At the lecture, aptly titled “Faith and Football” and co-sponsored by the Yale Muslim Students Association, the Murgado Family Fund, the Athletics Department, the Chaplain’s Office, Calhoun College, and the Intercultural Affairs Council, the Abdullah brothers explained their decision to sit out the 2012 NFL season despite being in the primes of their careers and due for big paychecks. Instead of making tackles, the two defensemen joined their parents, brother, and Husain’s wife Zhavon on the Hajj, the Muslim religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
“Externally, life seemed good” Husain said. “But internally, I was striving for more. What was holding me back? I don’t have an answer, only God has the answer.”
Hamza, the older of the two, and a free agent who left Arizona Cardinals in 2011, reiterated that performing the pilgrimage to Mecca was of the utmost importance. When asked about how his teammates viewed his decision, he said, “I was a free agent and would never quit on my teammates. My teammates missed us, but understood that we had something we had to do.”
Both brothers credit much of their success to their devout Islamic upbringing. In a household with twelve children, their mother and father placed immense importance on faith and family, not football. Even today, football remains a passion, not a necessity.
But it is football that has provided these brothers with a soap box for their spiritual message. If not for their athletic gifts, Hamza and Husain would not have been featured on ESPN, NBC, and CNN. The two stressed that the exposure they received was not simply because they are Muslim, but because they have a message they believe in. Hamza repeated the verse “want for your brother and sister what you want for yourself” countless times, making sure to engrain these words in the audience’s memory.
Husain Abdullah also discussed how his faith is viewed by his NFL colleagues, stating that, “In the NFL, it doesn’t matter if you’re pink or green – you just have to perform.” He stated that being Muslim is an afterthought in NFL circles, and the Abdullahs do not want their message to spread solely because of their NFL fame. As Hamza rhetorically asked, “Who has the greater impact on you, the person you see on ESPN or the neighbor you talk to every day?”
By speaking at institutions like Yale, the Abdullahs hope to quell the misconceptions of the American public regarding Islam. Husain noted that at times, the entire Muslim population is unjustly held culpable for harmful actions of a single religious zealot.
Hamza, who has a twin sister, acknowledged that most people are not going to insult a 6 foot 2, 220 pound football player. After 9/11, he said that he was not bothered on Washington State University’s campus, but his sister, who wears a hijab, was ostracized at her San Francisco University.
Saifullah Khan, TC ’16, Secretary of the Muslim Students Association, was extremely pleased by the Abdullahs’s talk. He remains optimistic that their message will have a grand impact.
“Under the auspices of such professionals, we can not only eliminate the stereotypes that plague the Muslim world but also rekindle the image of humbleness, steadfastness, and character of Islam, which we observed tonight in these professional athletes,” Khan said.
With the help of Hamza and Husain Abdullah, there remains great optimism that these issues can be tackled.