Since Muhammad Ali used his star power to promote egalitarian ideals, several American Muslim sportsmen have attempted to emulate his example to foster a message of peace.
One of the most prominent examples in mainstream America today is legendary basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who has been writing books and producing documentaries to oppose discrimination and exclusion and emphasize inclusion and equality.
Among immigrants, Agha Hasnain, a marathon runner, has also taken it upon himself to advance intercultural dialogue and understanding through his participation in runs across the country.
Combining his lifelong passion for the sport with his love for America, Hasnain says promoting understanding is something that has evolved for him over the course of events in0 his 12-year campaign to run and finish marathons in each of the 50 states.
“Running a marathon is my passion, it is great fun.. But I also run to express my love for America, which is my home, and where I have prospered as an immigrant” Hasnain says.
In addition to completing marathons in all American states, Hasnain has another rare feat to his credit: he has also run marathons on six continents and plans to do so in Antarctica next year.
“I have been all over the United States, interacted with so many wonderful Americans including army veterans,” says Hasnain, who displays messages of peace and interfaith harmony on his T-shirts.
This year Hasnain, a Pakistani-American, was among a group of six American Muslim athletes who participated in the 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in Washington D.C.
“The marathon this year carried a special meaning for us. We not only had a message of peace but also held American flags throughout the run – not an easy thing,” Hasnain says, showing his shirt which proclaimed “I am a Muslim, I am an American, and I love America.”
The Washington Post wrote an article ‘I am Muslim, I am American’: Runners make statement with T-shirts’ ( http://goo.gl/TwqACX) with this photo (courtesy Agha Hasnain)
The result was an unexpected but welcomed focus on the American Muslim athletes’ message of peace in the mainstream media. The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications and local channels covered the American Muslims’ participation.
“I cannot tell you how excited we felt. Here was a group of American Muslims, sending out a clear message of peace, harmony and love amidst all the ongoing issues even incidents of violence against the community,” Hasnain says.
Even before the 2016 election campaign – during which several candidates smeared Muslims for the sake of political capital – he encountered voices of exclusion.
Some of the candidates in primary debates also refused to acknowledge that America had many great Muslim sporting heroes, while some groups of White supremacist have called for expulsion of Muslims from the United States.
“While a majority of my fellow American athletes has always welcomed my participation, I have also been met with probing questions by a few and have been asked about my religion and background as an immigrant,” says Hasnain, whose spouse is an American.
At some award ceremonies, he even had the opportunity to explain to gatherings who he is and what his background being an immigrant in the post-9/11 years means to him.
Recently, Hasnain was in the hometown of Muhammad Ali, Louisville, Kentucky, where the mayor also recognized the Pakistani-American’s accomplishments.
“I am a Muslim and an American, and I love America that is a message to all and my message to American Muslims is to do whatever they can in their professional fields to reach out to people and contribute to promoting understanding and harmony between communities,” says the athlete, who has now set his sights on achieving another milestone – completing a century of marathons, with just three more to go.