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16 For 2016: Muslim Athletes To Watch At The Rio Olympics


Ummah Sports

Think about the typical advertising campaign for the Olympic Games.

More often than not, the focus is on finishing: Sticking the landing, crossing the finish line, scoring the gold-medal-winning goal, having one’s hand raised in victory.

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For this summer’s Games of the XXXI Olympiad, more focus seems to be on simply getting things started.

In the seven years since the International Olympic Committee announced Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the host of the 2016 Olympics, the event has been plagued by health scares (Zika virus), safety concerns (three athletes have reportedly been kidnapped or robbed recently in Rio), performance-enhancing drugs (Russia’s track and field team has been banned for doping), unclean water, financial setbacks and construction roadblocks.

At this point, it will feel like a victory for Rio if the Opening Ceremony scheduled for August 5 actually happens. And if the Closing Ceremony set for August 21 manages to take place, that might be a borderline miracle.

Assuming these Olympics will get started and eventually come to a finish, here are 16 Muslim athletes to watch in Rio:

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Ayesha Al Balooshi

Ayesha Al Balooshi

United Arab Emirates

For the last couple of years, it was understandably assumed that if the United Arab Emirates qualified only one female weightlifter for the Rio Olympics, that one athlete would be Amna Al Haddad — the 26-year-old with Nike sponsorship who has gained global notoriety for breaking barriers by competing in hijab in a sport that only recently saw its international governing body allow women to do so.

But thanks in part to Al Haddad suffering a recent back injury, 24-year-old Al Balooshi was the one lifter (male or female) chosen to represent UAE in Rio. She is not unqualified for the honor. Al Balooshi scored higher marks than Al Haddad at this year’s Asian Championships, and she has been involved in the sport almost twice as long as the relative newcomer Al Haddad.

With reigning 58-kilogram (128-pound) world champion Boyanka Kostova of Azerbaijan out of these Olympics due to a PED suspension, Al Balooshi’s chances of landing on the medal stand automatically improve.

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Great Britain

Ali’s name carries a lot of weight in his sport, even if his body doesn’t. The 20-year-old flyweight (114 pounds / 52 kilograms) is fighting in a weight class in which his country hasn’t produced an Olympic medalist since 1968.

Ali brings an impressive amateur resume into the tournament, including a first-place finish at last year’s British Championships and a silver medal at the 2014 World Youth Championships.

But as long as he keeps his birth name he’ll inevitably be compared to the other Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. “The Greatest,” a.k.a. the former three-time world heavyweight champion and historic megastar who passed away earlier this year.

“He was a good human being,” the younger Ali said of his namesake in a recent interview. “He said what he believed in. And I really respect that about him. I have watched all his fights.”

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Al-Farouq Aminu (left)

Al-Farouq Aminu (left)


The six-year NBA veteran swings between small forward and power forward for the Portland Trail Blazers, and is considered one of the league’s better defenders. His skills on that end of the court will be much-needed if Nigeria runs into Team USA superstars like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

Nigeria will need Aminu’s offense, too. He averaged a career-high 10.2 points per game this past regular season, then went off for 17.2 points per game while making 55 percent of his three-pointers in Portland’s second-round playoff series loss to the eventual Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.

If Aminu keeps playing at that level, he could team with Detroit Pistons rookie Michael Gbinije and former NBA first-round draft pick Ike Diogu to lead Nigeria out of group play in the country’s second-ever Olympic basketball appearance.

(UPDATE: On the eve of the Olympics, Aminu left the Nigerian team due to a dispute over insurance for his NBA contract.)

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Sarah Attar

Sarah Attar

Track & Field
Saudi Arabia

Four years ago in London, Attar made history as part of the first-ever delegation of female athletes to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics. She then received a standing ovation despite finishing in last place in her opening-round heat of the women’s 800-meter race.

At the time, Attar was a college student at Pepperdine University (Malibu, Calif.), where she ran on the track and cross country teams. Since then, the 23-year-old Attar has graduated from school and dedicated herself full-time to training. She has competed in marathons and improved her personal-best time in the 800 to a flat two minutes and 40 seconds.

