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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's recommended reading: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview (page: 5 / 7)

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  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

You were raised Catholic, you went to Catholic schools, and you made a decision in the early '70s to become a Muslim. How did that come about?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: My interest in Islam started when I was a freshman at UCLA and I got the opportunity to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and it really made me understand that there was a lot more to monotheism than what I knew being raised as a Roman Catholic. I found in Islam that I certainly had a limited view of what monotheism was about, and it made me curious enough to read the Koran and see that it probably was something that I needed to investigate more completely. I was won over by the arguments. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church was greatly invested in the slave trade did not help me want to remain Catholic, and because of that, I changed my affiliation.

I embraced Islam basically after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which gave me a different perspective on monotheism and the history of religions.

What has it meant to you to be a Muslim?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think Islam has given me a moral foundation. It gave me a way of trying to balance your own personal ambitions, what you want and need in the world, with some type of morality and a way of viewing what life is about. It certainly doesn't help, at this point now, that there are so many problems with the Islamic world. But I think those have to do with politics, and the Islamic world's reaction to colonialism and being exploited, a lot more than really is based on religious belief. Because all of the religions that come from Abraham basically have the same message. Not very much difference if you can study it objectively, but that is hard to do in this day and age when there is so much politics and nationalism and resentment for things that have gone on centuries ago. It's kind of hard to overcome.

Has it been tougher in America in the last five years to be a follower of Islam?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: It has been very tough to be a Muslim in America ever since 9/11. Just the fact that Muslims were responsible for such an atrocity, how do you explain that? People aren't really willing to listen without saying that all Muslims feel that way, or there is something inherent in Islam that encourages people to go out and indiscriminately murder. It is not the case, but that is what has happened.

We'd like to talk about your life off the basketball court. You've written several books now. How do you choose the topics for your books?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: When I am writing a book, I just choose a topic that I think is interesting and relevant, and something that people would want to know about, and I try and make a coherent presentation of what I see.

Surely it also has to be something that you feel is important. What is important to you, off the basketball court?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well, off the basketball court, I think that making the world a better place, making my environment a better place, my community, my country. I think that is something that all people should aspire to. If you improve yourself, if you improve your environment, you are contributing to the good of all people, and I think that is a worthy thing for people to aspire to.

You have written a book about the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s. What is the importance to you personally of the Harlem Renaissance?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well, for me the Harlem Renaissance epitomizes the pinnacle of the efforts of black people to contribute to American life. I think that the aspirations of the participants in the Harlem Renaissance were such that we should know about it. I think especially young black people today should use that as a template for what they can do with their lives. They can use it as a means to see what their aspirations can bring forward. The poetry of Langston Hughes, the music of Duke Ellington, the social commentary of people like W.E.B. DuBois, all of these are things that made a difference in America and made a difference in black life. I think that is something that our young people should learn about.

You have written about the importance of jazz in your life. What does jazz mean to you? Why is it important to you?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Jazz, to me, is important because it is an expression of joy. It is an expression of people who, even though they were living in oppressive circumstances, were not going to take the negativity as the last statement on all circumstances, that things could change and that hope certainly was part of the process, and that change was -- even more than being possible -- inevitable.

Is that what it is about? A sense of possibility, a sense of hope against obstacles?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: A sense of hope against obstacles, and a sense of joy when those obstacles are overcome, and that every little victory can be celebrated in the moment.

I think you've said in your book that jazz even helped you become a better basketball player. How is that?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Certainly music helps you to do things with more joy, and just what you learn about timing and harmony, and your reaction to the choices that the people around you make, which is part of the jazz experience. All those things can help an athlete.

You hear the sportscasters talk about athletes or things being in rhythm or out of rhythm. Is there a beat, is there a tempo, is there a rhythm going through your head when you are out there on the court?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: There is a certain group dynamic that happens with a jazz band, and it's the same thing that happens on the playing field. What the group is trying to do in their efforts to achieving that goal, that's something that is shared, and it is something that the team has to be aware of collectively. They have to act as a unit. They can't just do it all as individuals. That cohesion of the unit makes for great team play, and it also makes for great music.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:03 EST
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