It took “Monday Night Football,” a touchdown scored at the expense of a living legend, and a brief yet heated controversy for Husain Abdullah to become a household name among National Football League fans.
On Sept. 29 in a nationally-televised primetime game, Abdullah, a free safety for the Kansas City Chiefs and the most visible Muslim player in the NFL, intercepted a pass by New England Patriots megastar quarterback Tom Brady. After returning the pick 39 yards for a score, Abdullah slid on his knees in the end zone. When he came to a stop, he put his hands and head to the ground in an Islamic prostration known as sajdah, an expression of gratitude to Allah (SWT).
International track star Mo Farah has been known to prostrate after races, having done it on sports’ grandest stage, the Olympics. Muslim soccer players in some of the top leagues around the world regularly prostrate after scoring a goal. So it’s not like Abdullah’s act was unprecedented.
But for reasons known only to the officials who worked that Chiefs-Patriots game, Abdullah was flagged for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for his Islamic show of faith. That of course sparked an immediate backlash, earning the NFL widespread criticism from both Muslims and non-Muslim fans and media members. And the accusations of unfair double standards and religious discrimination were completely understandable, considering that NFL players have been doing Christian prayers on the field for decades and are never penalized.
The NFL acted quickly, formally admitting just hours later that Abdullah should not have been penalized and that the official who threw the flag misinterpreted a rule that is meant to prohibit excessive celebrations. Abdullah downplayed the situation, putting the blame on himself for his pre-prostration slide that he says was the reason for the penalty. And personally, I think that it was not so much a case of outright religious discrimination and more of a case of the official in question not having the knowledge to understand that Abdullah was expressing his faith, which is allowed in that situation under NFL rules.
Anyway, the end-zone incident put Abdullah in national headlines, and so at the moment he is probably more famous than he has ever been in his NFL career. Coincidentally or not, NFL Films recently produced a feature segment on Abdullah that ran this week which focuses on how he balances Islam with the demands of being a pro football player.
You can watch the video here: http://www.kcchiefs.com/media-center/videos/NFL-Films-Presents-Husain-Abdullah/a42ff4b6-9277-4a99-bdbe-4bd1eba81691