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Mutaz Essa Barshim

Mutaz Essa Barshim

Track & Field

Even when he doesn’t win the men’s high jump competition, Barshim just looks like he’s jumping higher than everyone else. Tall, lanky, smooth and effortlessly bouncy, Barshim is track and field’s answer to NBA Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine — except Barshim can get his entire body almost as high as an NBA rim while jumping backwards.

Barshim has collected handfuls of gold medals in Asian and Arab regional championships, as well as a gold medal from the 2014 World Indoor Championships. He has threatened to break the high jump world record; his personal best of 2.43 meters (7 feet, 11.5 inches) is the second-highest jump in history behind Cuban legend Javier Sotomayor’s 2.45-meter (8 feet, 0.25 inches) leap from 1993.

Barshim, however, is still reaching for the two highest prizes in his sport, that being Olympic and outdoor World Championship gold. He earned a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and a silver at the outdoor 2013 World Championships.

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Mahama Cho

Mahama Cho

Great Britain

The son of former African taekwondo champion Zakaia Cho, Mahama left his native Ivory Coast as a child to move to Europe, where he took up his father’s sport and represented France and later Great Britain on the international level.

The 26-year-old Cho is ranked No. 6 in the world in the men’s over-80-kilograms (176 pounds) division and finished in first place at the European Olympic qualifying tournament. He won a gold medal at the 2013 World Taekwondo Grand Prix, and a silver at the 2014 tournament.

“I promote my religion to the best of my ability through my sport,” Cho said in an Ummah Sports feature in 2014. “In my life, showing a good image and then letting people know that I am Muslim is why I think people end up attracted to me. They don’t concentrate on the negativity of Islam but the beauty of what I do as a professional through Islam.”

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Mo Farah

Mo Farah

Track & Field
Great Britain

Farah, 33, is the world’s marquee name in distance running. And after Jamaican sprinting superstar Usain Bolt, Farah is perhaps the planet’s most famous active track and field athlete.

At the last three major outdoor championships — the 2012 Olympics in London, the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and the 2015 World Championships in Beijing — Farah hogged all of the gold by sweeping the men’s 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races.

Whether it’s his specialty races on the track, half-marathons and marathons on the road, or in cross country races through the woods, Farah is expected to win just about every time he steps to the starting line. Sometimes he has entire delegations of runners from other countries aiming to literally block him from finishing first. And still, most of the time Farah winds up doing his popular “Mo-Bot” victory celebration — before his customary sujood prostration to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on the track.

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Habiba Ghribi

Habiba Ghribi

Track & Field

Ghribi came across the finish line in second place in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Championships, but was awarded the gold medals for both races earlier this year after first-place finisher Yulia Zaripova of Russia was retroactively disqualified for doping.

In Rio, Ghribi’s goal is to earn the gold in the old-fashioned way of beating everyone else on the track.

Last year, Ghribi ran the fourth-fastest time ever in her event at 9:05.36, an African record. This year, she is peaking at just the right time for an Olympic triumph, posting a season’s best 9:21.35 on July 23 in London.

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Jessica Houara-d'Hommeaux

Jessica Houara-d’Hommeaux


One of the few women’s soccer teams with a realistic chance of upsetting the powerhouse U.S. squad for gold is France. Houara-d’Hommeaux has a track record of success against the Americans, scoring one of her three career international goals against them in a 2015 upset victory in a friendly match.

The 28-year-old midfielder plays professionally for Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Division 1 Feminine, where her teams have won the Coupe de France Feminine and finished second in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. She also helped France to a fourth-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Last year, Houara-d’Hommeaux posed for a photo in the French magazine Surface wearing a hoodie like a hijab headscarf and soccer netting over her face similar to a niqab. Wearing a niqab in public is illegal in France, a controversial and polarizing law that made Houara-d’Hommeaux’s photo a bold choice.

