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How Basketball Helped This Muslim “Fit In”

I want to put something out there that might be controversial but yolo. I actively see Muslim organizations try to teach groups about Islam and how it is not what the Western media portrays it to be. This is important and this type of education is needed. Islam is a peaceful, loving and giving religion. But what if the beauty of Islam was also shown in another light? What if Islam was shown through the lens of sports?

Here is my story on how I survived and now proudly represent being a Muslim going through the public-school system in Dallas, TX.

BULLIED

I was in 6th grade during class when Allen J. (RIP) made a derogatory remark about me being Muslim, Indian and an insult towards my mother whom he never met.

“Your mom is ugly and fat.”

Forget the fact that he didn’t understand that all brown people are not Indian and that I am in fact Pakistani. Forget the remark about being Muslim because 9-11 didn’t happen until the next year and it wasn’t a big deal. It was the lame yet piercing insult towards mom that I could not let go. Being a skinny, some-what fobby brown kid I responded with the first and only thing that came to my mind.

“FU*K YOU! YOUR MOM IS UGLY AND FAT!”

Apparently when someone uses the same insult against Allen J’s (RIP) mom he doesn’t like it at all. In fact, he didn’t like it so much that he made a big fist with his right hand while biting his bottom lip and connected an amazing punch with perfect accuracy on my left jaw. I flew back with my head spinning in circles. If it wasn’t for the chair behind me that I was able to grab I would have fallen flat on the ground. It took about 20 seconds for the room to stop spinning and me to realize what just happened. I had no idea it would escalate to this.

That was the first and only time (so far) that I’ve ever been punched in the face. That was also the last time I remember being bullied about anything.

BASKETBALL

That summer all I remember doing was going to the Rosemeade Recreation Center and playing basketball 4-6 hours a day. I honestly was never meant to play this sport, much less be good at it. I started playing later than most kids and could only shoot with 2 hands. But you know what I was good at? Defense and hustling.

I would always guard the best player and was an absolute MANIMAL on the boards. Frankly I couldn’t do much else. But there was no way you were getting a rebound over me or getting past my defense. I wasn’t good enough yet to make even the 7th grade C-team but I didn’t give up. I kept going back to the rec every single day getting bigger, faster and stronger.

8th grade came around and I was selected as the starting B-team center. I was only about 5’10 at that time and tapped out at 6’0. I kept going up and up the high school sports ladder and eventually maxed out at Varsity my junior year before I had to quit due to my fathers murder.

Dallas Titans

What I started realizing after I made the team in 8th grade is that Allen J (RIP) and other bullies didn’t see me as the “Indian, Muslim” kid anymore. They saw me as the jock. They didn’t insult me or bully me. They stayed in their lane and by then I was either bigger or as big as them thanks to all the off season workouts. In fact Allen J. would talk to me but not from a position of power anymore.

No one saw me for my skin color anymore, they saw me for my athleticism. My circle grew outside of my brown friends and the same kids that wouldn’t talk to me in middle school were now kids I was conversing with every day. Hell even the cheerleaders would yell out “Sham-shootin” when I was on the free throw line (my old last name was Shamshuddin, long story.)

The only time I remember being mentioned as a “brown” kid anymore was when I went up for a dunk during warm ups and James P. said verbatim,

“Wow, I’ve never seen a brown guy jump so high.”

That made me smirk, egotistically.

BUSINESS

I continued playing basketball recreationally after high school and desperately wanted to play in university but had started my business that summer. I knew my dreams of the NBA were shattered, mostly due to my inability to grow past 6’0 but partly due to the life tragedies I had experienced by that time I like to believe. No matter, I focused on my company which clearly was the right choice however I never lost love for the game.

The ad-tech industry holds many conferences that I used to attend. Usually the conferences were the same but one year they held a 3 v 3 basketball tournament with industry folks in Vegas. I obviously had to play but didn’t have a team so I signed up without a team and got picked up by a random company to play with them.

I wasn’t widely known in my industry at that time. Had a few friends that would attend the shows but no one really knew me or my company. The only brown kid playing in this tournament somehow ends up with a random team in the finals.

We lost however by the end of that tournament, people knew me and my company. Every yearly conference after that tournament I would continue to hear “yo he can ball!” or “remember when we played and…”

We got 2nd place. I hate second place.

Little did I know the lifelong relationships this tournament would form which eventually helped fuel the growth of my business. In an industry filled with “white” people no one saw me for the color of my skin, they just saw this baller that they wanted to work and chill with.

PROUD MUSLIM

I have many stories like these that I can attribute to Basketball. I believe it had a lot to do with me helping me fit in and being accepted in crowds that I wouldn’t have been accepted in before. I also think my business experience and love for rap music helps tremendously as well but that’s a different story.

Basketball taught me patience, hard work, sportsmanship, teamwork and fundamentals. All things that I carry with me today and all things that Islam teaches as well. I proudly tell people today that I am a Muslim and even that I am Pakistani. I don’t fear saying it and publishing it to the world. I credit that to the confidence I built through the sport.

The circles I’m in or have been introduced to do not see me as the same type of Muslim that the Western media portrays. That’s not us and they know it. They see me as one of them. I am able to have productive conversations and answer questions about Islam with people that have had misconceived notions about it. I can see that it resonates with them. I like to believe that they are slowly changing their views about Islam and Muslims after knowing me, my interests, my morals and values.

Playing, talking and experiencing the beauty of sports means you’re “in.” It means you understand the culture and how important it is to the people you’re surrounded by. It means that you get why, to some, Sunday used to be God’s day and why there is so much Madness in March. But we already know that from history, don’t we? Sports has always broken boundaries and barriers around the world, i.e. Olympics.

MFFL = Mavs Fan For Lyfe. S for Shaz.

I believe it’s easier to educate and change the perception of something once you’re “in.” So my question is, in addition to the education, how can we use sports to change the face of Islam?