Connect with us

#Life

What Would A Muslim Do As NFL Commissioner?

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

In the fortnight of wall-to-wall media hype dedicated to Super Bowl XLIX, no storyline has gone unturned. From Bill Belichick’s deflated footballs to Tom Brady’s nasal congestion to Marshawn Lynch’s camera shyness, every angle been covered ad nauseam. There are even stories about how it’s not a story that Russell Wilson is starting in the Super Bowl as a Black quarterback.

And occasionally, in the midst of the all the hype, we’ve managed to talk a little bit about who is actually going to win Sunday’s championship game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.

Ordinarily, this time of year would be a time of celebration for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. This is when the league that the 55-year-old Goodell oversees stands alone as the shining centerpiece of the sports world, crowns its new champion, and dominates one more Sunday on the calendar before taking a few months off to sit back, count the profits and get ready to do it all over again.

But thanks in part to one team’s alleged cheating and another team’s tense relationship with the media, the past two weeks for Goodell have been no different than the previous six months: The commissioner is still facing an unrelenting deluge of criticism and second-guessing, his integrity and competency being questioned every day as what was once a dictator-like power grip on the NFL appears to be weakening.

The 2014 season was not a good one for Roger Goodell. His league generated negative press related to domestic violence and sexual assault cases, drug and alcohol abuse, brain injuries and long-term health problems, controversial officiating on the field, controversial conduct off the field, and the inexplicable existence of an NFL-approved racially insensitive nickname for the league’s Washington D.C. franchise.

And that’s not counting the NFL’s quick escape from a potential religious discrimination scandal, which began when Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Husain Abdullah was flagged for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after performing the Islamic prostration known as sajdah during a “Monday Night Football” game in late September. The league responded within hours that Abdullah should not have been penalized and saved itself from another public-relations black eye.

As much as the players, coaches, referees, league employees and team owners responsible for the NFL’s incumbent black eyes were publicly taken to task by professional and social media for their behavior this season, Goodell himself has been under the heaviest scrutiny.

In his 48-minute state of the league address on Friday, Goodell admitted this has been a “tough year” for him and for the NFL. The commissioner, however, remains optimistic.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get better,” Goodell said. “It’s an opportunity for us and for our organization to get better, so we’ve all done a lot of soul searching, starting with yours truly. We have taken action.”

Some of Goodell’s critics believe he should be presiding over the NFL with the attitude of an athlete, keeping the players’ best interest top of mind. Others say he should be a pure businessman, making financial growth the league’s primary goal. And others will suggest Goodell be more of a cop, putting law and order above all else.

But what if the NFL commissioner were to instead approach the job through the lens of a deeply religious person? Through the lens of a Muslim?

Using religious principles to guide one’s professional decisions is almost as old as religion itself. But is that a feasible course of action for the leader of the world’s most popular and profitable sports league?

What would a Muslim do as NFL commissioner?

Before answering that question, I hope to make it clear that I am not trying to cast aspersions on Roger Goodell personally, either as a commissioner or as a man of faith (whatever his faith may be). This piece is more about exploring where the values and principles of Islam fit within the culture of today’s NFL.

First things first: I don’t think a Muslim NFL commissioner would allow the Washington D.C. franchise to keep its nickname.

Islam is strongly against all forms of racism and bigotry — as detailed in the Quran (49:13) and in the Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon, most notably — and is also strongly for kindness and compassion. Having a racial slur represent the league in such a prominent fashion, particularly a slur aimed at a group of people who have already been treated horribly in this country’s history, is a non-starter.

And if franchise owner Daniel Snyder keeps up with his ignorant comments meant to defend his team’s choice of nickname, with a different commissioner he might find himself in a similar position as exiled former NBA team owner Donald Sterling.

Player safety would be another high-priority issue for a Muslim NFL commissioner.

While I don’t expect any NFL commissioner sell the old lie that player safety is the league’s first priority — if it really was, they’d change the game to flag football immediately — I would expect a Muslim commissioner to work within the framework of the sport as we know it to make things as safe as possible.

Islam teaches its followers to love your fellow man as if he is your brother. And when it’s your brother’s health on the line, of course it will mean more to you. Therefore, with a Muslim NFL commissioner, I don’t think the league would have any more Thursday night games — a cruel bit of scheduling that forces some teams to play two games in five days — and I think the ongoing discussion about an 18-game regular-season schedule would cease.

Another byproduct of a commissioner’s real commitment to player safety — as well as Islam’s prohibition on gambling — would be an end to the practice of injury reports being released publicly.

Currently, NFL teams are required to release injury reports a few days before their game. And let’s be real: The only reason this is a rule is to cater to the gambling industry. Oddsmakers, bookies, prognosticators and gamblers need to know which players are hurt and to which extent they are hurt in order to make accurate picks and continue pumping money into the system. And as many people realized during another recent NFL scandal — the “Bountygate” case of the New Orleans Saints — NFL teams do pay attention to injury reports and will target the injured area of an opponent’s body.

Requiring teams to hand over sealed injury reports to the league office is a smart and probably necessary policy in the name of protecting players from being taken advantage of by team doctors who have conflicting interests. But there’s no need for those reports to go public. By refusing to consider the desires of gamblers, and by essentially removing targets from players’ bodies, this way of handling injury reports would help reduce injuries and long-term health problems for players and former players.

