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March 29, 2005

Life and Sports


“Indeed God is not ashamed to set forth parables–that of a gnat or anything above that; then as for those with faith, they know that it is the truth from their Lord, and as for those who disbelieve, they say: ‘What is it that God means by this parable!”… (2:26)”


If anyone missed the Elite Eight games on Saturday and Sunday night… what were you doing? Those 48 hours had to be, without a doubt, the most dramatic and greatest ever in the history of college basketball. Sure, there may have been better games (such as Jimmy V’s NC State (1983) win or the Villanova upset of Georgetown (1986)), but this weekend contained the greatest number of dramatic finishes in such a short time span. It all started on Saturday afternoon with Louisville coming back from a 20-point halftime deficit to win in overtime against everyone’s Cinderella darling, the West Virginia Mountaineers. That of course, was eclipsed by Illinois’ monumental comeback–being down by 15 points with 4 minutes to go, the Fighting Illini rallied, hitting big shot after big shot, refusing to die… and sent the game into overtime and ended up winning by a point. Finally, the Kentucky-Michigan State game on Sunday evening rounded out the great weekend: the Wildcats, down by 3 with 10 seconds to go, ended up hitting a three at the buzzer that rattled around the rim for what seemed to be an hour–the shot was so close that it took more than 6 minutes of replay for the officials to make sure that the Kentucky guard (Sparks) had his feet behind the arc–to tie up the game and send that into overtime as well. Only double overtime could finally determine a winner.


Apart from my getting owned like a slave of the right hand in my brackets–I think I was talkin’ trash too soon, but I had a great win streak coming into this year so I felt I could back it up. Obviously I didn’t. Anyway, I learnt several things while reflecting on this weekend’s games. People often wonder what use do sports have in our lives; I’ve even read some fatwas from scholars whose opinion was that any sport besides wrestling and archery is haram. One may especially wonder why the male gender seems to have an insatiable appetite and obsession for playing, watching, coaching, or talking sports. I’d argue that I’ve learnt quite a bit from sports–lessons with lifelong implications and value, and sports are one of the greatest inventions of humanity. I would even put forth that Allah purposely puts these Signs and lessons in various things–including sports–to teach us and remind us certain truths that will enrich our lives. As He is not ashamed to even set forth a parable in a gnat, why should He not set forth subtle lessons in sports for those who would pause to reflect?



Bruce Weber has to be my favorite figure from the tournament… what a stud. I love his effervescent style of speech.


So here’s what I re-learnt over the weekend:


1. No matter how far behind you get, it’s never over. People may write you off and say that you’ll never come back within the time remaining since you’re so far behind. Never listen to these buffoons. It’s never over. Especially when sometimes one feels that it’s no use to repent to Allah due to how “far behind” one is with so many sins: “I’m so far behind, why would God forgive me?” The answer is that Allah is ready and eagerly awaiting to forgive, provided we start mounting our comeback right now. Illinois had 4 minutes to make their run; some of us have more time, some of us have less–since one doesn’t know how much time is left on one’s earthly clock, it’s time to make the comeback now and leave it all on the court.


2. On the corollary, no matter how big of a lead you have, never feel content and assured that you’re guaranteed victory. West Virginia and Arizona both thought they would just run out the clock and cruise to an easy victory–they thus became complacent and choked in the final moments. They went away from their aggressive gameplans that had gotten them the lead and switched to a more conservative, burn-the-clock mentality that cost them the game. There’s a saying in sports: Dance with the girl you brought to the dance. In other words, if a certain technique or strategy works in the game, don’t switch to another philosophy unless yours fails first. In life, we sometimes have good “leads” that we build up (such as in Ramadan)… but we often get complacent and go away from the gameplan, dancing with other girls (uhm, figuratively speaking of course…). If you have a lead, thank Allah, and continue doing your thing: “And worship thy Lord until there comes to you the certainty (of death).


