Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 24 years old when he changed his given name and embraced Islam. While the spiritual journey was transformative for the NBA legend, Abdul-Jabbar knows that being Muslim in America isn’t easy.
In a conversation with The Huffington Post on Monday, the former Lakers star denounced the rise in Islamophobia that has gripped the United States. Abdul-Jabbar referenced a recent incident during which an imam and another member of his congregation were gunned down and killed in broad daylight while walking back from midday prayers.
“Just last week an imam in Queens was assassinated, a horrible event,” he said. “Other people who wear turbans like Sikhs have been brutalized and sometimes killed by people who think they’re Muslim. That’s so unnecessary and unfortunate and that should not be what America is about.”
Abdul-Jabbar said that the fear of extremist groups like ISIS has made Americans wary of Islam. Innocent Muslims have become the “convenient targets” who pay the price, he said.
“Unfortunately that ends up being very innocent people who are very happy to be here in America where they can practice their faith without any interference,” he said. “I think that’s one of the great things about America. Everybody is free to worship as they see fit.”
The former basketball star, who shares his thoughts on race and religion in his new book Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, also discussed how his relationship with Islam has changed over the years.
“I guess I’ve become more secular, but I also have not given up on the morality that I’ve learned from Islam,” he said. “I think that the morality that I learned was effective and meaningful and I still try to adhere to it.”
Watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar discuss Islamophobia in the video above and check out his full interview here.