I also believe other injury-related policies — such as NFL rules regarding chop blocks and helmet-to-helmet hits — would regularly be reviewed by a safety-conscious Muslim commissioner, with the goal being that each athlete can walk away from this organized chaos we call pro football as healthy as possible. And keeping in line with the Islamic value of taking care of our elders as they once took care of us, retired players would also receive greater consideration regarding pensions and post-career health care.

Drugs and alcohol are prohibited by Islam, and yet I don’t think a Muslim NFL commissioner would necessarily impose those values on the league’s players as strictly as some may expect. There is no compulsion in religion, according to Islam, and a commissioner’s duty is not to control the lifestyles that players live off the field. In other words, just because the commissioner conducts himself as a Muslim, that doesn’t mean he can require those he works with to behave as Muslims do. But if players do break league policies or societal laws, they will have to face consequences.

Islam places a high value on qualities such as peacefulness, modesty, generosity, discipline, cleanliness, tolerance and honesty, among others. But a commissioner can only go so far without overstepping professional boundaries.

Would a Muslim NFL commissioner, however, allow the league to continue advertising with alcohol companies and selling alcohol at stadiums?

Ideally, they would not. But honestly, since the commissioner is technically working for each of the league’s 32 franchise ownership entities, it would be a very hard sell to get those owners to give up the tremendous chunk of money that comes with advertising and selling alcohol.

And speaking of gameday atmosphere, what would a Muslim commissioner do (if anything) about NFL cheerleaders? About rude and unruly fans? Would more NFL stadiums have prayer and meditation rooms for religious fans?

The ideal Muslim NFL commissioner would approach contract and collective-bargaining negotiations from a place of fairness and avoid being needlessly greedy. So under this commissioner, is the likelihood greater that the 2011 NFL player lockout or the 2012 NFL referee lockout would not have happened? Would labor peace be more likely with a Muslim NFL commissioner?

There is no question, however, that the hottest of hot-button topics Goodell and the NFL faced in the past year has been domestic violence. The league had dealt with cases of players assaulting women in the past, but often those were handled quickly and relatively quietly. Things changed in 2014.

The case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was, depending on who you ask, either a shocking eye-opener or a long overdue last straw when it came to football players and domestic violence. Rice, who was caught on video knocking his wife out with a punch and then dragging her unconscious body from the scene, has been vilified by the public and media more than perhaps any athlete since O.J. Simpson. Meanwhile, Goodell’s handling of the Rice case has drawn the kind of negative attention and criticism that transcends the sports page.

And then just when it seemed the Rice story was fading from public consciousness, Minnesota Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child-abuse charges for allegedly beating his four-year-old son in an excessive manner. Peterson’s ensuing suspension was more strict and swift than Rice’s punishment — the NFL had learned a lesson, after all — but Goodell and his league were again painted in a negative light.

Domestic violence is also a controversial topic in the Muslim community.

Although there are multiple hadiths quoting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on family life and describing him as a gentle husband and father — “The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character. And the best of you are those who are best to their women,” the Prophet said — there is still a disturbing and persistent culture of domestic abuse in many Muslim-majority countries and communities around the world. And the actions of those abusers support the misconception that Islam encourages domestic violence.

Would a Muslim NFL commissioner have handled the Rice case or the Peterson case any differently than Goodell handled them?

Given the importance that Islam places on justice, I think that if nothing else, Rice’s initial suspension would’ve been longer than two games given the contents of the infamous videotape, even if Rice had not been convicted in a criminal court.

In the aftermath of the Rice and Peterson cases, the NFL began working on a tougher personal conduct policy, which it is now fighting with the NFL players union to implement sooner than later.

“The league’s revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association,” the NFL said in an official statement last week. “We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief.”

It is an admirable effort that will lead to a better league, Insha’Allah. But I feel that under a commissioner who is following Islamic principles, a tougher conduct policy would’ve already been in place before Rice and Peterson damaged the league’s reputation and deep-pocketed sponsors started questioning their affiliation with the NFL.

Of course, it is unfairly easy to criticize the actions (and inactions) of people who are in high-profile decision-making roles: men like Roger Goodell and Barack Obama, women like Angela Merkel and Stacey Allaster.

We not only have the benefit of hindsight, but we also don’t face the coming-from-all-corners pressure these leaders live with every day.

While it seems everybody with even a casual interest in football is lining up to tell Goodell how to do his job, I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that his job is an easy one.

The commissioner of the NFL must serve the interests of billionaire team owners without alienating millionaire athletes.

The commissioner must manage the egos of rich, talented and confident men and women who are accustomed to getting their way, all while maintaining goodwill with a mostly working-class fan base whose money makes the entire system go ‘round.

The job of NFL commissioner requires an ability to balance justice with fairness, confidence with humility, forgiveness with accountability, patience with ambition, strength with kindness. It is a balancing act that many Muslims have experience in navigating; a job at which I would fully expect the right Muslim to succeed.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Amaar Abdul-Nasir was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., and received his B.A. in Journalism from Seattle University. A sports writer and editor by trade, Amaar founded UmmahSports.net, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

featured

The American Muslim Reaction To The Death Of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Muslims
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

By Dr. Osman Umarji & Sh Mohammed Faqih

A memorial was attended by thousands of fans earlier today (2/24) to remember the life of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on January 26th, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers (John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan). The news came as a shock to many people from all over the world, as Kobe was an international celebrity. The Muslim community in the United States was also shocked by his unexpected death. Friday sermons touched on the topic of his death, as his sudden passing weighed on the minds of congregants. Youth events were specifically held to help the youth process his death and learn the Islamic perspective on death and grieving.

