Basketball during recess. In fourth grade it was the highlight of my day (life was simple back then ). Every recess me and my friends would go to the monkey bars (since the rims had been torn off the normal courts) with a kids sized basketball and play three on three with the same teams; and every day, despite being of average height, I insisted on posting up right next to the bars and playing center. You see Hakeem Olajuwon, the best center of all-time (in this author’s humble opinion), was a center for the Houston Rockets and by playing center during lunch I could post up, do the dream shake and emulate ‘The Dream.’ Why did I like him so much? It’s weird, but I cant think of liking him initially for any other reason than being Muslim. To me he symbolized more than just a successful basketball player: he was a successful muslim, someone who had made it in this world while representing Muslims the right way.
Two summers ago I went to make umrah with a group of brothers and sisters around the US for about a month during the summer time. One of the most memorable moments was after Fajr one morning in Masjid an-Nabawi. I was hanging out at the masjid and was thinking of sitting in the morning halaqah that one of the sheikhs was giving when I saw, seated right in front of me, none other than Hakeem Olajuwon himself. Being the genius that I am, I walked up to him, gave salams and said ‘your Hakeem Olajuwon’ to which he looked at me blankly for a moment and responded in the affirmative. I always thought that the first time I saw him there would be a swarm of people trying to get his autograph and I would have to fight through the crowd to talk to him. Now here he was, seated with a Quran and no one was around talking to him except me. I was visibly flustered and didn’t really know where to take the conversation, so I asked him about studying Islam and how I heard that he had been studying to which he responded by saying that its always important to continue your studies. We talked about the importance of dawah in America as well and how a lot of Muslims are becoming active in this country.
The total time elapsed in the conversation was about 5 minutes, tops, and I walked back to the hotel on my way. It wasn’t anything extravagant, and I doubt that he even remembers it since it was such a brief conversation with a random kid, but I walked out of the masjid thinking about how blessed I was to have looked up to him as a kid and not some two-bit rap artist. Obviously the ideal role model would have been a sahabee or ar-Rasul sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, but at that age I didn’t even know enough about seerah or hayaatus sahaabah to choose them as my role model.
Which brings me to the entire point of this random article: role models, they are so critical for our youth today. I see kids in the masjid dressed and talking like 50 Cent and I think to myself ‘this kid is has no idea who he is,’ but then I remember myself as a kid and think about who I was. Role models are so incredibly important for kids growing up, and when our youth are not even presented any alternatives to the normal role models that the rest of society has taken they are bound to jump in with everyone else.
When I step on the basketball court now, my ‘dream shake’ has faded drastically and I don’t follow basketball like I used to, but I’ll always look at Hakeem as a brother in Islam who was to me, and I’m sure thousands of other Muslim youth around the country, a role model that served as an alternative. For that and that alone, I pray that Allah rewards him tremendously and blesses him and the youth of this ummah with good in this life and the hereafter. Ameen