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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the important lesson he learned about being an American after converting to Islam: "That was the Muslim way; that was the American way"

When Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the first thing Kareem learned is that being a Muslim and a American can have its advantages in promoting ideas
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about the importance lesson he learned when converting to Islam

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will never forget the important lesson his mentor shared with him about being a Muslim and a US citizen at the same time

After transferring to Islam and changing his name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalls the moment in which he realized living in the USA gave him the power to speak out against any social and racial oppression while having the right to practice his religion freely despite the initial criticism he received for becoming a Muslim. 

Kareem was unhappy living in the US

Right before his senior year at UCLA started, Lew Alcindor decided to finalize his transfer to Islam by choosing a new name that would fit his new faith and the mission he was on as a Muslim. In the summer of 1968, Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a name that everyone later would associate with greatness in several different aspects, not just basketball.

Looking at the context of the time when Kareem decided to change his religion and name, it wasn't a great period for the African-American population in many places around the United States. The still evident racism, social instability for the minorities, and just a quest to find more about his ancestry led Kareem to adopt a new religion and a new name. As a young 21-year-old, Kareem was frustrated with the United States and how the entire system worked, and it made him feel alienated in his own community. 

As a young Muslim, Kareem was on the lookout for a mentor that would help him with his spirituality and show him how to become a more devout Muslim. In his book "Becoming Kareem"; Kareem details a critical lesson he learned from his teacher, Hamaas Abdul-Khaalis, who gave him a different perspective on what it means to be a good Muslim. 

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Kareem describes what type of dedication he had the entire summer learning about Islam with his mentor, who gave him a different perspective from the one young Kareem had in his mind about the United States and what it actually represents. 

"After my first meeting with Hamaas, who was very learned about Islam, it became clear just how ignorant I was and how much I had to learn. He agreed to mentor me, so for the rest of the summer, I got up every morning at four-thirty in order to be at his house by six o'clock. Then I'd hurry off to my job by nine. He instructed me on every aspect of Islam. He had very strict ideas about everything Islam demanded from true Muslims, and there was no bending these rules. He also knew of my political disenchantment with the United States, having heard me state with youthful arrogance that though I lived here, America wasn't really my country."

Learning to accept being a Muslim in the US 

After saying he wasn't a proud American and would rather live elsewhere, his teacher Haamas gave him a hard-cold truth on how lucky and privileged he is compared to older generations that fought hard so that he could have the freedom to express himself but also work on making the situation better for the future generations. Kareem learned that he could be a devoted Muslim while at the same time being an American that can learn to appreciate some things about his country. 

"Don't ever say that this isn't your country," he instructed me very firmly. "Your ancestors lived and died in this country and this is your country. You have to get all your rights as a citizen. Don't reject it, affirm it." I was stunned. If anyone knew the horrors this country had put black people through, it would be him. I had expected him to be on my side. But the more I studied with him, the more I understood that rather than sit around complaining about what the country wasn't doing, he wanted us to work hard to help the country do what it should be doing. He talked about the many white Americans who wanted to make things better for everyone and suffered personal sacrifices to make it happen. We owed it to them to show compassion and kindness. That was the Muslim way; that was the American way."

From that moment on, a lot of things clicked for Kareem in terms of accepting his new religion while understanding what rights he also possesses as an American citizen. During the 60s, numerous nations in the world didn't have that freedom and those fundamental human rights, and even though the US as a country had its own racial and social problems, it was far ahead of everyone else in that regard. So Kareem learned to have a different view on the whole subject and a bit more respect for his country, even though he was never afraid to call out the US for injustice every time he saw it happening. 

That was the whole point his mentor wanted him to understand and how his influence and impact can make a change because he lives in a society that allows that to happen. Being young and rebellious is a part of the process when you grow up but accepting you were somewhat mistaken and learning from it was the most significant upside for Kareem on his journey to becoming a great Muslim in the US. 

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