One may wonder why the death of Kobe got so much attention from the Muslim community, whereas countless other deaths of non-Muslim celebrities and Muslims have typically received substantially less attention. Here are a few reasons that may explain why his death received more attention and had such an impact. First, Kobe’s death was an absolute shock to people. He died at a relatively young age of 41, at least according to our cultural standards. For the past 20+ years, his basketball career had been observed in an era where sports had become a 24/7 industry. Even when he was not playing, people were following the details of his personal life, business ventures, and much more through television, radio, podcasts, and social media. He was incredibly successful in his basketball career, having spent his entire career with the Lakers and winning five championships, which brought tremendous joy and happiness to Laker fans everywhere (and agony to fans of other teams). Thus, an entire generation had practically watched him grow up from a teenager to a world champion to a father of four girls, and the numerous memories people had about his life likely made them feel incredibly close to him. These memories of watching Kobe deliver game-winning shots and holding up trophies were often created in the presence of friends and family, making them more personal and emotional. We say all of this not to glorify anyone, but simply to explain why his persona was so grand, even amongst a broader media culture of celebrity obsession.

This aforementioned context may have been missing to some religious educators who were neither basketball fans nor aware of the memories people had of Kobe. Many Imams, khateebs, and youth educators expressed confusion at how community members were reacting to his death and coping in ways they felt were unnecessary and inappropriate. They were further surprised that the advice they gave on the topic failed to resonate with some members of the community. 

With a desire to better understand the community reaction to Kobe’s death, we administered a 14 question online survey to measure the reactions and coping mechanisms of Muslims to the death of Kobe. Our intention was to provide information to religious educators and extract lessons based on actual beliefs and behaviors of the American Muslim community. The survey was deployed two weeks after his death and was shared via social media. The rapid response to this survey was astounding. Within two days, we received nearly 340 responses. We believe this speaks to the relevance of the topic and the strong emotions that Kobe’s death has elicited. We discuss the results of our survey data below.

Who Responded?

The participants were quite diverse in terms of age. Most participants were between the ages of 26 to 34 (n=124) and 35 to 44 (n=103). 65% were male (n=221) and 35% were female (n=119). Participants were very diverse in their attitudes towards the Lakers and Kobe. Nearly 23% considered themselves absolute Laker fans, whereas 28% were not fans of the Lakers at all. Approximately 26.5% followed Kobe’s career a lot and 22% followed his career quite a bit. In terms of religiosity, 47.5% considered themselves to be very religious, 45% somewhat religious, and 7% a little religious.

We find it important to highlight that nearly half of the sample followed his career while also self-reporting high levels of religiosity. Being a basketball and Kobe fan and being religious were not mutually exclusive. 

What were peoples’ immediate feelings and reactions upon hearing about Kobe’s death?

Participants expressed a variety of emotions and reactions upon hearing about his death. The most common reactions were shock (74%), sadness (59%), and not believing it was true (46%). Many participants also reported crying (15%), feeling nothing (13%), and feeling numb (12%). Less frequently experienced were feelings of sickness (3%) and anger (5%). Participants were also asked whether the news of Kobe’s death disrupted their day in any way. Nearly a third reported that their day was not disrupted at all (32%), another third reported that their day was a little disrupted (35%), and a third reported their day was either quite a bit or completely disrupted (33%).

How did people cope with his death?

Participants were asked about how they coped with his death. The most common methods of coping were thinking about one’s mortality (68%), watching old videos and pictures (50%), praying for his family (44%). Participants also reported communicating with friends and people on social media (36%) and communicating with friends on the phone (32%). Other coping mechanisms included making a personal tribute, such as a social media post (19%), deciding to improve oneself (22%), and attending a community event about Kobe (5%). Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, more than a quarter of participants reported making dua for Kobe himself (26%).

As coping with death is a topic that has been mentioned in sufficient detail in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we were especially interested in the ways in which participants felt religion informed their own coping. As already explained, approximately 44% made dua for his family and 26% made dua for Kobe. Therefore, we asked participants “If Kobe had followed your religion, would you grieve or cope differently?” 21% responded that they would not cope any differently had Kobe been Muslim, 52% said they would cope differently, and 27% said they might cope differently. We further asked, “Did you find comfort in your religion’s perspectives on death and coping”, and 92% said yes, 4% said no, and less than 2% said they did not know Islam’s perspective. 

Correlates of Reactions and Coping Mechanisms

While the previous results described the participants in our sample and frequencies of experiencing particular emotions and coping strategies, we wanted to better understand what factors predicted these reactions and coping mechanisms. More specifically, we were curious to understand how religiosity, age, and gender influenced these behaviors? We ran three different sets of analyses to answer these questions (see the appendix for detailed results).