A Sports Illustrated article said: “Given Houara’s Algerian descent, the image does not seem to be about appropriating or parodying the veil. It is not a comment about the oppression of Muslim women. Instead, the portrait seems to be about quietly slaying some misconceptions. After all, it is not often that hijab is associated with athletic achievement and inclusiveness.”

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Abdul Khalili

Abdul Khalili


In his day job, Khalili plays midfielder for Mersin Idmanyurdu in Turkey’s Super Lig and has scored 17 goals in his professional career. In his spare time, he is a rising star in his native Sweden’s national team program.

Khalili helped the Swedish under-21 squad to a first-place finish at the 2015 UEFA European Championship for his age group, beating Portugal in the final match. This year, Khalili could help his country’s senior national team to its first Olympic medal since Sweden took bronze at the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland.

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Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad



United States

Muhammad, 30, will make history when she steps into Carioca Arena 3 for her first match in the women’s sabre fencing competition in Rio. She will become the first U.S. athlete in any sport to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab headscarf.

In the meantime, Muhammad has been catching up to former NBA superstar Hakeem Olajuwon as perhaps the most famous Muslim athlete to ever compete for Team USA in the Olympics. (Muhammad Ali was still going by his birth name, Cassius Clay, and had not yet converted to Islam when he boxed at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.) She has appeared on talk shows such as “Ellen” and been featured in magazines such as Elle. She has met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The clothing line she founded for women who want to dress modestly, called Louella, is gaining in popularity. She has over 51,000 followers on Instagram and over 14,000 followers on Twitter. TIME magazine named Muhammad one of their “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2016.

Muhammad is ranked No. 8 in the world by the International Fencing Federation and will have more eyes on her than any Olympic fencer in recent memory. But even if she doesn’t win a medal in Rio, she has already scored victories for Muslims all over the country and around the world.

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Adrien Niyonshuti

Adrien Niyonshuti


There is not a more compelling “tragedy to triumph” story in these Olympics than that of Niyonshuti. When he was just seven years old, six of his brothers were killed in the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994.

After learning how to ride a bicycle as a teenager, Niyonshuti was spotted by cycling legend Jonathan Boyer (the first American to compete in the Tour de France) during a charity mission to Rwanda and taken under his wing. Niyonshuti soon became the first Rwandan to compete on Europe’s professional cycling circuit and qualified for the 2012 Olympics in cross-country mountain biking. He was his country’s flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony. After the Olympics, he opened the Adrian Niyonshuti Cycling Academy in Rwanda.

In Rio, the 29-year-old will compete in the men’s road race.

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Hassan Rahimi

Hassan Rahimi


Ranked No. 2 in the world in the 57-kilogram (126-pound) weight class in men’s freestyle wrestling, Rahimi was predicted to win the gold medal in this month’s Sports Illustrated Olympic preview issue. Of the four Iranian men’s freestyle wrestlers picked to medal, Rahimi was the only one picked to win gold. (Iran’s Hamid Souryan Reihanpour was predicted to win gold in the 59-kilo (130-pound) men’s Greco-Roman wrestling division.)

Rahimi, 27, will try to make up for a disappointing 2012 Olympics in which he finished eighth after losing his second-round match to India’s Amit Kumar. Since that letdown of a performance, Rahimi has won gold (2013), bronze (2014) and silver (2015) medals at the Wrestling World Championships.

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Siddikur Rahman

Siddikur Rahman


Golf is back in the Olympics for the first time since 1904. But due to fears over the Zika virus — and perhaps a little issue with a lack of adequate prize money — a lot of the world’s best golfers have turned down invitations to play in Rio.

But in the absence of big-name stars like Tiger Woods steps the man referred to as the “Tiger Woods of Bengal.” As an amateur, Rahman won 12 tournaments in Asia. Since turning pro in 2005, he has notched two wins on the Asian Tour — the first golfer from Bangladesh to win on the tour — and six wins on the Tour of India.

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Leila Rajabi

Leila Rajabi

Track & Field

After marrying Iranian sprinter Peyman Rajabi and becoming an Iranian citizen, Belarus native Leila Rajabi converted to Islam, changed her name, and quickly went about the business of becoming the best female shot-putter to ever represent Iran.