An amazing Prophetic hadith that captures some of the things I’ve tried to convey in the above two points is as follows–on the authority of `Abdullah b. Mas`ud, as narrated by the Imamayn (al-Bukhari and Muslim):


“…By Allah, other than Whom there is no god, verily one of you behaves like the people of Paradise until there is but an arm’s length between him and it, and that which has been written over takes him and so he behaves like the people of Hell-fire and thus he enters it; and one of you behaves like the people of Hell-fire until there is but an arm’s length between him and it, and that which has been written over takes him and so he behaves like the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.”


3. Focus on the immediate, but don’t forget about the long-term. The NCAA tournament demands that each team prepare extensively for the next opponent, because you never know when the underdog will upset the favorite–just ask Syracuse and Kansas. But just as soon as you defeat one team, you have to start preparing for the next. Life works in the same way: one has to immediately deal with the situations that arise in the context of the present, but the future must be kept in mind, since once the immediate is resolved, the future needs to be addressed. More importantly, only by successfully dealing with the first rounds can a team even begin to think about the Final Four; in life, this world is the first and second rounds that one has to deal with appropriately and not pass off due to only thinking about the Hereafter. If you don’t defeat the Bucknells, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukees, and Vermonts… you’ll never get to St. Louis (hey Sadiq, why the HELL is the Final Four in that crappy village known as St. Louis… hehe, no offense to Asees)


4. The team is greater than the individual. Every team that’s still alive in the tournament consists of players who have been together for years. These players have sacrificed their concept of self for the sake of the team–because of that, the team is flourishing. Those teams filled with individual superstars who won’t sacrifice their egos (ahem, Kobe and the Lakers… though he gives me great fantasy numbers every game) never make it to the next level. Our close friends are our teams and the community is like the fans; often times, in order to serve the team and community, one not only has to give up one’s sense of self, but also be willing to take criticisim and abuse from others… trust me on this one. When things are going well, the fans will love you. When they’re not, they will try to run you out of town and make you out to be the worst person in the world. Always be there for your team and forget the fans.


5. Each team that’s still alive in the tournament is guided by a legendary coach (Bruce Weber’s still working on his legend…). Some of these coaches, like Tom Izzo, are able to guide their teams consistently to the next level. Others, like Rick Pitino, are able to turn around down-and-out programs, recruit talent, and develop formidable teams. A coach like Roy Williams (who left his position at Kansas to coach North Carolina, his alma mater) is able to take talented players (the UNC roster has been STACKED for years now, but they couldn’t get to the next level) and make them a great team. Finally, a coach like Bruce Weber is able to manage his team through national scrutiny, high expectations, and analysts’ criticism and lead the Illini to this stage. Each of these coaches is the shaykh of his respective team; you may have noticed that each coach has a different temperament and unique set of skills… even more uncanny is that it’s possible that one coach’s skills wouldn’t work in another’s situation. Similarly, no two shaykhs are alike; each of them has specific strengths that are beneficial to certain people, and perhaps not as beneficial to others. The secret is to find a team that’s guided by a coach whose demeanor fits yours.


6. Be willing to adapt and change your game plan if it isn’t working. In the first half, Louisville’s game plan was clearly not working as the Mountaineers were raining threes from the bleachers. At halftime, Rick Pitino had to go away from his 2-3 defense (the girl that he brought to the dance) and switch to a more aggressive, full-court, frenzied man-to-man if they were to have any chance of getting back into the game. Certainly, the strategy worked. In life as well, one may have a set game plan going into a situation… but if it isn’t working, the secret is not to be so stubborn as to continually try to mash a square peg into a round hole–consider an alternative methodology to accomplish your goals.


