A Touchdown For Freedom

Colin Kaepernick

A Touchdown for Freedom by Professor A.L.I.

Colin Kaepernick is trending, and the die-hard ‘9er’s fan in me is excited hoping the news is good, that he’s healthy for the next preseason game.  I’ve supported the team through our great successes and triumphs throughout the ‘80’s and 90’s, only to watch us claw back to relevancy, and then have that fall away.  I’m a Colin Kaepernick fan as a result, and my hope was this year would be different than what the pundits had predicted, if only to piss off all the Oakland Raider fans who have been needling me throughout the summer.  However, as I tuned it to the trending timeline, it became clear that Kaepernick was trending for reasons even more relevant to me as a person, and furthermore as a person of color in America and so I watched closely like a fan rooting for the home team during the Super Bowl.

I watched Colin sit for the anthem now, just as I had watched Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sit as a young Muslim kid who’d saved up money to have a custom poster of Abdul-Rauf made, which showed him supplicating as opposed to standing for the national anthem.  This was a picture that I hung proudly on my dorm room wall and even when his career shifted because of his religious-political stand it stayed there to remind me of the sacrifices a person needs to make for their convictions.

When Mahmoud came to speak at UC Berkeley’s Muslim Unity Conference, it was shortly after the height of the controversy and the lecture halls were rightfully packed with eager American Muslims who had felt the same way, disenfranchised by the American promise because of one’s Blackness or Islam; so the flag didn’t hold the same weight for us because in our minds its symbology was besieged by police brutality, an injustice system, and policies that privileged some over others.  Mahmoud stood up for us by sitting down and he sacrificed his career to do so.

People have forgotten how good Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was.  He was the prototype for Steph Curry, and he made an impact on the game in an era where the rules did not favor that style of play.  He never missed a free throw and had one of the silkiest shots in the game.  People forget that when he was still known as Chris Jackson at LSU, a teammate of Shaquille O’Neal, that it was Chris that people came to see. I still remember his 50 point explosions and battles with Larry Johnson.  Most people don’t remember any of that, in fact he has become obsolete, made so by standing up for his beliefs.  He might have been on my poster, but he was made a poster-child for un-sportsman like qualities.

From not standing up for the anthem to fasting in Ramadan, he was painted to be selfish.  Sam Perkins, a Jehovah’s Witness never stood for the anthem but he was never outed by the media nor was he made an example in the same way.  Hakeem Olajuwon fasted in Ramadan, but when he did it no one made it an issue.  When Mahmoud covered up the logos on his shoes, instead of being praised, he was ostracized.  And the scrutiny took its toll and deprived many a basketball fan of watching a truly uniquely gifted talent from evolving into one of the game’s greats.

Mahmoud Abdur Rauf FlagThis was twenty years ago, and the injustice done to Mahmoud for standing up for his faith still bothers me, because it remains an injustice that is so incongruent with what the flag stands for that those who stole his right not to stand actually disrespected the principles of the flag more than he ever could by not standing.  Freedom is a concept that must be lived through experience, not pseudo-honored through conformity and denigrated by the complacency of those who don’t truly know what that concept means.  The flag waves for freedom.  The freedom to stand or sit.  The freedom of faith and the freedom to express it.  What happened to Mahmoud was senseless then and remains so now, and to call for the same to happen to Colin Kaepernick only showcases how much we have regressed in two decades.

In twenty years the issues of injustice remain and I’d argue along with those who would say that things have gotten worse.  Thanks to social media and devices that capture everyone’s single story, we have become hyper connected to the narratives of oppression that exist in this country.  Police brutality is no longer a myth that privileged groups can choose to ignore.  It is real and the movement to create accountability and shift policing is one that has been born of the work done by all those who have brought attention to this issue.

Colin Kaepernick scored a touched down for Black Lives, for the injustices done towards people of color and he made the nation pause and cheer and jeer for him, just as if this was in the Super Bowl.  His growing friendship with our mutual friend and my brother and colleague Dr. Ameer “Left” Hassan of @LeftSentThis, a true educator who uses social media to teach as effectively as he does in the classroom, is a testament to his growth as a human being and his victory in the eyes of the people.

I write this as an American who understands deeply that a fundamental quality of being an American is to recognize the freedoms an individual has, and this includes the freedom to burn a flag, let alone remain sitting when the national anthem is played.  Those that doubt the patriotism of Colin Kaepernick or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, should consider Jackie Robinson’s stand for the same right, and check their love of figures like Muhammad Ali at the door.  They should question what they are patriotic of, a flag that stands for nothing, or a flag that stands for freedom.  If it is the latter, they too should sit with Colin, but if it’s the former, I guess they should vote for Trump, because after all, his promise of an America devoid of any difference, any choice or freedom of faith, is precisely the flag they seem to be saluting after all.