Rajabi owns the national record in the shot put at 18.18 meters (59 feet, 7 inches). She has won gold medals at the Asian Indoor Games and the Asian Indoor Championships, as well as silver at the Asian Games (outdoor) and the Asian Championships.

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Elif Yale Yesilirmak

Elif Yale Yesilirmak





Yesilirmak is a two-time bronze medalist in the 58-kilogram (128-pound) women’s freestyle division at the Wrestling World Championships, a two-time bronze medalist at the European Championships, and a gold medalist at the 2013 Mediterranean Championships.

Yesilirmak converted to Islam after moving to Turkey from her native Russia. In 2012, she became the first female wrestler to represent Turkey in the Olympics. She failed to reach the medal stand in London, but has won medals at four major wrestling meets since then. Yesilirmak has also been a prominent figure in the growth of women’s wrestling in Turkey; the country is bringing five female wrestlers to the Rio Olympics.

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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, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.



  1. Eman

    August 3, 2016 at 6:17 AM

    There are actually far more Muslims from African countries who actually have greater chance to win medals! Like athletes from Sudan and Ethiopia.

    • Amaar

      August 3, 2016 at 6:49 AM

      This list is just a sampling. But feel free to name any other Muslim Olympians you’re aware of so we can all know who else to watch for…

      • Saima Khwaja

        August 5, 2016 at 7:59 PM

        There is a syrian swimmer named Isra as well. She was a refugee now living in Germany.

  2. Abdullah

    August 3, 2016 at 9:54 PM

    With all due respect – I do question the wisdom of any Muslim support of the Olympics – particularly the Rio Olympics.

    Firstly, watching or going to the Olympics while taking into account the preponderance of political strife in Rio, the extent of prostitution and the growth in the ‘sex trade’ due to the influx of tourists and the un-payed police – all while the Brazilian government spends ludicrous amounts on facilitating this ancient Greek show of strength is unethical for any person, let alone a Muslim who has knowledge of way of the Prophet. How can one watch such blatant hypocrisy – instead of tax money being spent to help locals or give them their most basic rights in the short term such as adequate housing and safety, it is spent on this nonsense. How can one bring themselves to even watch this? The argument that the Olympics brings in money to the country is fallacious and does not justify the misery that the people have faced to reach such an end.

    Secondly, it is agreed upon that it is impermissible for a female to do sports in front of male audiences and the four schools agree that it is impermissible for a man to look at a woman that is attractive to him. Perhaps the author thinks that highlighting the presence of Muslims in the Olympics will bring some respite to the Islamophobia experienced by Muslims, often accused of not fully participating on the world stage – however the true safety from all evil is in trusting in God and holding firmly to the last rope that has yet to be severed – The blessed Sunnah of the Prophet.

    and Allah knows best.

    • Amaar

      August 4, 2016 at 3:54 AM

      At some point, though, shouldn’t some responsibility fall on us as Muslim brothers to not view everything our sisters do as alluring or sexual in some way? I grew up watching women’s basketball, track and field, soccer, etc. And I can still today watch these sports and look at these female athletes not as objects of desire but as competitors — just like I’d watch men’s sports.

      • Abdullah

        August 4, 2016 at 9:45 PM

        I suggest you refer this question to a scholar brother. It is important not to project our own cultural experiences onto absolute rules.

        Apologies if I caused any offence, may Allah grant you every success.

      • L Squire

        August 7, 2016 at 7:50 PM

        Right on, brother!

      • Nik Mohamed

        August 11, 2016 at 3:32 AM

        I absolutely agree!
        Muslims around the world still view female participants as an object of “awra”, instead of who they are as an individual.

    • D'arcy

      August 6, 2016 at 11:14 PM

      Abdullah…..get a life.

    • g. mcmillian

      August 7, 2016 at 6:12 PM

      While I have contemporary for Islam and followers of the depraved muhammed, you are among the worst. It is your radical attitude that promotes and helps my attitude flouish. Shame on you. This why Islam must be extenguished.

