Back at UMD, the time for evening prayers approaches. Eighteen-year-old Marwa Soliman suggests to Adam Kareem that the female contingent should congregate on the blue carpet of the musallah — a small prayer space tucked into the Union Drive side of the former Cole Fieldhouse. The boys will have to pray outside. “You don’t want people of different genders accidentally touching,” she mock-chastises him.
Soliman is a point guard and small forward for Team Blair, representing Montgomery Blair High School. She also competes in Nasheed — an a capella singing competition, and Tajweed, which showcases her ability to recite the words of the Qur’an. MIST offers her an opportunity to literally let her hair down.
“I did play basketball at school,” she says. “My freshman year, I got a lot of … ‘stuff’ from people, so playing at MIST is so comfortable. Going in, scarves off, we get to wear shorts, t-shirts and basketball shoes. It feels amazing to get the opportunity to play normally and not have to worry about being all covered up and having people staring at you like you’re an outcast.”
In public, Soliman dresses conservatively, with arms and legs covered and her hair tucked beneath a hijab scarf. She believes that what’s in her heart matters more than what’s on her head.
“What I’ve learned from MIST is to treat all brothers and sisters — and all people — with love and respect. It’s so much easier to let other people know that it’s not some crazy religion.”
Even in an Olympic year, political realities can overshadow the simple joys of athletic competition. MIST and Muslim Basketball work hard to avoid the fear and arrogance that can divide Americans from differing backgrounds.
“We haven’t made an overt effort to reach out to people in a way that sounds like ‘Hey, look how great Muslims are,’” says Essad Malik. “People choose to stick with us because we treat them as brothers no matter where they come from. They’re going to be part of our brotherhood as long as they buy into the ideal of treating each other with respect.”
Adam Kareem concurs.
“The most effective way to build bridges and facilitate interfaith dialogue is not to sit around and say ‘hey, we’re different, but let’s love each other’ but to have people working mutually on a goal. Because it’s in living and playing together that people really develop love and camaraderie with each other.”
Basketball doesn’t provide all the answers. But playing the right way may render a few of the questions moot.
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