No quarrel between flag and faith Ignoring the anthem: Player's gesture was political, sincere and wrong.

March 24, 1996

MILLIONS of American Muslims routinely stand for "The Star-Bangled Banner," recite the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag. Foreign citizens stand respectfully when the occasion requires. Americans do no less when abroad, regardless of the regime.

The National Basketball Association and the Denver Nuggets' guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf came to a reasonable agreement that Mr. Abdul-Rauf would stand respectfully during the playing of the National Anthem that precedes his games, as part of his obligation under a four-year, $11.2 million contract, just as foreign, atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other players do. Crisis over. He says he is praying during the rendition; that is his affair.

Before that, Mr. Abdul-Rauf refused to stand because "It is my understanding that 100 percent honesty and sincerity is the requirement for participation in the national anthem," and he considered the American flag "a symbol of oppression and tyranny." He based this on his personal reading of the Koran.

His behavior offended a lot of people, especially those who insist that anyone making the big bucks is more beholden to patriotic ritual than the rest of us. Mr. Abdul-Rauf, an American who adopted that name upon converting to Islam five years ago, brought the zeal of the recent convert to his cause.

Most people of Islamic faith the world over respect secular and nationalist symbols. His action was idiosyncratic, conscience-driven, deeply political, self-sacrificing, misguided and wounding to some. But it was not Islamic. Those Americans who blamed his religion were misguided, at the least. Mr. Abdul-Rauf did his co-religionists a disservice in attributing his individualistic gesture to their collective faith.

No such thoughtful wrong-headedness informed Joey Teehan, Dean Myers and Roger Beaty, the shock jocks of radio station KBPI in Denver, who barged into the mosque Mr. Abdul-Rauf attends during a service, blaring "The Star-Spangled Banner." Their action was as offensively blasphemous as it would have been in a Catholic or Baptist church or synagogue. Their brandishing of the anthem to annoy was more anti-patriotic and disrespectful than anything Mr. Abdul-Rauf did.

Mr. Abdul-Rauf may not be the soundest political thinker in the NBA, but he is its best free-throw shooter this year. Messrs. Teehan, Myers and Beaty display no comparable socially redeeming contribution.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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