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Muslim player torn between football, faith

By By Duncan Gray IV/Special to The Star
Sept.20, 2001
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Torn between football and faith, one Alabama Crimson Tide athlete is using last week's tragedy to help educate the public on his religion while keeping his own sights set on Saturday's game.
After the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Saleem Rasheed, a junior middle linebacker for the Crimson Tide, found himself both explaining and defending his faith. The team's fourth leading tackler last year and a devout Muslim, Rasheed was distressed about the attacks on not only the World Trade Center, but also on his religion.
Rasheed, a 6-foot, 3-inch 227-pound Academic All-SEC leader on the field, has also become somewhat of a public spokesperson in the Tuscaloosa community following the attacks.
Raised as a Muslim in Birmingham, Rasheed's parents had converted to Islam when they were in college. In the days that followed the attacks, they, as well as other Muslims around the country, became the center of intense scrutiny. Despite being subjected to derogatory comments, Rasheed said neither he nor his parents have let emotions of the moment interfere with their faith.
He said a such a tragic event prompts people to show off their real colors, and many individuals have been too anxious to jump on anyone of the Islamic faith.
Rasheed was quick to praise people who are working to clear the air of confusion that still surrounds many ideas about Islam. One particular individual he praised was President George Bush.
On Monday, the president visited the Islamic Center in Washington, and asked that Americans respect the Islamic community and its followers.
Rasheed said every religion has its extremists, even Christianity. Since Muslims are a minority in the United States, often they are the ones who garnish the attention of the nation after attacks. He likened the two scenarios to student athletes and everyday students.
Even though he is a Muslim, Rasheed is also a U.S. citizen and is just as outraged as most Americans. He said he has no ill feelings toward anyone of a different faith, and only hopes that others feel the same.
He said he understood the nation was angry, and that he would not expect anything less at this point. He said he hopes Americans will see that most Arabs and Muslims are peaceful people. A tiny minority of people involved in terrorist acts do not speak for their religion, especially when it comes to taking the lives of many people.
According to Rasheed, for Osama bin Laden to call himself a Muslim is just "ludicrous." It is hard for him to imagine bin Laden being a follower of the God Alah.
For the time being, playing football has allowed Rasheed to clear his mind of many of the distractions. In addition to his academic honors, Rasheed started 10 games for the Tide last year and had double-figure tackle games against Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee.
As much as Rasheed has spoken out, he knows the events of last week have set his religion back.
For all of the events of the past nine days, Rasheed is likely to figure prominently when the Tide hosts Arkansas on Saturday in an important early season Southeastern Conference game that kicks off at 2:30 p.m. It will be televised on CBS.
Duncan Gray IV is a correspondent for The Meridian Star.