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How Kyrie Irving’s stance on Islam has resonated among Muslim youth

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When Kyrie Irving discussed his fasting during Ramadan last week, some in the media wrote that that he had “admitted” or “confirmed” his Muslim faith as if it were a secret ... or worse. In reality, the better way of describing Irving’s reaction may have been “celebrated” or “rejoiced.”

Here’s just what he said in the post-game Q-and-A after being asked if he was observing the holy month of Ramadan which requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.

“All praise is due to God, Allah, for this. … For me, in terms of my faith and what I believe in, being part of the Muslim community, being committed to Islam and also just being committed to all races and cultures, religions, just having an understanding and respect. I just want to put that as a foundation...

“I am taking part in Ramadan with a lot of my Muslim brothers and sisters. And it’s been an adjustment. … It’s just being committed to my service to God, Allah, and then continuing on with whatever I’m guided with. I’m just happy to be part of my community and doing the right things. So fasting is definitely part of it – [I’m] just really blessed and grateful to be taking part in this.”

Some suggested that fasting might affect his play! The reverse appears to be true. Since the beginning of Ramadan, he’s averaging 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds on 60 percent true shooting including 98 percent from the line in that seven-game stretch.

Now, Khaled A. Beydoun, a law professor at the Wayne State School of Law writing for The Undefeated, described what Irving’s conversion to Islam means for Muslim Americans.

Irving’s words reverberated deeply through the Muslim community, particularly in the United States, home to a population still trying to recover from four years of “Muslim bans” and a relentless “war on terror” that marks Muslim identity as suspicious.

Muslim leaders and laypeople embraced the news of Irving’s faith as warmly as he did Islam, posting his image on their social media timelines and anointing the dribbling marvel “Ramadan Irving.” For a community in constant search of heroes, particularly in the field of sport, Irving filled a void and joined the ranks of outspoken Muslim athletes who used their platform for justice.

Specifically, Beydoun cited the reaction of Jamad Fiin, a Black Muslim shooting guard for the Emmanuel College women’s basketball team who wears a hijab on and off the court.

“As a Black Muslim ballplayer myself, who grew up watching Irving play, I love how he’s bringing positive awareness to the religion, because he’s such a big figure. It makes me really proud, and inspires me to not shy from who I am – a Muslim and a Black woman ballplayer, who shouldn’t have to choose between the things that I am and the things that I love.”

Beydoun also cited Irving’s community involvement, his commitment to social justice and suggested that his values are the values of Islam. All of it resonates with Muslim youth, he wrote.

In Irving, they see a transcendent athlete who helmed a documentary about Breonna Taylor; a son who embraced his Sioux roots and stood alongside the tribe to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline; and a young man who routinely spurns the strictures of stardom for the freedom of self-determination.

“[S]eeing public figures such as Kyrie Irving happily embrace the Islamic faith, it gives Muslim youth the confidence to be proud of who they are, and more expressive of who they are,” Sajjad Shah, president of the Muslims of the World organization, told Beydoun.

Irving, of course, is one of sport’s most popular players (punditry aside). As Beydoun reports, “His No. 11 jersey is the NBA’s sixth-most popular shirt, and his signature Nike sneakers consistently rank among the highest-selling. In Jay-Z’s words, Irving isn’t a businessman, he’s a business, man.”

Normally, he argued, that would “golden handcuff” an athlete, forcing him or her to “curate the content of their words ... but not for Irving.”

Bottom line for Beydoun...

In a sporting world where athletes have been reduced to brands, Irving stands apart as an intellect and individual. And his coming to Islam, on the second week of Ramadan, was blazed by a path that was all his own. A rebellious path – for critics who question his “mercurial” moves and freethinking. A righteous path – for Muslims, and so many more, who find in Irving a hero unafraid to be authentically who he is, regardless of how the rest of the world sees him.

Good on him.