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The American Muslim Community Is Inextricably Linked To Kaepernick’s Protest


Ummah Sports

The American Muslim community has become inextricably linked to the most controversial sports story of 2016.

Before an NFL preseason game in Santa Clara, Calif., on August 26, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit down rather than stand up for the traditional pregame playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Kaepernick, 28, explained afterward that his silent and entirely peaceful protest was made on the grounds that the United States of America’s national anthem and its flag represent a country that “oppresses Black people and people of color.”

Protests similar to Kaepernick’s involving the U.S. flag and/or the national anthem have, deservedly or not, become commonly associated with Islam.

Case in point: Soon after the Kaepernick story made national headlines, a friend of mine actually asked me if Kaepernick is Muslim. As far as I know, he is not. (I do know that Kaepernick has several Bible verses tattooed on his body.)

But then about a day later, rumors began to surface that Kaepernick is in the process of converting to Islam and that his protest was perhaps influenced by his Muslim fiancee, MTV personality Nessa Diab. As I write this column, those rumors are still just rumors.

While a refusal to stand for the anthem and salute the flag conveniently fits into every Islamophobic narrative that Muslims hate America, hate Americans and hate American freedom, it is not an entirely baseless association. After all, two of the most recent and most infamous incidents in which a high-profile athlete drew the ire of angry American “patriots” over the national anthem both involved Muslim NBA players.

In 2014, Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters was quoted by a reporter that he had stayed in the locker room one night during the pregame playing of the anthem “because of my religion.” Until that moment, it was not known publicly that Waiters is Muslim.

After a few days of social media outrage and a lot of hand-wringing at NBA headquarters, it was revealed that Waiters and the reporter had a miscommunication. Waiters (who now plays for the Miami Heat) was not actively refusing to stand for the anthem; he was just late coming out of the locker room because he was praying. The near-controversy quickly faded into a footnote.

There was no such miscommunication in 1996, however, when Denver Nuggets point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf began sitting out the pregame anthem. Abdul-Rauf, who was very public about his conversion to Islam, said that due to his religious beliefs he could not stand for the anthem and salute the flag.

Social media wasn’t a thing back then, but hate mail and death threats were as real as ever, and Abdul-Rauf received plenty of both.

The NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for one game before he agreed to a compromise. He would stand for the anthem but he would pray during it. While short-lived, the controversy didn’t go away as easily. Abdul-Rauf’s NBA career seemed to go downhill from that moment, and while he ended up playing for many years overseas, to this day it is widely believed that Abdul-Rauf was blackballed by the NBA for his actions.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick

How the Kaepernick story ends is yet to be seen.

But it is clear that the American Muslim community is going along for the ride whether it wants to or not. Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a column about Kaepernick and the complicated subject of patriotism.

The Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has publicly pledged support for Kaepernick.

And to no one’s surprise, the most famous Muslim individual in U.S. history has become posthumously linked to the Kaepernick story. That individual is Muhammad Ali.

In today’s social and political climate, where athlete activism looks a lot different than it did during the Civil Rights Movement, some are already describing Kaepernick as a 2016 version of Ali — the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who was not only known for taking controversial stances against American tradition, but also for shining a light on America’s ugly racist past and present.

When Ali passed away earlier this year on June 3, many of the tributes that followed reminded us what it means for an influential individual to use their name and their fame for a greater cause.

Less than three months after Ali’s death, another athlete has become public enemy No. 1 with a certain segment of society for taking a stance not unlike one Ali may have taken in his day.

It has been pointed out almost ad nauseam the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those who praised Ali as a hero but treat Kaepernick as a pariah. It has also been pointed out that those who are angry at Kaepernick need to then re-consider their feelings about late baseball legend and American icon Jackie Robinson, who wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem Protest Is The American Way

Another seemingly obvious truth that Kaepernick’s critics can’t seem to grasp is this: If their beloved “forefathers” of the U.S. possessed the same passivity and blind allegiance to authority that they want from men like Kaepernick, the American Revolution never would have happened. The country they know and love might still be essentially a British colony.