In our first of regression analyses, we investigated the predictors of the immediate reactions to the death of Kobe and how disrupting his death was to one’s day. The key findings were:

  • The more people reported following Kobe’s career, the more likely they were to cry, be sad, feel numb, feel sick, could not believe he died, feel anger, and report their day as being more disrupted.
  • Being a woman substantially increased the odds of crying, being sad, feeling numb, sick, not believing that he died, and reporting their day as more disrupted. This was particularly surprising as women reported following his career far less than men.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity decreased the likelihood of crying, feeling numb, anger, and having one’s day disrupted. However, religiosity was unrelated to feeling sad, sick, and not believing he died.
  • Older people were less likely to cry and more willing to accept he had died.

For our second set of analyses, we wanted to understand what predicted six different coping behaviors (dua for Kobe, dua for his family, reflect over one’s mortality, make a personal tribute, attend a community event, and watch videos). The key findings were:

  • The more people followed his career, the more likely they were to make a personal tribute, watch videos, attend an event, and make dua for him and for his family.
  • Being a woman increased the likelihood of making dua for him and his family, but not of any other coping mechanisms.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity reduced the likelihood of making dua for him, making a personal tribute for him, or attending an event. Religiosity also increased the odds of thinking about one’s own mortality.

Discussion of the Results

There are many topics worthy of discussion based on the findings of this survey. As one participant commented, “I saw so many social media posts from Muslims saying RIP, eulogizing Kobe, speaking to him (“you’ll be missed, you were the best”), and saying his death was “too soon”, “untimely”, and “not fair.” I wish we could have more education on how to react to such news and why it matters.” Other folks felt the opposite, with one saying, “All people die. I am among the group who don’t understand why a non-Muslim celebrity entertainer’s death is so significant for the Muslim community.” We hope to answer these concerns.

First, Kobe’s death clearly affected the participants in this sample, who we believe represent more than a small segment of the American Muslim population. Men and women of all ages reported strong immediate reactions and coping in various ways. We believe this is important to highlight, as many people may have assumed that it was only the young males who were affected by Kobe’s death. Another interesting finding was that many people reported coping by watching old clips of Kobe. We suspect that the memories people had of Kobe were likely created in the presence of friends and family and that people felt nostalgic about their own lives watching his old highlights. Regardless of the exact reasons why his death was impactful, which may include difficult conversations about our culture of celebrity worship and the role of the media and marketing agencies making superstars’ personalities larger-than-life, these emotions and coping mechanisms are real and need to be understood to both educate and guide our community. Although the death of countless orphans, refugees, and innocent people all over the world warrant our empathy, the truth is that we will likely grieve more for people with whom we have some personal connection with, although people may have never met him. This sentiment was captured in the comment of one young male adult, who said, “Kobe taught me mamba mentality. He showed the whole world what true hard work looks like. That is why I was sad because I felt like a mentor had passed away.” 

With this acknowledgment that the pain people felt was real, we want to discuss the Islamic view of specific ways of coping for a non-Muslim, especially making dua for a deceased non-Muslim. We feel this is especially important, as both the data and many of the comments addressed this topic. From the data side, we found more than 1 in 4 Muslims made dua for him and more than half saying they would grieve differently had he been Muslim. As for the comments, many people, especially those who considered themselves very religious, echoed the same principle: Had he been Muslim, then we could have prayed janaza for him and made dua for him. Another convert sister, who hardly followed Kobe or the Lakers expressed, “I know my religion is the truth, but not being able to pray for a deceased non-Muslim is a hard concept, especially as a convert with all my blood family not being known Muslims.” Most people understood that Islam does not permit making dua for the forgiveness of deceased non-Muslim. In fact, there is scholarly consensus on this issue, as stated by Ibn Taymiya and Nawawi. We want to add that this was also an issue faced by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, many of whose parents and loved ones died outside the fold of Islam. Abu Huraira reported in an authentic narration that the Prophet visited his mother’s grave and wept, and everyone there wept with him. Then, the Prophet said, “I sought my Lord’s permission to seek forgiveness for her, but He did not permit me. Then, I sought permission to visit her grave and He permitted me to visit her grave.[1] We hope this clarifies the matter to those who may have been misinformed and gives strength to those who struggled with this issue. 

Regarding the issue of making dua for the family of the deceased, this is considered permissible and noble action, as it shows compassion and empathy for others. However, what seems even more vital and valuable, is that we learn from the death of Kobe to make dua for non-Muslims that we care for while they are alive. This includes making dua for their health, well-being, and most importantly their guidance. This is the best expression of love that we can offer to those who do not share our faith and the best way for us to show our appreciation for whatever we have benefited from them.

Another adaptive and Islamic way of coping that was commonly practiced was to reflect over one’s own mortality. What is astounding to us about Kobe’s death was that the night before he died he was in the news because LeBron James had just passed him for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list. Kobe had called LeBron to congratulate him that same evening. The following morning Kobe’s helicopter crashed. This moment should be a gut-check to us all about the fragile nature of life and remind us that our time on this earth is unknown. Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar used to say, If you survive till the evening, do not expect to be alive in the morning, and if you survive till the morning, do not expect to be alive in the evening. Take advantage of your health before your sickness, and take advantage of your life before your death.”[2] 

Although sports superstars like Kobe almost seem invincible because of their ability to conquer the moment in the games they play, his death should be a reminder that this life is not a game. We do not know when, where, or how we will die. O Allah, let us live in a state of Islam and let us die in a state of Islam. That is the greatest success. 