      • Abdullah

        August 7, 2016 at 8:42 PM

        Let’s not conflate orthodoxy with radicalism.

        My first argument was purely secular in logic and humanitarian.

        The second was an Orthodox view based on respect for women that is shared by the 3 Abrahamic faiths – and praise be to God is still practiced by many Muslims, orthodox Jews and eastern-Christian churches.

        It is in fact your bigotry, blanketing and projecting prejudiced notions onto other people you have never met that needs to be distinguished.

        Good day.

      • Abdullah

        August 7, 2016 at 8:44 PM


    • Jiptar

      August 10, 2016 at 12:59 AM

      Have you read the Quran? Full of love and inspiration isn’t it?

    • Gouk

      August 10, 2016 at 2:30 PM

      A muslim woman has as much rights to complete in the olympics as any muslim man. Iam thankful times are changing in favour for muslim woman after all it is 2016 ha ha

    • Go uk

      August 10, 2016 at 2:37 PM

      I am so proud that there are muslim woman competing in the olympics. I hope they all do very well. I am not a muslim woman myself so why am i proud?? Because they have as much right as any other woman has to be in the olympics. Good luck to them all

    • Nayeem

      August 10, 2016 at 9:09 PM

      Also, didn’t the Olympics originate as a competition in honor of false gods? How can it be permissible for any Muslim to ever take part in it?

    • Mohammad

      August 10, 2016 at 9:19 PM

      Agreed with brother abdullah

    • Dosa

      August 13, 2016 at 7:03 AM

      As a Muslim woman I am so tired of the Muslim man being our first enemy when it comes to achieving anything. I would understand if you were talking about wearing bikini’s and all that which is clearly against Islamic belief’s ( but Muslims who want to do that can and its between them and God and don’t need u to be demeaning them) but those who have bothered to find ways of wearing a scarf and dressing as modestly as they can deserve to be recognized. The belief of women not being something else other than a pretty face locked in a house having kids idea does not come from Islam, it came befre religion existed so that is nothing but culture and not Islam since Islam honors women and empowers them also most of our hadith’s come from a WOMAN who knew our prophet pbh best. Maybe men need to learn to stop objectifying women because that is the real problem here, ur argument could also been about why men should not be in the olympics to since men’s awrah is between their belly button and their knees but clearly they are all not adhering to that. Wonder why u failed to mention that and took it upon urself on telling us just about the women.

    • Brian

      August 23, 2016 at 7:06 PM

      Allah does know best. Who teaches it is not permitted for a women to compete in front of a man? That is culture, not Islam. Women should be treated with equality and respect. That is Islam. And this is an opportunity for Muslims to show the world we exist outside radical crazy groups like ISIS, The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boko Harram, etc.
      If you don’t want to see a women compete because you feel it is against your Islam, don’t watch. But don’t denigrate the women who are representing their nations and our faith properly and respectfully.

  3. Mohammed

    August 4, 2016 at 8:05 AM

    Please also list all the catholic and jewish olympic participants so we can also know who to watch for

  4. Zubair

    August 4, 2016 at 9:35 PM

    You missed out Sania Mirza from India. She is WTA No. 1 Doubles Players. She recently Won Australian Open along with Martina Hingis too.

  5. Zain

    August 5, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    MashAllah. .Good to see Muslims Athletes performing is 2016 Olympics.

  6. Noble Peace

    August 6, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    peace….lets pray, islam one way or the other is seen..censored or not….our honour and the rest is a gift to Him…Allah the One and only….

    May Allah be with all the Olympians m u s l i m or not……john, as a child said he was not created to…!

    it began along time ago, even before that….No matter what God loves us all…..

    may be here in the world, but Jannah has the best of us..may we get there…..ameeeeen…..

  7. Noble Peace

    August 6, 2016 at 10:11 AM

    devoid of love..sorry…that me…future is history..already but we all know not….as to that day….the Beloved is truly laha….