America was built on the refusal of the oppressed to bow to their oppressors. Things just look a lot different when you used to be on one side but now find yourself on the other.

The likely reality is that Kaepernick will land somewhere between Abdul-Rauf and Ali in the history pages of athlete activism.

Because the NFL is such a massive media and marketing giant, anything its players do tends to garner more attention than the actions of athletes in other sports. An NFL quarterback taking a controversial political stance is going to have more impact than an NBA point guard doing the same.

And because we are in the social media and the “hot take” journalism era, and because America is in such a volatile period politically and socially in regards to race, Kaepernick’s actions will ring louder than those of Abdul-Rauf.

At the same time, Kaepernick is not going to be Ali. There will likely never be another Ali, who sacrificed his freedom to challenge the status quo at a time when he held status as the biggest sports superstar in the world.

But Kaepernick doesn’t have to be Ali.

By sitting down, Kaepernick is standing up for something more powerful than a song and heavier than a piece of cloth.

It may cost him his job. It may cost him millions of dollars he could’ve earned in NFL salary and endorsements. It will most certainly cost him the peace of mind that comes with being the kind of assimilated, compliant and politically diplomatic figure many Americans would like their athletes — as well as minorities and other members of oppressed classes — to be. A lot of people can’t handle being confronted with harsh truths about that which they hold dear, whether it is their family or their values or their country.

If one preseason game in Santa Clara marked the beginning of the end of Kaepernick’s NFL career, then it also marks the beginning of the most American thing he’s ever done on the stage that being an NFL player affords him.

Because even if it takes place beyond the scope of glory, the truth is marching on.

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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. GregAbdul

    August 31, 2016 at 2:38 AM

    Millions of Muslims stand for anthems and salute the flags of the countries of our origins. Kaepernick is not engaged in a Muslim action. He’s not a Muslim. He is staging a black American protest. American Muslims are extremely noticeably absent when it comes to the battles black Americans have to fight. The immigrant community is big on coming into America and rushing to the white neighborhood and the American mainstream. No Muslim is staging an open protest against the flag and we should not. We are immigrating our families and we don’t want to do anything to mess it up.

    In the black American contest. Kaepernick’s protest is useless. His refusing to stand is feel good and nothing more. His refusal to stand does not benefit a single struggling black person. He is a rich professional football player living in a non black place. I am not asking him to move or live broke, but he can put a little more in his favorite college fund for black kids…and the rest of us need to quit playing and pretending. Nothing in Islam orders me to hate America or even dislike America. Kaepernick is not a Muslim and his disdain for America as a whole is not even a black thing. MLK did not do this. Malcolm travelled the world, yet came back to the land of his birth only to be assassinated.

    America is our home and we don’t solve our problems by pretending it’s not.

    • Chiquita Williams

      August 31, 2016 at 5:22 AM

      So clearly, you do not know your history. Black protest is inextricably linked to Muslim protest since large numbers of slaves were in fact Muslims forced to convert to Christianity in the name of Americanism. Francis Scott Key used the anthem to defend the murder of escaped slaves and prosecuted whites who publicly opposed slavery in DC, a city built by slaves. Secondly, great social movements have always been built upon symbolic action. Martin Luther King may have never become famous if he had not been involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The leaders of that action, including Rosa Parks, had been inspired by the decision to place a photo of a mutilated Emmett Till’s body in a national newspaper. Never minimize the significance of seemingly small actions. They often lead to meaningful things that transforms people’s lives. If what Colin Kaepernick did was so unimportant, it would not have inspired so much backlash and violent threats. The response is telling. So as I said, Islam and American blackness cannot be separated because American Islam is deeply rooted in the oppression of black people.

      • GregAbdul

        September 2, 2016 at 2:14 AM

        Ms Chiquita, are you a Muslim? My main point is that Kaepernick is not black people and he’s not a Muslim. Are you? You are here arguing on a Muslim website, that sitting is a form of protest. What exactly is it supposed to accomplish? Kaepernick lives in one of the whitest, freest places on earth and he is a multi-millionaire, so if wants to sit, that’s his right. Do you know football? If we Muslims bet, I would bet you Kap won’t be there next year. Pro football has two sides: talent and marketability. Lawerence Phillips had a ton of talent but most football players are misdirected. Kareem backs this young man’s right to not stand. He is a Muslim so for him, we go straight to the politics of it, but neither you nor I are Kareem. Sorry, but what I am missing is, you need to give me a Muslim greeting and then start talking. If you reject Islam, do you really think I am going to let you come to this website to teach me politics without you ever discussing your personal theology?

      • GregAbdul

        September 2, 2016 at 2:17 AM

        *Kaepernick is not helping black people.

    • Tawn

      September 1, 2016 at 7:55 AM

      Very Well articulated-excellent points made! I wish more
      Muslims and blacks would feel the same way you do.

    • PJ

      September 20, 2016 at 10:29 PM

      Awesome response. Just awesome.

  2. Ted Clayton

    August 31, 2016 at 9:16 AM

    The leading difficulty in asserting that Colin Kaepernick is in the process of converting to Islam, under the influence of his girlfriend Nessa Diab, is that Ms. Diab conducts herself like a Westernized, secularized, slightly Kim Kardashianesque ‘California girl’.

    A glance at the info & images readily available in the current media, does not support that Kaepernick’s girlfriend is a serious, active or observant contemporary American Muslim. She may (or may not) have been raised under or within Islamic influences, but she doesn’t appear to be expressing a conventional or recognizable Islamic lifestyle, at this time.

    She’s a (nationally syndicated) DJ; a ‘pop’ radio-personality. She moves from one radio-job, to a better one. She took over a formerly hip-hop program lately, which continues to orient itself toward Black audiences, but without the previous hip-hop emphasis. In this capacity Nessa speaks to the immediate interests of African Americans, such as Black Lives Matter.

    Actually, a more notable concern than Islam for both Nessa and Colin, appears to be their interest in & practice of the Vegan diet. Kaepernick has lost a substantial amount of muscle-mass in the 9 months he says he has been eating this way, and Nessa has publicly discussed it, claiming that the acidity-alkalinity changes it creates confer important health-benefits.

    Nessa Diab could be Muslim, and Colin Kaepernick might be embracing it … but a reasonable observer can’t make a clear call on the matter, on the available evidence, at this time.

    [I am a mid-60s, nominal/cultural, non-observant Christian ‘wasp’, with an early (extended family, community) background in ‘lively’ Protestantism/fundamentalism.]

  3. Bint A

    August 31, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    Well-written. I especially liked the review and comparison to the actions of previous sports legends and their strength in standing up for their values despite backlash.

    Notably, the very first question that occurred to me when I heard about this was: Is Kaepernick Muslim?

  4. Rene

    September 2, 2016 at 3:10 PM

    With Donald Trump said he was running for president, a couple of thoughts came up making me wonder why is this fool doing it. 1) He is really delusional in thinking he knows how to be President, 2) Is he in there to intentionally to make Hillary Clinton be president and 3) because so many of us have forgotten where we came from.

    I admire Colin and any other person who is willing to sacrifice themselves for others. It was disgusting how his other football playing friends just threw him under the bus ,telling him ” this is not the right time to sit it out”. If they know about Francis Scott Keys his racist purpose behind that flag,they wouldn’t run their mouth so quickly. Even if Key wouldn’t have done that, how could the call N.America the land of the free when slaves were still in bondage until 1865?

    When is the right time to fight? When it directly happens to one of them? I don’t know,but it disgusts the living day lights to see past freedom fighters fighting for their rights to get to what they are and can’t even give people like Colin the same respect.What a shame.

    Years ago,my mom lived near another prominent civil rights leader during the 1960s. As she was in her her way to work, the man was telling her the purpose of what they were doing. Near the end of their conversation, he said something interesting to her.The guy said ” With all of the work were trying to do in obtaining equal rights,I hope that what we’re doing will not be in vain.

    If he was alive today he would probably pat Colin in the back for doing what he did but cry of self centered man has become. We got a ” little ” liberation we just forgotten where we totally came from. Now that some of us have gotten great jobs,homes, a college education and mostly to be able to walk without passing a ” White ” or ” Colored “sign ,we just forgot about those who died and fought for us to have that much.

    From this whole Colin Kaepernick fiasco,I’ve learned that not only don’t NFL execs not care about him but not even the Black players who make up bulk of the league.Why should he play for people like them?

    Diseases/ injuries cannot be cured by being silent and neither can societal problems. The freedom that we do have didn’t come from people being that way.Somebody fought and died for it. If Donald Trump is dead serious about his morbid plans of making America great again.. believe you me…we’re going to wish someone would have continued to challenge the status quo.

    • Eric

      September 28, 2016 at 1:10 PM

      It was just a year ago that the NFL fined this hero for calling an African American player a Nigger during a game. I don’t think he is a hero.

      How can someone be a hero for a community that is such peril. Any progression of Civil Rights involves compromise. I honestly feel that the Litmus test for any African American movement should be “will this help in Chicago?” I am afraid that the BLM movement fails to address fundamental shortcomings in communities such as Chicago. BLM demands reparations, and fewer police, while Black on Black crime takes far more lives to include Black Children, who’s lives should be of the utmost importance.

      If Colin and other BLM protesters and heroes continue to teach young Black Children to rise up against White authority, the message will always be that of victims. Colin himself was raised by a White couple after a Black Mother abandoned him because a Black man abandoned her. I guess the White couple that raised him were pretty horrible people and I hope they get what they deserve for robbing Colin of a chance at a successful life but I don’t feel that increasing the racial divide is the right answer.

      The Us against Them mentality is extremely corrosive. Everyone demands that everyone ELSE be tolerant but few reciprocate. 21 years in the United States Military has taught me so much about culture and the importance of Diversity but the Military had a common goal that everyone compromised to reach. So many different cultures, beliefs and personalities make it hard to grow together if there is no common goal. I know in the early to mid-90s when we were doing humanitarian Ops in Liberia, they would quickly disagree about the slavery problem in America. They had it really bad there and it felt good for many of us to help, it was sad to be immersed in such levels of destruction but it helps appreciate what we have here.

      Basically, I think it is really wrong to boycott a country and vilify the place you live, and demonize the men and women that try to preserve order. Any attempt of a fact check and it is easy to see that MANY more police have died on duty protecting places like Chicago. I find any organization that attempts to undermine such authority, guilty of malice. Teach tomorrow’s adults to be accountable, tomorrow’s Fathers to be involved.

      I have seen a Diverse America where Americans flourish and are proud of their Country as well as Diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and heritages.

      • Amaar

        September 29, 2016 at 3:38 AM

        Kaepernick and the player who he supposed called the n-word both denied that charge. An arbiter assigned to the case agreed, and the NFL acknowledged this and ultimately cut the fine in half. (Why they didn’t rescind the fine altogether is still unknown.)

        Also, it’s interesting how Kaepernick is often accused of making this a racial issue — which inevitably leads to his parents bring brought up — however Kaepernick has never made this about blaming White people. Go back and read his interviews on this topic since August 26. He rarely if ever even mentions White people. And yet White people continue to react as if they’re being blamed for something.

  5. muslim w bs /ie. bas

    September 2, 2016 at 3:46 PM

    salaam alaykum,

    apologies not from the method of the prophet-but no matter what aint no body gonna stop it… to the conversation……I cant breath so let me be..i cant breath so let me be…just sharing thoughts,,,,oops they already were…….

    awaken and hold my hand..and please do hold the line and keep on spreading the message…..

