Gibbons' Muhammad faces different test

September 21, 2001|By Mike Preston

CARDINAL Gibbons running back Hassan Muhammad II should be concerned about pimples, dates and coming opponents, but instead he and his family have been educators and teachers about their Muslim faith during the past 10 days.

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Muhammads have been a little cautious. Nothing serious.

Shortly after the tragedy, Muslimah Muhammad, 14, was requested to report to an administration office in an Anne Arundel County high school.

"They went to my daughter and told her that if you have any problems with the tragedy that happened or if anybody approaches you, threatens you, bothers you, whatever, then you are to report to this particular person and we'll deal with the situation," said Hassan Muhammad I, an assistant football coach at Gibbons.

In the wake of the horrific events, it's disturbing government officials have to take precautionary measures to defend Arab-Americans and Muslims in this country. Fortunately, the Muhammads, who are African-American, haven't had any problems, but they read the newspapers and watch television.

They are aware of hate crimes against Muslims. They have been thrown in the middle of a problem without their consent.

"When it all happened, I was kind of in shock. I couldn't believe it was happening," said the younger Muhammad, a junior and one of the best running backs in the state. "The next day we came back to school, some of the guys came up and said, `We're going to get you,' but they were playing. But for some Muslim children, I bet the pressure is greater. I got all kinds of friends here: Catholics, Jews, atheists. We learn about all kinds of religions. Here at this school, they don't force Catholicism on you, but you get an understanding of what it's about.

"The first week it happened, we talked about it in every class," he said. "Some guys were like, `Let's just go over there and bomb them.' But that comes out of ignorance. You can't go against all Muslims or Arabs for what a few did. In a way, I feel what they are trying to say, but, on the other hand, you can't take away people's lives if they weren't involved in it."

The father said the call for retribution is from stereotyping. But there are other factors. Whenever there are difficult times in this country, there is always some backlash. When the economy is bad, the crime rate rises against the poor and minorities.

Yet depressions and recessions can't compare to what happened last week.

"It was crazy, sick stuff," said the father. "You can almost put that right along with the KKK. God created us all as one. True, we all have different languages, colors and complexions, but we came as one, all from the family of Adam and Eve. You look at the Palestinians and the Israelis, both out of the prophet Abraham, brothers really, but, for some reason, they can't get along, they can't come together.

"Then, when you look at what happened last week, it makes it hard for Muslims in this country," he said. "There has been a label put on us. You mention the word terrorists, and the first word that comes out of a person's mouth is Arab. Why? I don't know. I don't know why society has to stigmatize everything. But you try to persevere and understand where people are coming from. Then if a person doesn't know about you, you calm them down, and then it's your obligation to get them to understand you as a person."

Muhammad I has had that problem at work, where he is a network analyst. He said his co-workers sometimes try to avoid conversations with him about what happened last week, or sometimes they'll talk loudly enough to see if he will respond.

That changes when both Muhammads step on the field. Talk about the attacks has never existed. Team goals shield them from the outside world.

Muhammad II is one of the best to come out of Maryland. Last season, he rushed for 1,737 yards, breaking the single-season mark set by Vaughn Hebron, who later went on to play for the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles.

This season, he has rushed for 157 yards in one game and 161 in the other. Ask anyone on the school's campus about the rekindled athletic spirit, and the conversation always comes back to Muhammad II.

He's a model athlete with a strong work ethic. He can bench press nearly 300 pounds, and squat more than 400. He has a B average.

Which colleges have expressed interest? Which ones haven't? N.C. State, East Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Boston College, Alabama and Wisconsin have sent him letters.

But before Muhammad II gets to college, he and his family have to get through this terrorism crisis with the rest of America. Thank goodness there is football.

"No one on the football team has said anything at all," said Muhammad II. "In football we all have a common ground, we bond and look beyond all the other things about a person. And you end up caring about that person because there is only one goal to achieve."

Said Muhammad I: "You don't know if we're all ever going to get along. "You can see the changes in [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat over time. You see the changes in [Libyan leader Muammar el] Kadafi as he gets older and finds more wisdom. You see changes in other leaders, and you hope and pray to Allah that there will be changes, that somehow or another he'll come down and intervene and make it all better."

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