Muslims from throughout the Northeast to gather in So. Brunswick Saturday
BY CHRIS GAETANO
SOUTH BRUNSWICK – More than 600 Muslim student-athletes from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania will play and pray at Saturday's 2007 Islamic Games.
Held at Crossroads South Middle School, the event will feature competitions in basketball, soccer, volleyball, cricket and various track and field events, with about 30 different Muslim parochial schools and organizations taking part from around the region. The large number of participating athletes might be explained by what the event's organizers say is a general lack of athletic programs for Muslim schools around the area. In fact, this observation became the basis for the Islamic Game's founding by Salaudeen Nausrudeen when he was still in high school.
"Muslim schools, numbering almost 40 in New Jersey, [often] do not have sports or athletic programs, which is why we are doing it in May and not deep into the summer because a lot of Muslim schools can participate and be part of the action," said Nausrudeen.
Muslim students who want to take part in sports will sometimes join up
with local youth leagues, but for the more devout among them, this can
sometimes be a problematic proposition. The requirement that believers
pray five times a day, the need for separate Halal foods, as well as
certain dress and behavioral codes can isolate a Muslim athlete from
his or her peers both physically and socially. Nausrudeen, who
professed a lifelong interest in sports, felt this was regrettable
given his feeling of the positive impact sports can have on young
"We need the Islamic Games because [for] Muslims, especially of the
female gender, there's particular circumstances or conditions that they
have to abide by, and if a Muslim woman was to go to a basketball team
or soccer team as per normal, then there is definitely going to be
something that does not fit in with her religion," said Nausrudeen.
Providing an appropriate forum for athletic competition was what
Nausrudeen set out to do when he founded the Islamic Games while he was
still in high school in the late '80s. While the event went into
hibernation due to fading interest, he noted the revival of the games
came from an outpouring of demand from Muslim students.
"There's been a groundswelling from Muslim youth and parents [asking],
'What are we doing? Are we going to be spectators all our lives?' We
should be actively involved on the court also or on the track. …
There's nothing Islamic about basketball or volleyball or soccer, but
the way you play is what makes it more Islamic," said Nausrudeen.
Specifically, the event will feature breaks for prayer, Halal food and
general encouragement of good sportsmanship. Most of the funding for
the games comes from the Islamic Circle of North America, one of the
largest Muslim organizations in the country. It has also caught the
attention of Imam Shraj Wahg, a prominent spiritual leader in the
greater metropolitan area, who participated in the first Islamic games
as a basketball player. Organizers also expect a lot of spectators for
the games and also noted that there has been community interest from
people of other faiths as well – Nausrudeen said that many of the teams
have non-Muslim players as well.
The theme for this year's games is "Strong Inside, Strong Outside,"
because the organizers want to encourage participants to improve
themselves both athletically and spiritually.
"The inside needs to be strong, which is why there is faith, prayers
and fasting," Nausrudeen said. "But while you build on the inside, the
outside also needs to be built, so the Islamic Games need to provide a
channel, a forum, for the outside to show."
Nausrudeen praised the South Brunswick School District for its support
in the event, saying everything was done very professionally. The event
is scheduled for Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It will have medals and
trophies for winners and will also feature fun and games for children.
More information can be found on the event's Web site,