Participation in U.S. Islamic Games Continues to Grow - www.america.gov

04 June 2010

Participation in U.S. Islamic Games Continues to Grow

Regional event in New Jersey draws largest number of athletes to date


Washington — The Islamic Games are on a mission to “create a body that is strong on the inside and strong on the outside.”

If turnout at the latest Islamic Games is any indication, this mission is resonating with a growing number of Muslim Americans.

Muslim athletes gathered May 29–31 to compete in the fourth annual regional Islamic Games. Held in South Brunswick, New Jersey, this year’s Islamic Games in the Northeast attracted 1,700 competitors, making it the largest yet.

Salaudeen Nausrudeen, president and co-founder of the Islamic Games of North America, said this year’s regional games grew by 20 percent more than 2009.

“I think the Islamic Games have gone beyond just a weekend thing; it has become something the Muslim community looks forward to, and not only looks forward to, but they plan for it,” Nausrudeen told America.gov.

Nausrudeen said expanding interest in the games reflects the growth of America’s Muslim community, and not only in terms of population.

“The infrastructure within the Muslim community has grown,” Nausrudeen said. For example, about 20 Islamic schools from the Northeast sent athletes to this year’s games. “There is a lot more money that is available, and there is a lot more opportunity to do things because Muslim communities are much more organized than they were 20 years ago or 15 years ago,” he said.

Held at a secondary school, competitions included team events like basketball and soccer as well as individual events, track and field, arm wrestling and martial arts. Many athletes are teenagers, and organizers held women’s basketball and martial arts indoors — out of view from men — in response to concerns expressed by parents. Area vendors supplied halal food, and action halted for prayer breaks.

The games in New Jersey are part of regional Islamic competitions held around the country. Islamic Games encompassing the American Midwest and Southeast are held at different times of the year. The Midwest games this year will be held in Dearborn, Michigan, from July 31 to August 1.

Athletes at the New Jersey event represented 32 national backgrounds from countries in the Arab world, Africa, South Asia and Bosnia. Open to people of all faiths, the games also featured religious diversity in individual and team sports.

“We have non-Muslim athletes in just about every event,” Nausrudeen said. “We’ve had full teams of non-Muslims in the games.”

Americans of other faiths played on Lubna Qazi-Chowdhry’s husband’s basketball team. Qazi-Chowdhry, a New Jersey-based attorney, said Muslim Americans today participate in society differently than did her parents’ generation.

“We look to be more active in the community and socialize,” Qazi-Chowdhry said. She said the games lift the spirits of young Muslims whose religion is sometimes negatively stereotyped. “Events like this also help build self-esteem and spirit for everyone involved.”

New Jersey high school senior Mona Mostafa is a four-year veteran of the games. Mostafa plays volleyball, basketball and soccer for her team, Egy Fresh. This year, her team of mostly Egyptian Americans placed second in volleyball. For her, the games are more about friendship than competition.

“I don’t usually see my team all the time so it is kind of like really a get-together for my whole team,” Mostafa said. “We work hard, but if we lose we are like, ‘It’s OK, we are just here to have fun together, all as one.’”

Qazi-Chowdhry, who said she proudly sponsored her husband’s basketball team, is one of many local sponsors. Small business involvement in the games is part of a rising trend.

“We’ve also noticed that a lot of businesses are beginning to sponsor teams, which is good for us,” Nausrudeen said. “Because it motivates teams and because it shows that there is integration in what we are doing with the rest of the community.”

The Islamic Games originated as a sports gathering among friends, which included Nausrudeen, in the 1980s. Seeing value in organizing the community around sports, the friends held the first Islamic Games in 1987 and continued it until 1991, when they moved on to other projects.

“Everyone grew up and they thought that sport was just for playing, and it was put aside for a while,” Nausrudeen said.

But in 2007, Nausrudeen brought the event back with a re-energized team and a stronger commitment. As a sign of the Muslim-American community’s demand for the Islamic Games, Nausrudeen and his team are looking to add another region. Negotiations are under way for a Southwest region Islamic Games that would be held in Houston this November.

Nausrudeen said that someday nationwide Islamic Games will be held in America, but not yet.

“Our timeline right now is that we are just at the point where we are trying to stimulate and motivate the community, build an interest, build an appetite, within the Muslim community for sports and athletics for healthy lifestyles,” he said. “Once that has adequately seeped into the communities, the next stage will automatically come where we will be able to compete on a national level.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)

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