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Abdul-Rauf to Stand and Pray During Anthem, Network Reports

March 14, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf told ESPN today he is willing to stand and pray during the national anthem, a decision that could lead to the lifting of his suspension by the NBA.

``Now I recognize there is a better approach,″ Abdul-Rauf said in an interview with the network. ``In Islam ... if after making a decision, you see that which is better, you do that.″

Abdul-Rauf’s statement, two days after the NBA suspended him indefinitely for refusing to stand during the national anthem on religious grounds, would appear to meet the league’s rule in the dispute. The NBA requires players to stand ``in a dignified posture″ while the anthem is played.

``Am I sorry for it? Do I feel I’m wrong for doing what I did? No. This is what I believe. I’m not wrong for the stance I took. In no way am I compromising,″ Abdul-Rauf told ESPN.

The network did not broadcast the full interview immediately, but quoted him as saying he would rejoin the team Friday in Chicago, where he planned to stand on the court and pray while the anthem was played.

NBA spokesman Chris Brienza, speaking before Abdul-Rauf’s comments were broadcast, said the league would wait to hear what the Denver Nuggets guard had to say.

``All we ask is he comply with the rule,″ Brienza said.

Abdul-Rauf’s agent, Keith Glass, said discussions had been under way by his client with the NBA and the players’ union to resolve the dispute.

``We have been in discussion with the team and the players’ association on this issue,″ NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said today, refusing to elaborate.

Abdul-Rauf’s suspension is costing him $31,707 per game. He has missed one game so far.

A devout follower of Islam, Abdul-Rauf said Tuesday that standing for ``The Star-Spangled Banner″ clashed with his religious beliefs, contending the Koran forbids nationalistic ritualism. He also said the flag represented tyranny and oppression.

On Wednesday, the players’ union said it would support any efforts Abdul-Rauf might make to challenge the NBA’s disciplinary action, including filing a grievance.

Abdul-Rauf could have chosen going to court to obtain an injunction allowing him to play if a judge was convinced the league’s actions violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids an employer from taking punitive action against an employee for his religious beliefs.

McIntyre said the league considers it ``not a religious issue. It’s a simple procedural rule.″

If legal issues are raised, ``they’re open to interpretation,″ McIntyre said.

Islamic experts and the league’s most prominent Muslim player say the Koran does not address the issue specifically, but Abdul-Rauf seemed to be standing by his convictions Wednesday.

``My intentions were not in any way to be disrespectful to those who regard the national anthem as a sacred ceremony,″ he said in a statement released in Denver. ``I am an African-American, a citizen of this country, and one who respects freedom of speech and freedom of expression.″

Some players supported Abdul-Rauf for taking a stand on an inflammatory issue, although they didn’t necessarily agree with him. Others blamed the league and players union for not reaching a compromise.

``I think the union should have stepped in a long time ago and found ways to compromise. This kid has been doing it for 60 games and now all of a sudden, the league wants to suspend him,″ Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls said.

The dispute is unprecedented for a professional sports league. Players have refused to play on certain holy days, most notably Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series, but none has ever been punished for refusing to stand for the national anthem, nor has any player ever taken such a stand.

Muhammad Ali cited his Muslim faith in refusing to serve in the Army in Vietnam and was subsequently banned from boxing. Track and field athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith were vilified for raising their fists in a ``black power″ salute during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Abdul-Rauf, who converted to Islam in 1991 and changed his name from Chris Jackson in 1993, stopped standing for the pregame singing of the national anthem in November at the start of this season. Sometimes he would stay in the locker room, sometimes he sat or stretched in his chair, sometimes he faced away from the flag.

The Nuggets notified the league a month ago and the NBA asked the team to solve the problem quietly.

The union said the national anthem rule is not part of the collective bargaining agreement, rather a part of the league’s operations manual that is being enforced illegitimately.

The NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf after he stated his beliefs in front of television cameras Tuesday morning at practice.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also is sympathetic to Abdul-Rauf’s decision as a matter of religious freedom, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based group.

``Generally, I think we would support him in his conviction, whether we agree with his specific interpretation or not,″ Hooper said.

The council later issued a statement that said it had sought the opinions of Muslim scholars and the majority agree that ``standing out of respect for a nation’s national anthem does not constitute an act of worship.″

``They also agree that there is no direct reference to this issue in Islamic law,″ the council said.

Hakeem Olajuwon, the star center for the two-time defending champion Houston Rockets, the Koran teaches respect for the customs and traditions in whichever country one lives.

``It’s tough for me to understand his position, but in general the Muslim teaching is to obey and respect. To be a good Muslim is to be a good citizen,″ he said.

Nothing in Islamic teachings would bar standing during the national anthem or wearing the U.S. flag, as Olajuwon will do at the Olympics this summer, he said.

``The difference must be distinguished between worship and respect,″ he said. ``Islam orders you to obey and respect, as long as you are not worshiping anything other than God.″

``The Koran teaches respect for all people. That’s why it’s so important that people understand that there is a difference between respect and worship. People that worship the flag should also understand that there is a difference.″

``Islam is a religion of peace. You don’t attack. You explain.″

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