you feed her when you eat and clothe her when you clothe yourself and do not strike her face. Do not malign her and do not keep apart from her, except in the house. (Abu Dawood)

There. Right there. This is a prime example where the Prophet himself even states that you should not beat women, but treat them with the utmost respect.

Child abuse is also viewed as wrong in Islam. Actually, the first thing is to teach a child right from wrong before even daring to use physical action, as stated in the Qur’an:

O you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded. (66:6)

Instead of using violence, the first and foremost thing is to educate children and teach them right from wrong.

Domestic violence is wrong. It is wrong on many levels. What we see coming from the NFL should have us reflect on how we conduct ourselves and how we should deter away from violent acts of behavior. It is a very touchy and very sensitive topic, but thankfully Islam condemns any sort of abuse. Rather, it condones kind treatment and educating our families. This does not apply to just women and children. This applies to every human being. When in conflict, do not resort to violence but rather resort to reason. Tell them why they are not right and what must be done to make it right. The goal is make the wound stop bleeding, not continue it. If we want to end domestic violence, not just in the NFL, but in society, it is on us to step up and do not only what the Qur’an and the Prophet’s ahadith say, but simply do what is right. To not resort to violence so immediately, but fight through and control our anger and use our emotions to create solutions. Because when we do, the world around us will be a little more peaceful, Insha Allah.

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