Appendix:

[1] Related by Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Dawud.

[2] Related by Bukhari

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/sports/kobe-bryant-fans.html

Author Bios:

Dr. Osman Umarji received his B.S in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine. After working as an engineer for many years, he went to study Islam at Al-Azhar University. He has a PhD in Educational Psychology from UC Irvine and currently works at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research as the Director of Survey Research and Evaluation. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at UC Irvine. He recently published The King, the Queen, and the Hoopoe Bird, a novel on the life of Prophet Sulaiman, in order to contribute to the production of culturally relevant educational material for Muslim youth in the West. 

Shaikh Mohammed Faqih completed a B.A. in Islamic Studies from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America in Fairfax, VA, and graduated in Quran Memorization and Recitation from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Previously, he held the position of Imam at the Islamic Community Center of Laurel in Laurel, MD, the Islamic Center of San Diego in San Diego, CA, and Islamic Institute of Orange County, CA. He is currently the Imam at the Memphis Islamic Center.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Life

Lessons And Reflections On The Death Of Kobe Bryant | Mufti Abdullah Nana

Kobe lessons
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant tragically passed away from this world after his helicopter crashed. The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world and millions expressed their grief and shared their condolences. His death and his legacy struck a chord with countless people who shared interesting personal stories about Kobe, what he meant to them, how much he inspired them, and the positive change that he generated. 

Kobe’s death saddened me. Despite knowing and preaching about the fleeting nature of life, his death shocked me. I have followed his career and am a fan. Not only that, Kobe was the same age as me, born only 40 days before me. We were both from the graduating high school class of 1996. 

I grew up playing recreational basketball from a young age. I ended up going in a different direction in my own life, but have been an avid sports fan for much of my life.

Many prominent people also shared their thoughts on how much Kobe meant to them and how he inspired them. My objective in writing this article is not to pass a legal ruling on the permissibility of following sports, mourning the death of non-Muslims, taking non-Muslims as role models, or advising Muslims to stop loving Kobe and cut off their connection with sports and Kobe Bryant completely. Instead, I wish to share some reflections and lessons from Kobe’s legacy that we can positively apply to our own lives. A believer is always looking to learn from others, from current events, and past events, and then derive wisdom and lessons from them.

Mamba Mentality And Muslims

There is much that we can learn from Kobe Bryant and his quest to be the best version of himself. He called this the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ 

Mamba Mentality: Honesty, Detachment, Optimism, Passion and Fearlessness. The Mamba Mentality is a mindset for constant self-improvement in the pursuit of your highest potential in life.

Kobe wished to inspire others to adopt his ‘mamba mentality’ in all aspects of life and to be great in whatever they do in life. “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great [at] whatever they want to do.” 

He explains, “The Mamba Mentality is a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports. It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the mamba mentality to achieve it. Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication.” Click To Tweet

As Muslims, sports fans, and especially fans of Kobe Bryant, we can derive many positive lessons from Kobe’s legacy and apply them in our lives to become better Muslims and better human beings. In this article, I will be discussing four specific lessons: 

  1. Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them
  2. Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives 
  3. Adopting role models and mentors in our religion
  4. Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them

You all know the jingle: “Sometimes I dream that he is me. Can’t you see that’s how I dream to be?”

Kobe not only dreamt to be like Mike, he consistently challenged himself to change his game to achieve this dream. 

He explains, “…we all have dreams. But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities.. you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line, you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing, I never gave up my dream.” Holding on to your dream and not giving up is extremely difficult to do and requires perseverance and great dedication. 

Every young person has dreams and plans for what they want to do when they grow up and what they want to become. Although some of these dreams are not realistic or productive (my daughter is not going to become a unicorn), many dreams are positive and serve an important function in helping others, serving Islam, or providing a means of livelihood. Our country is based on the American dream, and we hear countless inspirational stories of those who followed their dreams and achieved the impossible. 

At the same time, it is essential that we channel those dreams in the right direction and in light of the Islamic teachings, pursue a dream that will either positively benefit someone’s life in this world or in the hereafter. It is helpful to talk to a mentor, imam, career guidance center, or parent about our dreams and identify that dream that we wish to follow and pursue that will be most beneficial for us. It should not be doctor or bust, as is the case for many of us! 

Once we have identified that dream, profession, career, and direction in life that we wish to pursue, it will take hard work, dedication, and most importantly sacrifice to achieve that dream.

I dreamed of playing professional sports like many American youth, but unfortunately for me, my ‘NBA career’ ended before it could get started because I wasn’t that good! As plan B, around the time Kobe was already playing for the NBA, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and was inspired to pursue another dream; going overseas to study Islam and become an Islamic scholar. 

Those years were brutal. I became sick during those seven years, was homesick and often thought of quitting and heading back home, but by the grace of Allah,  I finished my studies. Sacrifice to pursue this dream meant giving up a career in management, friends, time with family, watching my younger brothers and relatives growing up, and much more during these years. Fortunately, my family supported me through this and in 2005, I graduated as a Mufti, qualified to give fatwas in Islamic law.

Kobe further expands on the need to sacrifice in order to attain one’s dream and that this is the price of achieving one’s dream. He wrote in his book, Mamba Mentality, “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.” 

Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives

Kobe describes the need for hard work and a strong work ethic in order to attain one’s dreams and greatness. “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”

“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”Click To Tweet

Kobe was a model for his work ethic and passion for basketball. Shaykh Suhaib Webb says, “Kobe’s drive and focus were edifying and motivating. I would watch him and think, I wish I was as passionate in my work and studies as he was towards his craft.” 

Personally, I did my best to dedicate myself entirely to my Islamic studies while overseas. I burnt the midnight oil literally and did not go to sleep in my first year of studies before midnight and never slept after fajr, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of study. In fact, while Kobe was winning three straight NBA championships from 2000-2002, I didn’t even know because I didn’t have a computer, didn’t have a cellphone, didn’t have access to the internet, and was simply too busy. 

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.Click To Tweet

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.

Kobe has this to say about lazy people, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language!..” Kobe was willing to sacrifice everything dear to him to achieve greatness in basketball and to win championships. 

How would our lives be different if we were to apply Kobe’s untiring work ethic, waking up early, dedication, and relentless pursuit of perfection to our jobs, responsibilities, families, religion, and desire to learn? 

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah.Click To Tweet

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah. We must be ready to make similar sacrifices to become good Muslims, to enter Paradise, and to learn about our religion. 

The need for role models and mentors

Kobe Bryant used to fondly remember his mentors such as Bill Russel and how their advice inspired him. “That’s why I think it is so important to have those mentors, those north stars, who you learn from and look up to.” (Mamba Mentality) Just as we need role models and mentors in sports, we also need role models in all other aspects of life, including our religion of Islam. 

It is up to us to determine to what extent we develop a relationship with our role models, listen to their advice, follow them, and are inspired by them. The stronger our relationship, the greater the impact will be. Many of us were inspired by Kobe and took him as our role model. We had a special connection with him and felt it in our hearts when he passed away. How many of us have similar Islamic role models and mentors that we love as much, have a special bond, who we follow and remember? We need more positive Islamic role models and mentors in our lives to inspire us in our religion as Kobe inspired us in sports. 

There are many great living Muslim leaders, scholars, sports players, and heroes in the world today who are excellent role models and inspirational mentors. By the grace of Allah, I have had the opportunity to meet many of them and benefit from them. I could write a separate article on these amazing personalities

There are also many great heroes, scholars, and leaders from the past who we can follow and take as our role models. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is the greatest role model and mentor in history, and we should do our best to learn about his life, his example, and his way and incorporating it into our own lives. Imagine if we had such a strong bond and love for him as we did for our favorite sports players! The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Among the people from my nation who love me the most is a group who will come after me and will be ready to sacrifice their family and wealth just to be able to see me.” (Sahih Muslim) May Allah make us from among such people. Amin

The Prophet’s Companions رضي الله عنهم are also the best of role models and examples. Abdullah bin Masu’d (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If a person is going to follow someone else and take them as their role model, then he/she should do so with those who have already deceased because indeed the living are not safe from falling prey to temptations and evil. [The deceased who are worthy of being taken as role models] are the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. They were the best people of this Muslim Nation; they had the purest hearts, deepest knowledge, and had the least formalities. Allah selected them for the companionship of his Prophet and to establish his religion, so recognize their virtue, follow in their footsteps, and hold fast to as much of their good character and ways as you can, because they were definitely upon clear guidance.” 

Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Kobe’s legacy not only includes changing our own lives while striving towards greatness in all that we do but also working on inspiring others to do the same. He says, “I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the people next to you.… Our challenge as people is to figure out how our story can impact others and motivate them in a way to create their own greatness.” 

He was a leader who built a team that worked towards greatness. And this did not just happen haphazardly. He applied the same techniques to leadership that he did to his game. He writes about his leadership style: “What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.” Excerpt from Mamba Mentality. We too need to use wisdom and insight when calling others to Allah and to goodness, and to customize our approach to the individual for maximum benefit. 

We will receive the reward for all the good deeds done by those who we inspire, motivate, encourage, and teach. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “The person who calls towards guidance will receive the reward of all those people who acted upon his calling, without decreasing the reward of the original doer himself/herself.”

As Muslims, we too need to work on leaving behind a good legacy when we leave this world which will continue to benefit us from our graves. When we die, all our good deeds will come to an end besides perpetual charity, pious children who will pray for us, or knowledge that we left behind. 

Kobe has left this world and is unable to further work towards building his legacy, while we are still very much alive and have that opportunity. Shaikh Suhaib Webb has shared a very positive lesson from Kobe’s life and death:

“As we sit saddened and frozen by the loss of Gianna and her father, let’s remember that we are, by God’s grace, alive. Let’s translate this moment into a passion and dedication to live, be better and use some of the drive Kobe modeled for us in his career, towards our faith and healing a fractured world.”

Redirecting our energies and channeling them to Islamic works

Sports play a significant role in many of our lives. Many of us are passionate about the sport we play or follow. We are attached to our favorite sports champ like Kobe Bryant and our favorite teams. Taking sports entirely out of our lives might not be a very realistic proposal. 

Scholars have written that what is required in such circumstances is not to eliminate that energy and connection from our lives completely, but to redirect it and channel it to more productive and more spiritually rewarding Islamic projects and activities: seeking knowledge, performing Salat, waking up in the middle of the night for prayer, staying fit and looking after our long-term health, and adopting Islamic role models. 

