Hamza Abdullah interview: Former NFL player claims 'we don't know' the facts of 9/11 terror attack

Former Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals safety player was among the most prominent Muslims in the NFL

Hamza Abdullah, the former Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals safety player, who retired last month, has made headlines recently for expletive-laden rants. In one, referring to how the NFL has handled player injuries, he called the organisation a “slave trade” and the League itself a “plantation”.

He later took some of the tweets down but I was not sure how he would react when I met him quite by chance in Doha last month. He was a speaker in Doha Goals Forum, a much hyped three day event, whose patron is the Emir of Qatar and which attracted high profile names ranging from politicians like Lord Mandelson and Ed Vaizey, the minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries to sporting legends: Boris Becker, Ilie Nastase, Nadia Comaneci, Katarina Witt, Michael Johnson, Kelly Holmes and Jonathan Edwards. Cherie Blair was listed as a speaker but did not turn up.

But, as we sit down to talk in a hotel, a two minute ride from where these dignitaries are meeting far from using any expletives Abdullah could not sound gentler. Indeed he calls me “sir” as he explains what it was like to be a rare Muslim in the NFL. Brought up by devout parents in Los Angeles he does not celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. “To be honest with you”, he says, “I’m kind of indifferent about it”.

The 30-year-old Abdullah is wearing a Kufi, the headgear for devout Muslim men, as he tells me how he and his brother Husain, who plays for Kansas City Chief, took the whole of 2012 off to go on the Haj, the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip, he says, made him realise that contrary to propaganda the world’s Muslims do not hate Americans. “They look at you and they love you because you’re American”, he says.

9/11, and the events that followed, may suggest this is rather an optimistic interpretation but then Abdullah has told me that 9/11 “made me appreciate what I had and made me appreciate my country. I became a patriot, I became more of an American I would say.”

However when I probe how the NFL’s most prominent Muslim player feels about 9/11 it soon becomes clear not many of his countrymen would consider his views remotely American.

So when I ask his views about that atrocity he replies, “That’s not for me to say, you know, I will be judged on me, I can’t be judged on someone else, neither can they be judged on me.”

But surely he must think it was a horrific act?

“I think that every man does something in his life that we are afraid of, that we don’t want to come out to the light. So before I go on talking about someone else’s perceived ill intent I have to work on my perceived ill intent.”

But does he not think it was an evil act?

“I would say that I have to make sure, whatever I’m doing, I am being a good example for myself, for my family, for my children, for my society, for my religion. You know, what happened September 11th changed the course of history, and everyone will always be forever changed. And what we have to do is we have to make sure that we are identifying with each other and with ourselves, and we have to take care of our own home first before we go out and say ‘This person did this and that person did that’.”

Surely everyone knows that planes flew into the Twin Towers, killing innocent people?

“Well,” he responds, “We don’t even know, we speculate. What 100 per cent facts are there about what happened that day? We don’t know, right?”

Was he saying the plane didn’t…?

He cuts me short by replying, “Do we know the people that went into that or do we know what we were told?”

By this time not knowing quite what to ask I say, “So you think they might not have been Muslim?”

Abdullah answers, “No, no, I don’t know what they were, but if someone just says ‘Hey, that guy’s Muslim’, what if they said that person is a part of your neighbourhood? Well I don’t know, I have never seen that guy.”

So what happened on that day?

“I’m not a historian, I’m not a psychic, I’m not a soothsayer, all I am is Hamza Abdullah, I’m a Muslim, I am a father, I’m a husband, I’m a son, and all I can do is concern myself with what I can control.”

Hamza Abdullah pictured at the Doha Goals summit in December Hamza Abdullah pictured at the Doha Goals summit in December  

But in some ways his real jaw dropping answer comes when I ask whether he would not say Hitler was evil. “I would say that ‘My name is Hamza Abdullah and the person that I have to be accountable for is Hamza Abdullah’.” He than adds, “There is only one judge and that’s God. So as tough as something may seem, let’s say me and you together, we walk outside and we see someone shoot another man, what would we both say?  ‘Whoa!’  Will you say ‘That is an evil act’, am I correct?  But we don’t know the story behind that.”

Given his stance on 9/11, which is not uncommon among some fundamentalist Muslims, you may expect Abdullah to say his mission is to convert the whole world into Islam. But when I ask he emphatically makes it clear he has no such desire, “If God” he says, “wanted us all to be one colour, to be one race, to be one religion, guess what?  We would all be one race, one colour, one religion, but we’re not.” And as for there being people with different religious beliefs he says, “That’s okay.”

And he emphasises that the non-profit organisation he has set up to help what he calls ”the transitioning athletes, the professional athletes that are done playing” will not be sectarian. Having decided to retire, because he says professional football “was wearing on me mentally and physically”, he can be quite eloquent about what prompted his decision to form the organisation.

“I’m passionate about helping my brothers and helping my sisters and helping my neighbours, and leaving this world in a better place, because in Islamic culture that’s what you are taught. It’s not about how big a house you have, it’s not about what kind of car you drive, it’s not about how much money that you have because you know why? When you meet your maker all that stuff is gone.  The only thing that stays with you are what? Your good deeds.  So your good deeds should be the number one thing that you cherish and that’s what I cherish.”

But will it be open to athletes of all faiths? “Oh, of course,” he says.

However his faith has made him so altruistic when I ask about his greatest sporting moment in a six year career which also saw him play for Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns, he talks about his brother’s career.

“The number one moment was when my brother called me and said he had made the team to play in the National Football League.  It was a feeling that I can’t describe. In Islam we are taught to want for your brother what you want for yourself. So I love the most about being in the NFL was seeing my brother attain the same achievements that I made and actually even go even further. He’s still paying, so I’m still gaining pleasure just from watching him.”

So it is no surprise to hear that not only does he feel Qatar should host the 2022 World Cup but that it can be played in the summer heat. “You can play whenever, that’s the thing about an athlete”.

And so impressed is he by what he has seen that he says, “I guarantee you they’re going to have something that people have never seen when it comes to the World Cup.” He has no doubts that the Qataris can fulfil their pledge to build stadiums to play in the head, “It’s not foreign to have a stadium that accommodates in the heat.  I played in Arizona, Arizona would be 115, 116, 117 every week, but guess what we played in?  70 degree weather. It’s the same thing, it doesn’t matter what’s going on outside, you can control this element, these designs, these stadiums that they have now, that’s why they cost so much money, because you’re making a level playing field.”

@mihirbose

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor