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Kareem Rebuked Over Beer Ad

Religion: Islamic group condemns Laker great, himself a Muslim, for his association with intoxicants.

January 18, 1997|JULIE CART and LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had an impeccable sense of timing on the basketball court during his Hall of Fame career with the Lakers, has run afoul of some Islamic leaders for his cameo appearance in a beer commercial.

The Islamic Society of North America on Friday condemned Abdul-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in 1971, for his participation in the commercial for Coors beer, calling the spot "devastating."

The timing of the ad campaign could not be more disconcerting to Muslims. The commercials, which began Jan. 1, are running concurrent with the observance of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. The use of alcohol is prohibited in Islam.

Around the world, Muslims are observing Ramadan, a time of fasting and abstinence from sunrise to sundown. Muslims pray, reflect, thank God for blessings and repent for sins. One goal of the monthlong observance is to discipline the body and strengthen moral character.

Sayyid M. Sayeed, secretary general of the Indiana-based Islamic group, called on Abdul-Jabbar to request that Coors drop the commercial or donate his salary to institutions that fight alcohol use.

Abdul-Jabbar could not be reached for comment.

Islamic leaders in Los Angeles agreed that Muslims are forbidden by their faith from partaking or promoting intoxicants, but they said Abdul-Jabbar should not have been called to task publicly.

Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, said the Islamic Society of North America's announcement was not appropriate.

"[Abdul-Jabbar] should be approached in a more private and dignified way," Hathout said. "The issue is how to offer candid advice in a tender and fruitful way."

Hathout added that even though a Muslim may do something in conflict with Islam, that does not "write him off" as a Muslim.

Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said the basketball star does not deserve public condemnation.

"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never claimed to represent Islam or Muslims and therefore his decision to accept a role in the commercial was personal," Al-Marayati said. "We disagree [with the commercial], but it has no bearing on Islam and Muslims in America."

Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor and, although he attended Catholic schools as a young man, he converted to Islam and legally changed his name in 1971. Abdul-Jabbar studied Arabic at Harvard and has described himself as a devout Muslim.

Although reserved and uncomfortable with public pronouncements, Abdul-Jabbar has been an activist for various social causes. In 1968, while a junior at UCLA, he refused to join the U.S. Olympic basketball team in protest of the treatment of American blacks.

Abdul-Jabbar has been acting in films and television for more than a decade. Still, Sayeed, of the Islamic Society of North America, took a hard line on Abdul-Jabbar's choice of roles.

"Alcohol is totally prohibited in Islam," Sayeed said. "Not only the drinking of alcohol but shipping, serving or promoting alcohol, or participating in feasts or parties where alcohol is served. All these are bad."

Coors spokesman Dave Taylor said the company has heard no complaints about the commercial.

"I would think Abdul-Jabbar knows the parameters of his religion, and he felt the ad and his role in it were in good taste and appropriate," Taylor said.

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