Kansas City Chief safety Husain Abdullah did what most players do when they make an extraordinary play. Abdullah, a 29-year-old veteran, had just intercepted a pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returned it for a touchdown. He then slid down on both knees in the end zone and put his head down in prayer. The move earned him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Religious celebrations aren’t new to the NFL. They happen all the time. "Tebowing," in which former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow got down in the end zone on one knee to thank God, is probably the best known such celebration — it’s even been trademarked.
In recent years, the league has tried to crack down on what it calls excessive celebrations, which usually relate to the elaborate end zone dances that were once popular in the league.
But Abdullah wasn’t dancing. He was praying. Tebow did it. Chicago Bears wideout Brandon Marshall’s done it, not to mention countless other players. The difference here is that Abdullah is Muslim, not Christian. Whether the game’s officiating crew wasn’t familiar with Muslim prayers or was intolerant of them is unclear. What is clear is that Abdullah earned a penalty (and, likely, a fine) for doing something that generally goes unpunished by the league.
Several observers noticed the discrepancy, including media commentator Arsalan Iftikhar.
Brandon Marshall gets on knees & raises hands to Jesus after TD..No penalty..Husain Abdullah bows to Mecca..15 yards! pic.twitter.com/6G5sDfaWO0
— Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) September 30, 2014
Abdullah is a devout Muslim who grew one of 12 kids in Southern California. He starred at Pomona High School before going to Washington State. Even though he wasn’t drafted out of college, Abdullah earned a spot on the Minnesota Vikings roster before being signed by Kansas City. Like many Muslim athletes, he observes fasting for Ramadan during the season and even sat out a year to make Hajj, his pilgrimage to Mecca.
"I’m putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion," Abdullah told the Huffington Post about his fast in 2010 in a story about how his employer learned to accommodate his needs. "This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do. So I’m always going to fast."
In preparation for his pilgrimage, Abdullah and his brother Hamza embarked on a "30 for 30 Abdullah Brothers Ramadan Tour" in 2012. Their first stop was the Islamic Institute of Orange County where they talked about faith and football. You can see video of the brothers’ talk below: