Who expected the 2014 NFL season to receive an extreme amount of attention, but for all the wrong reasons? Quite well known is the infamous and inexcusable behavior of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice with his then fiancé and now wife in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino.
Also, that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in the extreme punishment of his 4-year-old child. Another recent incident, which was not an off the field incident and didn’t involve any type of criminal behavior, nevertheless was definitely one that raised a lot of eyebrows and sparked debate across the country.
On the Sept. 29 telecast of Monday Night Football featuring the Kansas City Chiefs against the New England Patriots, the Chiefs’ defensive safety, Husain Abdullah, intercepted a pass thrown by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and, as they say, took it all the way to the house.
After his touchdown, Abdullah did what a lot of players in various levels and types of sport do, he made a religious gesture showing gratitude and thanks to the God he worships. However, it wasn’t to the Christian God. Upon reaching the end zone, Abdullah slid to the ground, then knelt on both knees and bowed in reverence to Allah. Out came an official’s yellow flag. He was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
What made this so extremely eyebrow raising and questionable is that even the most novice follower of football is familiar with the many players that kneel in prayer after scoring and even those who may not watch the sport at all, have nevertheless heard of the term “Tebowing.” Indeed, at one point Tebowing was a national, even international craze. People from all over the world took and posted on various social media sites poses of them “Tebowing.” Kneeling in prayer, for a time, became a fad.
But Abdullah’s show of reverence was not as popular. Still, the NFL quickly cleared up the controversy by having Vice President of Football Communications Michael Signora send out a tweet the next morning stating, “Officiating mechanics is not to flag a player who goes to the ground for religious reasons.”
The mishandling of this on the field display of religious faith, brought home to me some local actions that have shown, like many communities and people across the nation, even in Mobile there is a serious reluctance towards accepting and creating space for those of the Islamic faith.
Several weeks ago, the all-female Mardi Gras parading society Order of Isis (so named after the Egyptian god of love and friendship) insisted on changing its name because people were mistaking them for being affiliated with the international terrorist group ISIS! Go figure, but yes, there were some Mobilians who saw these Southern white genteel females out in public with their “Isis” shirts on and mistook them for terrorist fanatics trying to advertise and recruit for their beloved militant brethren waging jihad in the Middle East!
According to one of the group’s members, one OOI (Order of Isis) member was accosted in Sam’s Club by a man who strongly questioned why she had Isis on her shirt. Similar incidents have happened to other members as well. Fearing for their safety, they’re just going with the acronym OOI.
Several months ago the Mobile City Council, in a 6 to 1 vote, denied the appeal of a Planning Commission decision which gave the OK for a new Islamic school and mosque to be built along East Drive near the University of South Alabama. It seems like a fairly pedestrian issue, as our community is full of religious/private schools and most of them are centered in various neighborhoods throughout the county. Besides, it wasn’t a strip club or bingo hall the group was trying to build, but again, a school and new mosque.
But members of a neighborhood group in which Councilwoman Bess Rich resides and was the lone no vote, felt among other things, their property value would decrease and traffic/parking issues would ensue. Although traffic engineers and other officials cogently showed these concerns were unfounded, residents were unmoved.
Although it’s been more than a year ago, it’s hard to forget the uproar that was caused over Daphne High School’s decision to offer Arabic as a foreign language option to its students. Never mind how developing fluency in the language, which is one of the most populous languages in the world, can open a world of career opportunities, it’s just downright backwards and silly to assume that if a child learns the language they will somehow be convinced to become jihadists!
Obviously though, this type of behavior can’t be attributed to what people would like to classify as the typical Southern penchant for nativism or xenophobia. It seems to be a problem nationwide that many of the Islamic faith have to struggle against: distrust of and bias against their culture and beliefs.
When I bought my house in the Oakleigh Garden District about five years ago, I was sitting on my porch one day enjoying a peaceful and beautiful ending to the day when a very odd and unfamiliar sound caught my attention. It came across a loudspeaker that was in the distance but distinct. It was the sound of a man praying in Arabic. Being a Baptist and having grown up in the South this was definitely a new experience for me. But far from making me feel fearful, hearing this Muslim Adhan, or call to prayer, was a testament to the incredible diversity our port city of Mobile has always been home to.
And it’s exactly this which makes America so great, the fact that you have this marketplace of ideas, assortment of voices and opinions, some we agree with, some we don’t, but the beauty is that they can be expressed.
Yes, there is a very tiny fraction of those from this faith who desire to do us harm, but the overwhelming majority (like the Japanese and Germans living here during WWII or the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War) have embraced the very ideals and principles that make up the bedrock of our democracy.
Rather than acquiescing to fear and hyperbolic talk about the apocalyptic consequences of those of an Islamic faith residing in our midst, let’s embrace the richness of a culture from which we acquired our numbering system and helped lay the foundation for the Western Renaissance and Scientific Revolution.