Dribbling for Dawah
Sports among Muslim Americans
Steven Fink’s Dribbling for Dawah: Sports Among Muslim Americans offers unique insight into Muslims involved in localized sport. Included in Fink’s study were sport organization administrators, educators, instructors, and athletes who in some way serviced or are a part of the Muslim sport community. Through a series of eighty-five semi-structured interviews Fink’s approach studies the underrepresented experiences of everyday Muslims in sport.
In the first few chapters Fink situates the relation between sports and American national identity, offering accounts of the shift towards viewing sport as emblematic of a Christian and patriotic way of life. Fink notes that the historical anti-Semitism that plagued America in the early 1900s was diffused by prominent figures in the media at that time. The biggest challenge to these anti-Semitic views was the series of high profile Jewish pro-baseball players—including Hank Greenberg and Buddy Meyer—who fit the wider American imaginary as athletes upholding American values of good sportsmanship. Anti-Catholic sentiment was fought in the same way. Fink notes this activity as athletic “bonding” and “bridging”: two concepts of social capital.
The same catalyst used by Jews and Catholics to become active in sport as a bridge and bond with the American ideals is applied to the American-Muslim community experiencing Islamophobia and Islamic revivalism. Dawah—Islamic proselytization—is a part of living Islam through sharing its message with others. Dawah can be understood as part of the bridging and bonding process in that it serves as an invitation to non-Muslims to better understand Islam through relationships created and fostered by sport.
Fink includes a chapter that reflects on Islamic Principles and sport, largely to challenge the prominent narrative that Islam and sports are conflicting. He does a great job of bringing in the voice of the majority who find sport compatible with Islam. Challenges to Muslim-American athletic activity on a local level—a student struggling to pass gym class due to improper uniform resulting in a lack of participation-–are also noted by Fink. He also considers the role that professional Muslim athletes play in inspiring youth and modeling positive traits that run counter to negative stereotypes about Muslims.
Throughout the later chapters are excerpts from Fink’s many interviews, which offer a tangible experiential component to Fink’s research. Reading about these interviews, it becomes clear that a diversity of views towards athletics exists in Islam. Part of this diversity is due to the variety of ages, backgrounds, and interpretations of faith included in the study. The greatest value in this book is in how Fink merged the interviews with historical accounts to show similarities between the struggles that Muslims encounter today with those that Catholics and Jews experienced in the past.
Another strength of this book is the highly detailed footnotes found throughout. They provide a rich context for the reader and, at times, direct the reader to tangential but interesting offshoots. This well-researched book with its embedded interviews paints a nuanced picture of Islam in the American sporting context, countering the monolithic portrayal that Islam routinely receives. Dribbling for Dawah is well suited to a variety of readers, from the high school level to university. The intersections of sport, religion, culture, and history make it an accessible teaching aid for a range of contexts.
Keelin Pringnitz is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Ottawa.
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