Aside from his NBA achievements, the former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets queries whether he is Muslim, Jewish, or Christian.
As his name suggests, the basketball legend has the Islamic faith. But not many know that Kareem was born in a Christian family and later converted to Sunni Islam.
When he was a freshman at UCLA, his religious life transformed after being greatly influenced by reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Also, during his college days, he found his future wife (now ex), Janice ‘Habiba’ Brown- the mother of three out of five children.
The retired NBA player’s birth name was Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr before he attained his Islamic name.
Born on April 16, 1947, the 76-year-old basketball player is the son of Ferdinand Sr., a police officer, and Cora Lillian, a department store price checker.
A top college basketball prospect at UCLA, Kareem became the 1st overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA draft.
The 6-time NBA Champion played 20 seasons with the Bucks (1969-75) and the LA Lakers (1975- 1989). He ranks 2nd in the All-Time NBA Points Leader with 38,387 points after LeBron James broke his record in February 2023.
Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Muslim, Jewish, Or Christian?
The six-time NBA MVP Kareem has been a Muslim since transitioning from Christian to Sunni Islam in 1968. At that time, he was a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The very same year of his religious transition, Abdul-Jabbar took his first shahada at a mosque in Manhattan.
It wasn’t until 1971 that the basketball star legally took the Islamic name “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” at 24. The meaning of his name is “noble one, servant of the Almighty.”
The former NBA star’s name change and his transitioned religion became the then-most-talked topic in the United States.
He comes from a Christian family; his father was a Catholic, while his mother was a Baptist converted to Catholicism.
Kareem (previous name Ferdinand Jr.) attended a Catholic school, Power Memorial Academy, in Manhattan. By his college days, he stopped attending Catholic mass as his spiritual transformation had begun.
Even more, he later studied Arabic at Harvard University in 1972.
In late 1997, the retired NBA star became a news highlight after he sued the Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar (born Sharmon Shah) for using his moniker.
He stated that the NFL player was profiting off his name, so the latter had to change his jersey nameplate to “Abdul” and renamed himself Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar.
Why Did Kareem Became A Muslim?
In 1983, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar released an autobiography, Giant Steps (1983), which detailed his conversion to Islam.
As the former Lakers player doubted the existence of the Christian Trinity, he began to read about Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and other religions.
Eventually, he found himself spiritually connected to the Islamic faith. It becomes evident with his quote, “I saw Islam as the correct way to live, and I chose to try to live that way.”
One of the other significant factors of being a Muslim is that he was heavily influenced by Malcolm X.
After reading his autobiography, he learned about Malcolm’s conversion from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam so that the basketball star would do the same.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Ethnicity
Jabbar has African-American ethnicity, with his roots in Trinidad.
Speaking of his conversion to Islam, he talked briefly about his family history, him being of Yoruba heritage.
He stated that his ancestors were enslaved people brought from Trinidad to the United States in the 18th century by a French planter named Alcindor. Many of the enslaved people were Muslim, so Kareem would pursue to find his roots and align himself with them.
In 1968, Kareem, who could easily pull off a gold medal in the Olympics, opted to remain out of the event.
His boycott of the 1968 Olympics came as a protest to racism in the United States and the oppression of black people.
It was no coincidence that black leaders were the subject of racial violence then- especially the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (on April 4, 1968) and Malcolm X (on February 21, 1965).