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.”


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions