U.S. Muslims Look to Athletes as Faith Ambassadors

January 31, 2007

Author: Omar Sacirbey

Source: Chicago Tribune

Wire Service: RNS


Farrukh Saleem acknowledges he has a problem.

``I'm beyond a sports fanatic. I need help,'' said Saleem, who will hunker down in his Potomac, Md., home this Super Bowl Sunday with his six-year-old son and root for his beloved Chicago Bears.

Saleem, 36, attributes at least some of his sports fever to a youth spent watching Muslim superstars like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who became heroes to countless Muslim-American children.

``It can be a struggle growing up Muslim in America,'' said Saleem, whose family emigrated from Pakistan shortly before he was born. ``So when you see other Muslims doing and succeeding at the sports you love, that can't help but give you a lift.''

In their primes, Ali and Abdul-Jabbar gave the small population of Muslim Americans, comprising mostly immigrants and their children, figures who validated their identities and proved Muslims could succeed in America.

Today, there are more Muslims in U.S. sports than ever. But despite calls for better understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds, few Muslim athletes have emerged as ambassadors of the faith like Ali and Abdul-Jabbar. That leaves Saleem wondering about his children: ``Who are going to be the role models for them?''