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Abdul-Rauf Will Stand--and Pray

March 15, 1996|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The suspension is over, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf will be in Chicago tonight, this time standing, if not to honor America at least to honor his contract, while the national anthem is played.

Abdul-Rauf, the leading scorer for the Denver Nuggets, said Thursday he would obey the NBA rule requiring players, trainers and coaches to stand respectfully while the anthem is played before games, and the league rescinded his suspension after one game.

It cost him $31,707, his salary for the Nuggets' victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.

Abdul-Rauf told ESPN that, during the anthem, he would stand and "offer a prayer, my own prayer for those who are suffering--Muslim, Caucasian, African American and Asian or whoever is in that position, whoever is experiencing difficulty. That is what I cry out for."

He had been doing stretching exercises on the bench or staying in the locker room during the playing of the anthem all season, quietly, seemingly without drawing attention until callers to Denver-area radio talk shows made an issue of it and newspapers began to run stories about it.

The Nuggets informed the NBA three weeks ago about the problem, and the club and the league agreed to try to take care of the matter in-house.

The suspension followed a statement Tuesday morning in which he said that standing for the national anthem violates his religious beliefs as a Muslim, and that the flag was "a symbol of oppression, of tyranny."

"My beliefs are more important than anything," Abdul-Rauf said. "If I have to give up basketball, I will."

In the aftermath, several Muslim leaders were critical of his basing his actions on his religion.

"He could stand up and say a silent prayer or stand up and recite the Koran," said Aslam Abdullah, editor of the Minaret, an Islamic magazine published in Los Angeles. "He could stand up and say, 'God bless America with His teachings.' He can say whatever he wants to say. But saying Islam gives him the right not to stand because of certain beliefs, that has to be questioned."

After contemplating his stance, Abdul-Rauf apparently agreed.

"The reason I chose to do what I did was because of my understanding [of the Koran, the Islamic holy book]," he said Thursday. "After thinking about it and discussing it with other Muslims, maybe mine wasn't the best approach."

But he made no apology for his actions.

"Yes, I will return, but in no way am I saying that I am compromising what I believe in," he said. "I don't feel that in any way I was wrong in my stand. In Islam, if there's a better approach to things, it's only wise to take that approach. After looking into what I did, I realize now there's a better approach and I am willing to take that approach."

*

Times religion writer Larry B. Stammer contributed to this story.

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