 

Terror In Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

TerrorOrlando

Terror in Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

I was prepared to continue mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali in private, with my family and local community, and then this morning I awoke to the the horror in Orlando, and I just wanted to scream.

I am a Muslim.  I am a Muslim in large part due to Muhammad Ali, who was a childhood hero of mine, long before I knew anything about the faith.  He remained a hero into young adulthood and into this present day, because he represented many of the things I also rep for, such as Islam, blackness, social justice, humanity and love.  He took two holy names and made them a part of global lexicon, so much so that people throughout the world scream Muhammad and Ali in unison, just as they had once had in Ghadeer Khum in the middle of the desert for only the faithful and historians to hear.

Muhammad Ali represented many things.  Those who outcry the participation of many at his funeral, who they feel are incongruent with the politics of Muhammad Ali, have themselves “flattened” Muhammad Ali to a sliver of his robust and intricate persona.  He was many things and his funeral was attended by many people, and his Islam was a global Islam, evolving beyond the backwards fatawa (plural of fatwa) of Saudi clerics who label anything new an innovation and associate it with shirk (polytheism), in order to destroy it, so that they can further manipulate and control the faith.  Muhammad Ali also represented Islam, better than anyone without the surname Shabazz in the West and like Malcolm X, who was his mentor, Muhammad Ali continued to evolve and grow, becoming a better human being day by day.  This is what I know of Islam and why I became a Muslim, and this is why I hate what happened in Orlando and mourn it doubly.

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What happened in Orlando is sick and it has no faith, let alone Islam.  If you think it has something to do with Islam, then check your own timeline for posts about Muhammad Ali and have fun trying to reconcile those two very disparate things.  Muhammad Ali represented Islam, what Orlando represents is faithlessness.  Today the community in Orlando is mourning, and I mourn with them.  The LQBTQIQ community is reeling, and I too reel.  Gun owners feel they are being homogenized with terror and I too feel the same.  Yet there is a sliver of hope and it is named Muhammad Ali, for even in death his memory destroys the argument that this is Islam—it knocks out bigoted polemics and stands victorious, so that we all can chant “Ali Bomaye!” while facing terror with the poise of this unique and singularly powerful soul.

Muhammad Ali walked away at his prime, because he did not want to kill.  His stance, which cost him dearly, represents Islam greater than any singular bomb blast or mentally unstable individual with an Islamic name.  No one has ever done that in my memory.  Imagine Lebron James  Steph Curry stepping away from the sport of basketball, or Joe Cool walking away from the field in the late 80’s because he did not agree with the Gulf War.  My Bay Area pride aside, no one has ever come close.  Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf, whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1996 at a Muslim Unity Conference, came the closest in my opinion, but even he never walked away from sport for his beliefs—and as ill as he was with the rock back then (check tape if you are Steph Curry fan), he was never the G.O.A.T.

I never got to meet Muhammad Ali and it will remain an unrequited item on the bucket list.  I was lucky to go to Louisville last year and visit his museum, walk through a street named after him and imagine as a squinted the segregation of the city in which he was bred.  Last year as I visited his city, I was mourning Paris, events in Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen.  This year I add Orlando to the list—as we as a human population try to heal, while we are baited into a never-ending conflict of us versus them.  Like Ali versus Frazier, one side versus the other, where victory can only come when bodies hit the floor—and yet, if we understood Ali, we would know what Ali versus Frazier truly was.  Frazier supported Ali as he took his moral stand and walked away from boxing, financially and stood by his side—these weren’t enemies caught in a never ending cycle, but two human beings who stood beyond the sport of boxing and became friends.  This is the Islam that Muhammad Ali represented and this is the Islam I know.

17822_837194406315646_7409196219918621380_nSo I ask you, if you have been reading this to invoke Muhammad Ali in your mind.  Let him fill your consciousness and allow his memory to knock out the media fabricated mythology of the Islamic terrorist.  Islam is about justice, peace and the evolution of the human being to become a better human being; that is why you love Muhammad Ali and why in that love we have to have to battle bigotry and hatred as he once did, in order to rise.  It is why we have to build bridges and not walls, to paraphrase Billie Crystal, and why we have to stand for justice, instead of giving into the easy path of hatred and indiscriminate blame.  Let us mourn those who we have lost and let us stop this cycle of hatred, by reminding those who would terrorize us that we will no longer give into their greatest strength, which is bullying us into conflating our hatred of them with a billion innocent Muslims—because these Muslims are represented by Muhammad Ali and nobody can’t beat the GOAT.

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Professor A.L.I. is a spoken word and Hip-Hop artist and educator; in his piece “The Pen” he immortalizes Muhammad Ali with these words, “or channel Sonny Liston with devil intuition and fight Muhammad, then, pen becomes a prison.”

Professor A.L.I. has also written the book “A Muslim Trapped In Donald Trump’s America”, which speaks to the issues outlined above.

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