A few years ago, I was very much into watching sports. Professional basketball was at the top of my list, and I had a couple of seasons of diligently watching football, soccer, and tennis under my belt as well. But over time, I simply lost interest—I like to stay at least somewhat updated with the sports world today, but I am nowhere near as invested as I was a handful of years in the past.
I had some trouble admitting that too, because I think a lot of people thought of me as the “basketball girl” who writes for a basketball magazine and covers stories about sports. This interest became a part of my identity, a unique selling point about my personality — a hijabi girl who likes hoops.
I used to be a person who tried really hard to stay up late to see the second of the double-headers streaming live from the western conference—even if that meant letting my parents’ suggestions about sleeping go ignored. I used to pray during the commercial breaks and halftime shows so as to not miss a minute of the action. I would refresh my Twitter feed during the final moments of the game to see how every reporter and fan would react to the successful or unsuccessful plays at the buzzer.
One of my favorite sporting events to watch was NBA All-Star Weekend. Almost four years ago now, I remember really looking forward to the events which always fall on Presidents’ Day Weekend. It was 2015, and I was excited to see Stephen Curry and LeBron James take the stage. But days prior to the events, I saw the breaking news of three American Muslim students shot assassination style in their home. Deah, Yusor, and Razan—#OurThreeWinners—were gone, just like that. They looked like they could be my best friends, my classmates, my siblings, even me. My heart was heavy and my community was aching. All-Star Weekend went from everything to nothing.
That week was extremely eye-opening for me. I prayed each prayer more slowly, had each conversation more thoroughly, made each supplication more sincerely during those days. I tried to get my mind off by watching the basketball events of the weekend, and found zero interest. I turned it off. None of that mattered. Life is temporary, and we could go any second. That reality set in to my mind that week, and it set in hard. I think that time in my life was probably the beginning of the end of my obsession with the NBA.
Even though I no longer identify as a huge sports fan, I am still the same person—just with a lot less time and energy invested in hoops. I do still have a strong appreciation for the athletic prowess few can display on the court or field, and I would still be able to watch a game from start to finish with enthusiasm and interest. The difference now is, if I miss it, I will not be upset. A team losing or winning will no longer affect my mood or heart rate as intensely as it once did.
One of the things I loved about sports was the clean entertainment it provided. I did not have to worry about an inappropriate scene coming on the screen or storylines that encouraged un-Islamic behaviors like premarital romantic relationships and mocking parents. There are even narrations from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about his Companions taking part in sports like archery, wrestling, and swimming. Staying active and healthy is encouraged in Islam, and if there is joy and entertainment that comes along with it, all the better.
But Islam is all about balance. If there is a form of entertainment that pushes values contrary to Islam, it would be best to avoid. Watching movies, sports, television shows, and playing video games should not be keeping one from performing the daily obligations of a Muslim. If the elements of entertainment preoccupy one’s mind so much so that they can no longer concentrate in prayer, it may be a sign to take a step back and limit consumption.
Entertainment surely has its place, but it should never become a distraction from the true purpose of life, which for a Muslim is to please God. We tend to get caught up in our favorite movies and shows and sports teams, but certainly life is more than just having a good time. Death is inevitable and a life spent simply in entertainment and enjoyment for one’s own self-pleasure is not the type of life Muslims are encouraged to live. Instead, a life of balance that consists of joy along with serious reflection and hard work to fulfill the rights of God and others is what Islam emphasizes. Deah, Yusor, and Razan were great examples of this. They enjoyed their lives with sports and entertainment sure, but they seriously invested their time and resources into others in need through their career goals and carrying themselves as model Muslims.