Former NFL player Husain Abdullah will be among the students at Southern Methodist University walking the stage this weekend. His journey to a master's degree in conflict resolution is like no other.
He played seven years in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs. In the middle of that, he took a year off for the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. He quit football two years ago after his fifth concussion.
In our Friday Conversation, Abdullah talked with KERA's Rick Holter about his new mission to get North Texas talking about race.
"[Racism] is this country's greatest sin," Abdullah said. "We don't know how to handle [the conversation on race] and we don't know how to sit in an emotionally uncomfortable place."
On his upbringing in Pomona, California:
There was a couple of years where my parents homeschooled us. My mother has two or three master's degrees herself. She would give us work from her college courses even though I was only in fourth grade at the time. I used to complain like, "Why do I have such a hard workload?" But she was instilling that bug for education within us.
On being one of the few Muslim players in the NFL:
It was different. I was kind of the odd man out. There were only two times where there was another Muslim on my team. But I enjoy seeing people come together, pray, read their Bible and have their fellowship and really have that sense of purpose greater than themselves. It helped me become a better person and a better Muslim.
On the penalty he received for kneeling down in prayer after a touchdown:
At the time, as long as it doesn't affect the game, that's all I care about. It was a personal moment in the public eye. I just had extreme gratitude and it kind of showed up in the form of prostration in the end zone on Monday Night Football.
On talking about race and building bridges in the Muslim community:
Instead of addressing race, we try to cover it up and pretend like it never happened. The more we do that, the more tempers flare, the more people quietly become more divided.
Whether you're African-American, come from Saudi Arabia, the subcontinent, or you've already converted as an American, just because you believe God is one and his final prophet was the prophet Mohamed — peace be upon him — people can still be racist and its something that can be worked on.
[My brothers and I] are working on a nonprofit called the Ashab Network, where we want to gather Muslim influencers and have the "Muhammad Ali effect," where an individual who has influence and status is able to touch many lives.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.