It has been a long time since we have been on top, and in that time the greater demons of lack of confidence and complacency have been allowed to run wild. I could be talking about the post-colonial Muslim mindset, but no this about the Cubs. As a life-long Cubs fan I have had an odd relationship with the sport and the team throughout by 30 some odd years. Decades of heart-ache has conditioned me and the fan base to believe in the narrative of the “loveable loser”; moreover my Midwestern background gave me enough sensibility to see the futility in the affinity of my youth. However, my attachment to the Cubs taught me life-long virtues of loyalty, perseverance, and hope. As I evolved the game seemingly did as well. From the bygone era to the moneyball era, baseball remains affixed in the collective national imagination like no other pastime.
The un-initiated will feign that such things are simply a waste of time, money, and energy. Sure, but that could be said of literally every worldly endeavor, and in its logical extreme could be applied to our jobs and acts of faith (God Forgive). For me sports in many ways mimics life, and at its core essence baseball, like other sports, have helped shape both faith and culture, providing a platform for affiliation and experiences (See HRH Ghazi’s interesting study,”The Sacred Origin and Nature of Sports and Culture”). The racial challenges faced by Negro League players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson propelled the breaking of barriers by Jackie Robinson. In Chicago the first black player was none other than Ernie Banks (dubbed “Mr. Cub”) who would become a beloved bridge-builder in terms of not only his recognition on the field but also in continuing de-segregation that spoke to the wider societal changes afloat until his retirement in 1971.
“I look at a man as a human being; I don’t care about his color. Some people feel that because you are black you will never be treated fairly, and that you should voice your opinions, be militant about them. I don’t feel this way. You can't convince a fool against his will . . . If a man doesn't like me because I'm black, that's fine. I'll just go elsewhere, but I'm not going to let him change my life.”
Banks spoke to my own life growing up as one of the few minorities in the school and usually the only openly Muslim student. That bond of kinship was based on their inspirational lives facing adversity and social stigma with grace.
Baseball in Its traditions and euphuisms traverse the parameters of the sport (i.e. “when life throws you a curve…”). More than any other sport in the American consciousness it also holds arguably the most symbolism to life and spirituality. While there are many American Christian takes on baseball, here are few I have often thought over from a Muslim’s perspective:
- Managing For The Win - As a community if we want to “Fly the W” there needs to be an individual and collective psychological shift from one of victimization to one proactively engaged in succeeding. The Cubs did not lose because of the “Curse of the Billy Goat”, they lost because previous ownership and management lacked the will to allocate proper resources, pay for key players, and develop talent from within. These could be applied today too to many historical Muslim organizations and mosques who seemingly lack decision making abilities in trying times, and rely heavily on donations not proper financial planning. Just as the W was re-purposed in the 90’s to instill a winning attitude among Cub fans, American Muslims need a symbol that can look forward with hope, rather than looking back with regret.
- Speed & Power – Every great line-up has this combination of attributes. It should reminds us of the “Hawqala” which states, “There is No Movement (Speed) nor Power Except with God”. Ibn Masud (May God Be Pleased With Him) defined this statement as, “There is no movement away from sin except by God’s protection, and there is no power to obey him without his aid.”
- The Error of Our Ways - Our actions have consequences, and depending on the number of innings left in the game, the opportunities afforded to us to make amends decreases until every at bat and every play becomes compounded with more meaning to our eternal success. That being said our tradition informs us that only Allah is perfect. The final box score of our life highlights our runs, hits, and our errors. It serves as a reminder of not only our fallibilities, but also our ability and will to live up to our best potential.
- Crossing Home - In Baseball, like our spiritual lives, we all start off at home. “To Allah we belong, to Him we return” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:156 in the Qur'an) speaks not only of our origination on the base path of life, but our hopeful destination.
Time and disappointment has a way of dulling our sense of succeeding, and allowing superstition to override truths. This past year not only saw the shattering of the fallacy of a curse, it highlighted to a certain extant belief. As the voice of my youth Harry Caray now famously stated at the end or the disappointing 1991 season, "Sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.” We need to learn the fundamentals, touching all the bases, while hoping for the miraculous comeback ahead. Having faith in Allah, in our individual and collective destiny, and in our own abilities to effect positive changes in the world around us is the only way American Muslims can traverse the challenges ahead of us.
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