  6. GregAbdul

    September 3, 2016 at 2:18 AM

    To the Muslims who run this site. This guy is posting a link to David Wood. A white racist Muslim hater who bashes our Prophet for profit. Insha Allah, you will remove his link so that at least here we are not sending traffic and advertising for those who insult us.

    • Person

      September 3, 2016 at 10:48 AM

      Wow, thanks. I was just about to clink on that link.

    • Sean

      September 3, 2016 at 12:46 PM

      Yes, Greg, and the David Wood video that is linked discusses the fact, FACT, that your prophet Mohammed owned black slaves. We know their names, genders and even the work they were obliged to do for Mohammed. It is all in Koran and reliable hadiths.

      I have asked you repeatedly to condemn slavery as practiced by your prophet. You will not do so.

      As a result, all your declarations about social justice and the evils of white people are the worst sort of hypocrisy: you strain on the gnat of American slavery, a piddling number, and swallow the camel of Islamic slavery, whose volume and death toll was astronomical.

      • Jose Rodriguez

        September 13, 2016 at 11:41 AM

        Then you must know from your reliable sources that Bilal, a former black slave during the Prophet Mohammed PBUH era over 1400 years ago, was freed as a slave and became an iconic person in Islam by making the first call for prayer right?

        How recent was slavery in the modern world (including America)?

        Slavery is condemned by true muslim believers and everyone is equal in front of Allah C.C (God’s) eye regardless of their ethnicity, shape and form.

    • GregAbdul

      September 3, 2016 at 8:55 PM

      When you assume to teach me Islam…which Muslim teacher taught you that you assume to teach me? What are your credentials? How long have you studied Islam that you now jump to teaching me Islam and race? David Wood is a white racist. These days, I am grateful for people like him. He and Trump. We know who’s got that light skin superiority sickness in their heads, by the rush to defend open American white racists. Mr. Sean, to put it as politely as I can, someone like you, unless you can actually show me study, can NEVER teach me Islam. You can however answer a question. How long have you had this bias and feeling of superiority just by looking in the mirror and TV and seeing white skin?

    • GregAbdul

      September 3, 2016 at 8:57 PM

      When you assume to teach me Islam…which Muslim teacher taught you that you assume to teach me? What are your credentials? How long have you studied Islam that you now jump to teaching me Islam and race? David Wood is a white racist. These days, I am grateful for people like him. He and Trump. We know who’s got that light skin superiority sickness in their heads, by the rush to defend open American white racists. Mr. Sean, to put it as politely as I can, someone like you, unless you can actually show me study, can NEVER teach me Islam. You can however answer a question. How long have you had this bias and feeling of superiority just by looking in the mirror and TV and seeing white skin? Why do you think American racism is cool?

    • Sean

      September 4, 2016 at 1:18 AM


      I’m not responsible for teaching you anything. Go and read the hadiths and Koran. They are your books. They openly describe, justify and codify Islamic slavery.

      Haven’t you been limping along long enough on the crutch of anti-white racism? Don’t you recognize this is really a belief in juju, superstition and magical thinking? There is nothing more supernaturally evil about white people than any other kind of people. The entire human race is prone to prejudice, clannishness, selfishness, a lust for power. Black people are just as bad as everyone else.

    • GregAbdul

      September 4, 2016 at 4:40 AM

      you didn’t answer me. I didn’t ask you what I need to read for you to tell me. You can’t think well enough to see you are engaging in the exact behavior that I am telling you is patently racist. You can only repeat it. Can you answer my simple question? What is it that leaves you totally ignorant about what Muslims teach, yet you assume to teach a black American Muslim? I know it’s racism, so I ask you to teach me what is it about your light skin or my dark skin, that hurls you towards believing you are supposed to teach me? Are you afraid to actually talk about your behavior instead of going on and on with me about your assumed superiority and presuming I am supposed to go along too? Clearly I don’t. Tell me why you think your skin is supposed to make you an expert as opposed to actually going in a mosque for years to study what real-world Muslims actually teach about Islam?