I will end with Kobe’s quote on what legacy we leave for others; “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you – or don’t. So don’t take it lightly. If you do it right, your game will live on in others.”

#Mambaout

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Culture

Messiah, A Fitnaflix Production

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Netflix released Season 1 of a new thriller series called “Messiah”. The series imagines the emergence of a character claiming to be sent by God, the Messiah, or Al-masih (messiah in Arabic) as he is referred to in the television series. 

This so-called Al-masih first emerges in Damascus at a time when ISIS is about to storm the city. He then appears in Palestine, Jordan and ultimately America. Along the way, he performs miracles and dumbfounds the Israeli and American intelligence officers charged with tracking him and figuring out who is enabling him. The season ends with a suggestion that he is truly a divine man, with the ultimate miracle of reviving the dead.

The entertainment value here is quite limited. Some stretches of the series are just flat or straight out boring, and the acting is not all that great. However, the series does create an opportunity for discussion about Muslim eschatology (the knowledge of the end of times), response to fitnah (faith testing tribulations) and Muslims portrayal in and consumption of entertainment media. 

The series shows some sophistication in the portrayal of Muslim characters relative to what people have been accustomed to with Hollywood. Characters that are situated in the Middle East are performed by actors from that region who speak authentic regional Arabic (including Levantine and North African dialects). The scenes appear authentic. While this is progress, it is limited, and the series falls into oversimplification and caters to typical stereotypes. While several Muslim characters draw the viewers’ empathy, they are not used to provide context or nuance for issues that the series touches on: ISIS, refugees, the Israeli occupation and suicide bombings. The two American Muslim characters are never really developed. In fact, all Muslim characters tend to be “flat” and one dimensional. This is in contrast, for example, to American and Israeli characters which appear multi-dimensional and complex, often dealing with personal challenges that a Western audience is likely to identify with (caring for an aging parent, mourning the loss of a spouse, balancing career and life, dealing with family separation, abortion, etc.). While Muslim characters are shown as hapless refugees, terrorists, religious followers, political activists, a university professor and student, their stories are never developed.

The show repeatedly refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is also consistent normalization of Israeli occupation and glorification of the occupying forces.  

Islamic eschatology 

Orthodox Muslims affirm a belief in “the signs of the End of Times, including the appearance of the Antichrist, and the Descent of Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) the son of Mary 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), from the celestial realm. We also believe in the sun’s rising from the west and the appearance of the “Beast of the Earth from its appointed place” [1]. Dr. Omar Al-Ashqar gives a detailed review of the authentic narrations regarding the signs of the end of times in his book Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra [2]. When it comes to actual figures who will emerge in the end of times, Sunni scholars generally affirm the following:

  • Imam Mahdi, who is a just ruler who will share the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) name. 
  • The False Messiah (Antichrist), or Al-Masjih Al-Dajjal, who will be the greatest fitna to ever to afflict this Ummah. 
  • The True Messiah, Isa ibn Maryam, who returns in the end of days, kills the Antichrist and rules for 40 years and establishes justice and prosperity – close to the time of the day of judgement. 

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned that the fitna of Al-Dajjal will be the most severe ever. In a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah and others, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said, “Oh people, there has not been a fitna on the face of the earth, since God dispersed the progeny of Adam, greater than the fitna of Al-Dajjal. Every prophet of God warned his people from Al-Dajjal. I am the last prophet. You are the last Ummah. He will appear amongst you no doubt!”

Al-Dajjal comes after a period of famine and drought. He will be one-eyed and will claim to be God. Believers will recognized a mark or word of disbelief on his forehead. He will perform many miracles. He will endow those who follow him with material prosperity and luxury, and those who deny him will be inflicted with deprivation and suffering. He will travel at high speeds, and  roam the whole world, except Makkah and Madinah, which he will not be able to enter. He will create a heaven and hell, command rain, the earth, animals, and resurrect the dead – all supernatural occurrences that he has been afforded as a trial and test for others. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went as far as encouraging us to flee from confronting him, because it will be a test of faith like no other.

Reflections on the series and lessons to be learned

The Prophets and the righteous are not tricksters and riddlers.

The Netflix series portrays the character ‘al-masih’ as someone who speaks cryptically; it is never clear what he is teaching and why. He leads his followers on long physical journeys without telling them where they are going or why. He speaks in riddles and tortures his followers with mental gymnastics and rhetorical questions.

On the other hand, a true prophet of God offers real guidance and brings clear teachings and instructions – the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) spoke clearly to his followers, he taught them how to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone, to be just, to uphold the ties of kinship, to look after one’s neighbour, and so on. He did not abandon them in a state of confusion to fend for themselves. Moreover, “al-masih” deceives his followers by concealing his true name (“Payam Golshiri”) and background – something a righteous person would never do, let alone a prophet.

