Louisville linebacker Yasir Abdullah shaped by Islam and football
Louisville linebacker Yasir Bilal Abdullah has meaning in every part of his name.
Each party is rooted in their family’s Sunni Muslim faith. Yasir ibn Amir was Islam’s first martyr and Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi was the very first Muezzin – a temple official who calls Muslims to prayer. Abdullah, a common surname among Muslims, was the father of the Prophet Muhammad – his full name was Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib – and means “servant of God” in Arabic.
For as deeply rooted as Abdullah’s name is in Islam, so is his life. One of the Cardinals’ best returning players, the Florida native observes the customs of Islam as he navigates college football.
Any parent would want their kids to be like Abdullah, said University of Los Angeles outside linebackers coach Greg Gasparato.
“He’s able to make you smile and bring positive energy into the room, and that’s one of our core values: to project positive energy,” Gasparato said. “He’s one of those guys who does that, for sure. He was great, his work ethic, his leadership. He’s not a big talker, but he’ll let his actions speak for him. But, he was more vocal.
“I’m very lucky to be able to train him. I can’t wait to see him race and do what he does this year.
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Monay Durosier’s face was partially hidden by an oversized check for $1,000. But the check was pulled down just enough to reveal the Miami Carol City High School student’s glasses and top a smile.
In the lower right corner of the giant check was the signature of Yasir Abdullah.
At a time when student-athletes can take advantage of their name, image and likeness, Abdullah, 22, used some of his NIL money to provide scholarships for a student at both Miami Carol City and at Nur Ul Islam Academy, his primary school. .
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Abdullah also did his part to make a difference in Louisville. He recently visited and plans to donate to a local hospital for victims of domestic violence.
“This world is a cruel place sometimes, but just giving back to the community fills my heart,” he said. “Allah will reward us for this, giving blessings and receiving them in return.”
Abdullah’s charitable work aligns with his values as a Muslim. Establishing scholarships in one’s hometown and participating in community service in Louisville fall under the pillar of Islam called zakat. According to the Islamic Relief Worldwide website, zakat, which means to purify, “is a form of obligatory charity that has the potential to alleviate the suffering of millions of people.”
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“He doesn’t get a lot of NIL money, but with the little he gets you should give,” Xavier Abdullah said of his son. “If I have 50 cents, I’ll give you a quarter. It’s the way of life, so it’s something natural for him.
Nur Ul Islam Academy is also where Yasir Abdullah’s faith was first strengthened. He recalled how, when he was 8, people would shout negative comments as they walked past the school, or even directly at him.
When he came home and talked about it, he found solace in his parents and his twin sister, Halima.
“They always told me to keep your head up and may Allah guide you on the right path, so always keep that in mind,” Abdullah said. “It definitely strengthened my faith because I am here now. I wouldn’t be here without Allah.
Mix faith and football
Playing football also presented conflicts for Abdullah. Fasting, common during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was not always possible as he needed energy to play football. Playtimes also sometimes conflicted with evening prayer.
“I was a bit nervous at first,” Abdullah said. “But at the same time, I had to do what I had to do to play football. I had to eat. I still prayed. I still did everything I needed to get closer to Allah.
He could also seek advice from his father, who was a college athlete. Xavier, a former Florida linebacker, turned from Baptist to Muslim in college after taking a sociology course. The professor noted that many Africans who were brought to America were Muslims before being brought here on slave ships. Learning a new perspective on African history sparked a thirst for knowledge in the elder Abdullah.
“I went to the school library, I studied, I learned and I became a Muslim,” he said.
Xavier Abdullah said he fasted in college and supported his son’s choice not to play college football.
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“I just tell him, ‘God knows your intentions, so at least pray,'” Xavier Abdullah said. “He will judge your intentions. … Sometimes he tries (to fast), and then I told him, ‘If it gets difficult for you, then you just have to talk to God and then do what you have to do.’
Yasir Abdullah found what worked for him and made a name for himself on the grill at Miami Carol City High, his parents’ alma mater. As a senior, the Miami Dolphins named him High School Player of the Week after a five-sack performance against then-quarterback Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tutu Atwell and Miami Northwestern in the second round. playoffs in 2016.
Abdullah chose Louisville, in part, because of its Muslim population and because it is the hometown of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The linebacker has found a welcoming and inclusive community and team with the Cardinals, along with fellow Muslims Momo Sanogo (linebacker) and YaYa Diaby (defensive lineman). The three often pray together, and it gives a sense of community and responsibility.
“They will always keep me on track regarding fasting and things like that,” Abdullah said.
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The (next) greatest
Abdullah has visited the Muhammad Ali Center a few times since arriving in Louisville. The last trip was on July 27 when the Cardinals went together. Each visit gives Abdullah a deeper level of respect and admiration for the late boxer, who changed his birth name from Cassius Clay after converting to Islam in 1964.
“I know we’re not related, but I always call him ‘Unc’,” Abdullah said of Ali. “I went to his museum and just looked at the story behind how he converted from a Christian to a Muslim. … I want to carry his legacy of being a Muslim in America and being a top Muslim athlete.
Widely considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Ali, whose nickname was “The Greatest”, went 56-5 with 37 knockouts during his career between 1960 and 1981. One of those losses was to Joe Frazier by unanimous decision on March 8. , 1971. The two fought again in 1974 and 1975, known as the Manila Thrilla, with Ali winning both.
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The way Ali reacted to the loss resonates with Abdullah, who said his “Frazier moment” came in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and, despite starting seven games, Abdullah was not getting not the playing time he wanted. The linebacker finished the year with 33 tackles, seven for losses and three sacks.
Abdullah turned to Ali’s ability to bounce back.
“During the pandemic, I was just working on myself, my technique or just my mental game and stuff like that,” he said. “So that was a huge turning point for me.”
Abdullah’s response in 2021 has been impressive. He was the Cardinals’ fourth leading tackle with 61, 17.5 for the loss, 10 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
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Abdullah, one of 11 players returning to Division I football with double-digit sacks, wants to top those numbers this season. That would help a defense that was 76th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (157.7), 82nd in passing efficiency (138.01) and 84th in total defense.
“He and Yaya worked together all summer,” Gasparato said. “When one makes a play, the other one looks like he made it. They get so excited and vice versa. Having him back from a team (point of view), as a teammate , camaraderie leadership, he’s been great. He’s getting better every day.”