7. Finally, ignore the so-called experts. All of these analysts with their air of expertise are complete idiots. For example, in the Friday night game between Villanova and UNC, the refs called a travelling violation on the ‘Nova player in the final seconds of the game. Clearly, on repeated replays, any one watching–even if they didn’t know a thing about basketball–could have counted TWO steps, such that it was NOT a travel. Yet, the idiotic announcer (I think it was that buffoon Billy Packer), continued to think he was right and was somehow magically counting THREE steps, even in the slow-motion replays. Another example is how the analysts counted out the Cinderellas from day one, and gave them a snowball’s chance in hell to win their games against their favored opponents. These underdogs ignored the “experts”; they believed in themselves and their teammates and let their game do their talking. Often in life, there’s all sorts of experts who think they know everything there is to know about you and/or may write you off. Let the NFL spirit of Vermont, Bucknell, West Virginia, and all the other Cinderellas flow through your veins: silence the “expert critics/analysts” by letting your game do the talking.


I’ll post more on that last topic in a future post.


And you thought sports were useless…

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15 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    its 2:07 a.m…i just finished my cell biology lab and now i have to write up a protocol followed by grading bio labs of freshmen at BU…
    excellent post though mash’Allah…bravo my nigga…bravo…
    im honored to be da first person to drop props on this piece…
    nigger-ul-haq

  2. good post.  i leave eprops. 

  3. i have thoughts that match up to your points i will post.  in the meantime, i too will leave eprops.

  4. well said..

  5. Anonymous permalink

    Now I honestly stopped reading your posts a while ago. But you keep bugging me to post comments. Ever notice how my comments are always soo random?

  6. MashAllah, good post. I don’t know if you remember, but I TM’ed you during the game. I was driving through Iowa at the time listening to the Illinois game with extremely crappy reception. I felt like I was living in the 50’s. Yeah man, why the heck is the Final Four being held in St. Louis, the city that is officially worse than Pakistan? Let’s just consider it sadaqah for a such a lowly town and I hope my wife doesnt read this post.Shut up Kamran. I’m not a sellout.

  7. Anonymous permalink

    Michigan State U. all the way. Go Green, Go White!

  8. I didn’t watch any of the games, nor do I care to. But, the lessons that you learned and expanded on are very relavent. Props. Its like when Hash (Azam Hashmi, not Hisham) used to make fun of me and tell me that I would try and derive a lesson out of any song.

  9. hisham: you dont read my posts anymore? jagbag, i spent 5 precious minutes of my life yesterday reading yours… read my posts, you jerk.
    kaz: i agree kaz, some of the greatest lessons ive learnt have been from songs too. but then again, youre the expert on deriving lessons from songs, since you famously quoted britney spears’ “lucky” during a khutbah that you gave. i cant compete at that level… and while i wasnt there, i heard the riwaayah as this:
    “qaalat britney spears fee ‘lucky’….”

  10. KamKam
    Here is my theory on why men are fascinated by sports:
    Sports are the primordial war-games but in a harmless form.  They are socially acceptable ways of practicing, strategizing and watching war.  And of course, the winners of war take all, they take the losers’ women and make them slaves and prove their manhoods in hairy chest-thumping delight.  Of course there will be players and there will be generals, but there is increased testosterone involved wherever you are…and of course women like to watch sports and have a fondness for jocks because they like to sniff out the dominant males and have their way with them so that their children may have sturdy genes….

  11. haha we start “dancing with other girls” after Ramadan. Way to go, Metaphores!

  12. Anonymous permalink

    And worship thy Lord until there comes to you the certainty (of death).
    That ayah is awesome.
    Mashallah, another insightful post. I like these better than your “controversial” ones.

  13. lol you are the only person who i know who can do a post on sports while simultaneously incoporating islam into it…jazak’Allahu khair for the awesome insight…and to CubWrig, i’m a hardcore Cubs fan, but if it comes down to U of I versus MSU in the finals, ILLINI ALL THE WAY!!!! GO ILLINI!!! =D

  14. btw, you should take this out of your list of expertise:certified NCAA Basketball March Madness Bracketologistcuz last i checked…. you sucked… 😉

  15. Anonymous permalink

    so what does ben gordon teach us of life
    we can slack for 3 and a half quarters then at the end unload some 3’s on anyone and win a game?
    so that means ic an be harami for 3/4 of my life and still try to win the game?
    your articles gay
    Just playin nigga dont get all emotional

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