What Netflix got right and what it got wrong

The Al-masih character initially emerges in Damascus (and the Islamic tradition mentions Isa ibn Mariam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend in Damascus). However, the character is eventually revealed to hail from Iran. A number of ahadith refer to Al-Dajjal first appearing in Khurasan, which is part of modern-day Iran. He poses as a righteous person, but it is revealed that he doesn’t pray at all. He quotes religious scripture, but only to service his cryptic speeches. That Al-Dajjal would pose as a religious person would not surprise Muslims, since some hadith mention he will emerge from the remnants of the Khawarij, a heterodox group known for overzealousness and fanaticism [3]. Al-Dajjal travels the world at fast speeds, disappearing from one land and appearing in another, just as the character in the series does. 

messiah

photo credit: IMDb

However, numerous features of Dajjal would make his identity obvious to believers, not the least of which is that the word ‘disbeliever’ will be written – whether literally or metaphorically (scholars differ) – on his forehead in such a manner which even those unlettered would be able to read. Physically, Dajjal is a short man, with a deformity of his legs, and one of his eyes is likened to a “floating grape”, sightless, and “green like glass”. The Prophet is said to have focused on these physical features because they are so manifest and eliminate any confusion.

Al-Dajjal’s time overlaps with that of two other eschatological figures – Imam Mahdi and Esa ibn Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Imam Mahdi is prophesized to fill the world with justice and rule for seven years, after which Dajjal will emerge. While the Muslims following al-Mahdi are taking shelter in Damascus, Prophet Esa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend and eventually slay the Dajjal. Therefore, according to the Islamic eschatological tradition, things will get better before they get worse before they get better again – Imam Mahdi precedes Dajjal and Dajjal precedes Prophet Esa [2].

Safeguarding against tribulations

The best safeguard is to have sound knowledge of theology and law, and to have our iman rooted in revelation and reason. For example, the most basic understanding of Islamic theology would lead us to reject any man who claims to be God, as Al-Dajjal will claim. With basic Islamic knowledge and reasoning, we would know that Allah does not manifest in human-like form, much less one that is deformed, as Allah is the all Powerful and Perfect. Could it be that at the end of times even such essential Islamic knowledge is lacking? 

walking on water

Al-Dajjal deceives people by his miracles and supernatural abilities. Our iman should not be swayed by supernatural events and miracles. We should measure people and ideas according to their standing with the Shari’ah. We must keep our heads level and not be manipulated because we cannot explain an occurrence. 

Al-Dajjal also lures people by his miracles and by his ability to give them material prosperity, comfort and luxury. We must tie our happiness and sense of satisfaction to eternal spiritual truths, not to the comforts of this life, and be willing to give up what we have for what we believe. We should live simply and not follow into the path of excessive consumerism and materialism.  

Another important consideration is not to base our connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on another human being (except the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Scholars, celebrity preachers, imams and teachers are all prone to error and sin. We must use the Shariah and the Prophet Muhamamd’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) character and teaching as the filter by which we evaluate them, not the other way around. Despite his obvious deformities, the Antichrist will be a mesmerizing blinding celebrity, but whose falsehood will be uncovered by believers who make judgements based on loyalty to principle, not personality. 

Is it time to live on a remote mountain?

The clearest indication of the nearness of the Day of Judgement is the prophethood of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The Prophet likened the difference between his time and the Day of Judgement as the difference in length between the index and middle fingers. However, before we sell everything and move to a remote mountain, let’s exercise care in projecting Islamic eschatology on the political events of our times. The reality is that no one knows when these things will happen. Explaining the current phase in our history away by end of times theories or conspiracy theories, are simpleton intellectual copouts that lead our Ummah away from actively working towards its destiny. Anyone who has claimed that this event (remember Y2K) or that event is a major sign of the Day of Judgement has been wrong, so far. There were scholarly guesses in the early centuries of Muslims that expected the Hour 500 years after the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) death. Yet, here we are. No one knows.

The best you can do is stay calm and make salat!

Muslims and the entertainment media

This increased sophistication and the apparent familiarity with Islamic sources exhibited by Messiah producers should lead us to value the importance of producing accurate, authentic and polished material and content about Islam and Muslims and our community’s role as a source of information. 

It is also important for Muslims to produce works for the mass media and entertainment industries. This is no longer the era of the sole MSA Da’wah table. Sophisticated, entertaining and authentic media production is an imperative for modern Muslims.  When we don’t tell the story, someone else will. 

Make it a Netflix Night?

We may refer to it as Fitnaflix, but let’s all admit that we cannot avoid television and the entertainment industry, for better or for worse. We can however moderate, guide and channel its use. Start breaking the isolation in which many of our children and young adults consume media. Families should watch TV together and use it as an opportunity to model how we select appropriate material and to create teaching and discussion moments. Parents should know what is influencing their kids even if they don’t like it. 

Some parts of the series Messiah, despite its flaws (and an explicit sexual scene in episode 9, not to mention profanity), could be used as a teaching moment about trials and tribulations, the end of times and the importance of Muslims engaging in the entertainment industry in a principled and professional manner. 

Ed’s note: Much of the series’ content is R-rated. Besides depictions of terrorism and other mayhem, sexual activity and brief rear nudity are shown. Mature themes include abortion, adultery, infertility and alcoholism.

Works Cited

[1] T. C. o. I. Al-Tahawi, Hamza Yusuf (trans), Zaytuna Institute, 2007. 
[2] O. Al-Ashqar, Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra, Dar Al-Nafa’is, 1991. 
[3] [Online]. Available: https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2014/06/23/dajjal-emerges-khawarij/.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Trending