Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Interview with Olajuwon|
|09/17/01 at 13:18:55|
|Sept. 15, 2001, 8:59PM|
Hakeem a true face of Islam
By FRAN BLINEBURY
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle
Word came in a morning phone call and in the moment it took to digest the horror, to reach for the remote control and hit the power switch on the TV, there was time for a quick prayer and a singular hope.
"Please," Hakeem Olajuwon said to himself. "Don't let them be Muslims."
In a community as large and diverse as Houston, for years his has been the most recognizable face of Islam. A gentleman warrior on the basketball court, a soft-spoken man of peace off it, Olajuwon never has proselytized on religion, yet never backed down from an opportunity to share the tenets of his abiding faith.
Love. Respect. Civility. Responsibility.
But there, in barely an hour before his shocked and disbelieving eyes, were images and news reports that could do a different kind of damage, yet just as insidious, as the terrorist raid.
"My reaction, beyond the sadness for the lives that were lost, is that this is a very big setback for us," Olajuwon said. "The Muslims in America are now the images of the crime and this fulfills the stereotype.
"It puts us in a very bad position, all the way back to almost the beginning, to having to explain to a country where we are still in the great minority that the actions of a few cannot be allowed to represent all Muslims."
They are 19 faces of suicidal ideologues who can suddenly come to stand for death and destruction in the name of Islam. They are lethal, guileful fanatics such as Osama bin Laden and his followers, who can twist the foundation of the second-most widely practiced religion in the world into something incomprehensible and obscene.
There have been reports of vandalism at mosques in the aftermath of the tragedy as tension and a desire for revenge grow. So, too, do the fears of Muslims to go out in public.
"Please, don't put us all together with them," Olajuwon said. "Not only is it unfair, but it would be incorrect. Look at the bombing in Oklahoma City. It was committed by someone who would represent himself to be a Christian. But we do not blame that act on Christianity.
"We are part of the same community. We have been exposed to the same danger. There were Muslims who were killed inside the World Trade Center. There were Muslim firefighters who died trying to save people.
"We feel the same concern. We share the same compassion and frustration and feelings. You cannot be a decent human being and not have those same feelings."
His celebrity over 20 years in our midst makes him familiar, nonthreatening. But that is not the case with his friends and neighbors and relatives in Islam.
"That is more reason why we must be out in public, letting the world see that we are hurting too," Olajuwon said. "This is a crime against us. We are raising funds for the victims. It is our responsibility."
He starts to say he is just like the rest of us, then catches himself and laughs. After all, Olajuwon is one of us, a naturalized American citizen since 1995, and there are second- and third-generation Muslims who are as American as Yankee Doodle Dandy.
"There are no secrets," he said. "Islam is an open book, nothing to hide. It is all there in the Koran, the ways to follow the prophet Mohammed, to help individuals lift themselves to a moral level, to be the best citizen.
"The Koran has rules to follow, even in a time of war. The soldiers fight. But there is no killing of children or women or civilians. That's why this was not done in the same of Islam."
Olajuwon cringes, too, at the term "Islamic fundamentalist."
"Fundamentals are the basics, the foundation," he said. "The five pillars of Islam are to recognize God as supreme, to pray five times a day, to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, to give charity to the poor and to visit the holy city of Mecca.
"How do these fundamentals translate to terrorism? These are not fundamentalists. They are extremists. This is politics and we must separate it from the practice of being a Muslim. Islam is not a threat. It is a value system that teaches a higher level in character and dignity. It does not make you an animal, a barbarian."
He watched the memorial prayer service from Washington, D.C., on television, listened to the words of the Muslim imam, the Jewish rabbi, the Catholic priest, the Protestant minister.
"I heard the same message," Hakeem Olajuwon said. "We are in this together."
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