    • GregAbdul

      September 4, 2016 at 4:44 AM

      Many white people are Muslim. Race is not ethnicity. Many Arabs are white. I certainly am not talking about all whites or any special trait white people have. I am talking about you and your defense of David Wood and American white racism specifically. You can show me I am wrong very easily. Tell me which Islamic university you studied at, or show me which Muslim teacher taught you that Islam encourages racism. David Wood is a Christian who’s racist. So I certainly don’t have to look very far when I want to talk about racist Christians…or those who support him.

    • Sean

      September 5, 2016 at 12:19 AM


      Sure. I know it’s all baffling to you. You are used to intimidating people with accusations of racism. Quote what David Woods has said that is racist. Quote what I have said that is racist. Put up or shut up. I am not interested in the intellectually lazy who throw out unproven accusations. I have stated fact. I am not “teaching” you anything that you should not already know. Mohammed owned slaves, black and otherwise.

      “light skin superiority sickness” What is this blah-blah? Social justice warrior psychobabble, that’s what it is. This is what you call every white person who disagrees with you, your opinions and your religion, trotting out the accusation that the color of someone’s skin makes them psychologically sick.

      I do not accept magical thinking or superstitions about the juju of the white she-devil or collective white guilt or the stain of original sin on the white-skinned American baby or whatever it is that you are peddling. I left Christianity because guilt is a useless emotion that serves primarily to manipulate people. I reject original sin and I reject collective guilt. No matter if my great-grandfather, grandfather or father was a slaver, rapist, murderer. I will never bear the burden of guilt for something I didn’t do or apologize to someone I didn’t do it to. So if you want to accuse me of something, you had better accuse me of something more substantial than my skin color or the presumed sins of my ancestors or the fact that you are black and disagree with my opinions.

    • GregAbdul

      September 5, 2016 at 5:40 AM

      you are not answering me. that is the put up or shut up. you are the one trolling me, demanding you teach me religion. I asked you where it comes from….and all I hear is crickets. So for me, I think that about does it for us. Let me know when you are willing to openly discuss what makes you think you are my teacher.

    • Sean

      September 5, 2016 at 11:50 AM

      What is “it”?

      I never said Islam was a racist religion, so I am not going argue that straw man which you put up.

      I said that Mohammed owned slaves. Do you accept the hadiths of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim? Or are you a Koran only-ist or hadith denier?

      “Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man).”
      Sahih Muslim 10:3901

      Did Mohammed own two black slaves, or does Sahih Muslim lie?
      Did Mohammed sell his two black slaves, or does Sahih Muslim lie?

      “Narrated ‘Umar: I came and behold, Allah’s Apostle was staying on a Mashroba (attic room) and a black slave of Allah’s Apostle was at the top if its stairs. I said to him, “(Tell the Prophet) that here is ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab (asking for permission to enter).” Then he admitted me.”
      Sahih Bukhari 9:91:368

      Did Allah’s Apostle own a male black slave?
      Or does the rightly-guided Umar and Sahih Bukhari lie?

      What I know anticipate is some sort of braying that not all hadiths are reliable and these probably aren’t because… If so, maybe you can produce some scholarly evidence to oppose the veracity of these.

    • Aly Balagamwala

      September 6, 2016 at 12:01 PM

      JazakAllahu Khairin

    • Aly Balagamwala

      September 6, 2016 at 12:06 PM

      This thread is considered closed. Kindly avoid further replies here.

  7. Miriam B.

    September 17, 2016 at 1:38 PM

    Great article – really well written.
    Just a small typo in this sentence: It has been pointed out almost ad nauseam the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those who praised Ali as a hero but not treat Kaepernick as a pariah.

    Thank you, again, for your contribution.


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