Ravens' Ismail: Hate no answer

Football: Raised a Muslim, but now a Christian, he says, "The terrorists win if there is evil in your heart ... "

Pro Football

September 19, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States weighed on Qadry Ismail more than most Ravens.

The veteran wide receiver was coming off a solid 2001 debut against the Chicago Bears and anticipating a Monday night match with the Minnesota Vikings, the team that gave him his start in the NFL, before thousands of deaths and global political concerns made on-field matters mundane.

Ismail is sensitive to the bigger picture. He's a vocal Christian, but he was given an Arabic name and raised in the Islamic faith until he was a teen.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's editions, it was incorrectly reported that Vinny Testaverde was the Ravens' quarterback in 1999. Testaverde wasn't with the team that season. The Ravens' quarterbacks in 1999 were Tony Banks, Stoney Case and Scott Mitchell.
The Sun regrets the error.

"The respect for people that is going to be lost is a sad, sad thing," Ismail said. "Muslims here shouldn't be judged, just as when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans shouldn't have been.

"If a European nation instigated something like this, do you flip the script and have all white people. ... The terrorists win if there is evil in your heart toward people who don't think the same way you do."

Issues of faith always have been important to Ismail, a 30-year-old who has been in the national limelight since the 1980s, when he teamed with his brother, Raghib, in a formidable high school backfield in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

"My father studied at a university in Cairo and converted from Christianity to the Islamic faith," Ismail said. "He died when I was 9. I was a Muslim probably up until the time I was 12 or 13. I have an Arabic name, and I'm very familiar with the Muslim culture, but I'm every bit a Christian."

Among a group of receivers that otherwise passes for a kiddie corps, Ismail is the older, introspective one. Brandon Stokley, the other starter, and Patrick Johnson are 25. Travis Taylor is 22.

"By no means do I consider myself old, but if you want to call me the elder statesman of the group, so be it," Ismail said. "Each of us brings a lot to the table. I bring the experience, the wisdom, if you will, to help ourselves be mentally ready for each and every game."

After going through 1997 in Miami and '98 in New Orleans without a reception, Ismail found the proper focus in Baltimore, where he is expected to lead the Ravens' wide receivers in catches for the third straight year.

His production dipped from 68 receptions in 1999, when Vinny Testaverde was the quarterback, to 49 last year, when running back Jamal Lewis developed into the emphasis of the offense. With Lewis out for the year with a knee injury and Elvis Grbac reintroducing the passing game to Baltimore, Ismail could be in for his second career year in three seasons.

Ismail injured a hip on his first reception against the Bears, a 35-yarder that was the Ravens' longest play of the day, but he finished with six catches for 88 yards, both team highs, in the season-opening, 17-6 victory. Nine of the 30 balls thrown by Grbac went his way.

"I liked what I saw from us," Ismail said of the passing game. "What's nice is that we got better as the day went along. In seasons past, whatever happened in the beginning of a game, we would set a tone and it wouldn't improve.

"We would ride whatever wave we were on. But I like the way we progressed as the game went on. From Elvis's standpoint, it's good the way we spread it around. Once we get into a rhythm, we're going to be hard to stop."

Ismail spent his first four seasons in Minnesota, but a payback for the team that let him go in 1997 wasn't the reason he looked forward to Monday's game against the Vikings, part of the Week 2 schedule postponed by the NFL.

"It would have been one of the few games in my nine-year career in which I would have stood up and watched how my team's defense stopped a good offense," Ismail said.

"I would watch Barry Sanders and Jerry Rice and the Cowboys when they were really good. It would have been fun to watch Chris McAlister and Duane Starks against their [Vikings'] receivers. Now we just have to shift gears and go against Cincinnati."

Tuesday is the Ravens' day off, and Ismail was among the millions who watched the Sept. 11 assault on the World Trade Center unfold on live television.

"I kept waiting for somebody to say it was a hoax," Ismail said. "When you saw the second jet barrel into it, you realized that this was going to significantly change our lives. You recognize that there's an insignificance in what you do for a living, but Brian [Billick, coach] has conveyed to us that whatever we do, we have to be ready to do our jobs."

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