    Allah’s mercy comes before the other….because the latter may have some to to do with what is darkness on that day….

    ya sattar…ya ghaffar….ya malik al-mulk…..O’ Allah, it always has been YOU…THE FIRST THE LAST…..let us pass this test….eyes ears and……? we all responsible….decision decisions….

    peace unto you me and all

  8. Muslim from Russia

    August 6, 2016 at 8:08 PM

    No Russian athletes? Really? There’s plenty of Muslims in Russia and consequently quite a lot of Muslim athletes, espesially in such manly sports as wrestling of all types. I mean, a bearded Muslim judoist from Kabardino-Balkaria just one the first gold medal for his country! Whereas the half of the people on these list have no chances of getting near the Olympic pedestal… Seems a bit unfair to me. Hope you guys are not involved in this pro-American, anti-Russian olympic propaganda. First of all, you are Muslims, and then and only then you’re Americans or anyone else. So, please, respect all your brothers and sisters, be they Russian, Turkish, Nigerian, Chinese , etc.

  9. Amaar

    August 6, 2016 at 10:48 PM

    I didn’t include any Russian athletes because, up until about 2 days before the Olympics began, the entire Russian delegation was in danger of being barred from the Games due to the doping investigation.

  10. Noble Peace

    August 8, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    sallam alaikom,

    amendments* …not sure whether here or under the trump article…….not been briefed!?….reason for uncertainty…who knows?..suppose we’ll find out.

    as an addition to the above or the below…sorry it is confusing…just to try and clarify the confusion in a wee little bit….above or below..not my mind is all round the globe…i.e. I’m cuckoo :) :(…as to the addition! the Baptist John bit continuation……there is an Islamic narration that states the following:

    ”once upon a time,……John and jesus (peace be upon them both) met…..Jesus asked John ‘why are you smiling and happy as if you are free/secure from Allah’s punishment?’, then john asked jesus ‘ why are you frowning as if you are in despair of Allah’s Mercy?’…albeit, Allah revealed to them that john’s way was more dearer to Him.

    as to the initial quotation of john not being created to..(……..) as he said as a wee boy…summary of which is ‘Allah only created us to worship Him’.

    hour for your Lord and hour for self…..intentions and actions……

    p.s. pslam 34;1-2 for being cynical in thought… for what is after that, I have not read part of my testimony is the following……..

    Allah forgive me you and us all. Peace on our Beloved Muhammed.


  11. Noble Peace

    August 8, 2016 at 11:29 PM

    la yamun mukr Allah ila al-qaum al-….(…..not sure whether it is al-daleen/al-fasakeen..or is is something else?!..or even so, whether it is grammatically wrong i.e. is it ..oon…..

    another la sentence as is known yaeyas min Rhmat Allah ila al-qaum al-kaferoon…whether it is een or oon…Allah knows best and may be someone well versed in the book and grammar. just wished to mention mainly the last sentence, just as a reminder..that sometimes as we are humans it is allowed…and it does not mean that we disbelieve, but may be a khisla of kufr needs getting rid of from with-in our selves and actions…

    2020…..was that mentioned here or there?…istigfirAllah….and none of us know it in-sha-Allah….is it still around or do you even have it on your shores??….please, someone answer…or may be i’ll keep on blabbing on and on…..because ya wail…..

    main thing….

    O’ Allah make us all strong and steadfast on the Haqq.


  12. Jodie

    August 12, 2016 at 1:17 PM

    Good luck to IBTIHAJ Muhammad representing the USA.

  13. Emy

    August 14, 2016 at 3:31 AM

    Saaid from Maldives. 100m sprint.

  14. ray irwin

    August 15, 2016 at 9:17 PM

    Muslim gold medal winners are as rare as Muslim Nobel Prize winners

  15. Ingush

    August 22, 2016 at 4:09 AM

    Hasan Halmurzaev Russia djudo muslim in sha Allah. Aniar Geduev and Beslan Mudranov Russia Muslim. all Olympic champion in Caucasus! Allahu akbar

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