Nazr Mohammed, traded from the Pistons to the Bobcats last week, is a practicing Muslim, something that causes an interesting situation during Ramadan — mid-September through mid-October.
Per Islamic law, Mohammed fasts during daylight hours of the entire ninth month of the religious calendar. The purpose is to help attain taqwa, or a heightened consciousness of God.
Ramadan also coincides with the start of training camp, a grueling time of two-a-day practices and conditioning. Sometimes, Mohammed understandably has looked a bit tired during camp.
Mohammed balances his job and faith. He declined to comment, saying he does not publicly discuss his religion.
But other non-Muslim Pistons are aware of his spirituality and sacrifice.
“You have all kinds of guys from all walks of life on a team. We all come together and form a team,” coach Flip Saunders said. “I’ve always let the players do what they want; they’re free to worship and pray whenever and however.
“I think it’s good for them, if they want it, to have that dimension.”
Inclusion, or exclusion?
Some wonder if the Christian — sometimes evangelical — bent to the sports ministries could be potentially harmful to team chemistry.
A player or coach who is Jewish, Muslim, from another religion, or even non-spiritual, could feel like an outsider, since the services are not geared toward them.
Services are optional, and teams don’t officially sanction or organize them.
Christian organizations, such as FCA, AIA, and local chaplains Wilson and Joyce, say they aim to make their ministries as inclusive as possible. Services always are listed as non-denominational.
“We’re here for everybody. We want to be a support for all people in the game,” said Les Steckel, president of the FCA and a former NFL and college coach. “I’ve seen the impact, over the last 32 years, that having faith can have. I’ve felt the intensity, so I never think it can be a bad thing. God is taking us where he wants us to be.”
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, wonders how non-denominational services can really work.
“People who have a particular religion subscribe to a particular creed that not only teaches moral lessons, but guidelines for how you have your relationship with God,” said Walid, an associate Imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad mosque in Detroit. “Muslim athletes in the NBA and NFL should not be placed in a situation where they are exposed to only one denomination of ministry and counseling. Same for the Christians and the Jewish athletes who are exposed.
“There’s a lack of fairness.”
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, leader of the Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. — questioned the message players such as Kitna send to their wide base of fans.
“When you sit in the stands, you are not Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim. You are a fan of the game and your team,” he said. “I think athletes are given the privilege of having kids look up to them, and outspoken athletes like Kitna have more than just Christian kids looking at him. The message he’s sending to all children is, ‘If you’re not Christian like me, you’re burning in hell.’ And who is he to make that judgment?”
Kitna said he’s played with teammates of many faiths, and welcomes the chance to exchange views on what they believe.
“I played with (ex-Lions quarterback) Scott Mitchell in Cincinnati, and he’s about as devout a Mormon as you can get,” Kitna said. “I welcome everybody. I believe in what I believe. That’s who I am. Everybody is different, and I always respect that. I am not forcing anybody to listen to me or believe what I believe. I am just being true to myself.
“I’ve learned when to talk about what I believe, and when to keep things to myself. I’m not here to ram my faith down people’s throats. But I’m not afraid to stand up and be a Christian.”