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Ibby Jaaber’s Conscience

Here’s a really interesting story about Ibby Jaaber, an American Muslim playing professional basketball in Europe, who decided that the culture surrounding pro basketball in inimical to his faith:

The team’s jerseys featured the logo of a beer company called Kalnapilis: a small red triangle with the brewery’s name in script below it. As a devout Muslim, the beer ad offended Jaaber. So did the squad’s scantily clad cheerleaders, with their low-cut tops and barely there bottoms. The cheerleaders’ racy routines weren’t so different from anything you’d see in an NBA arena — OK, maybe there were a few extra thrusts and gyrations — but as Jaaber put it, “To me, they’re naked women.” He even found the music pumped through the arena to be too profane.

He’d been with the team for more than three months and things were going smoothly, but then it hit him one day like a basketball to the head: To keep his faith, he had to go. “It was really like an epiphany,” Jaaber says. He told the team that he would be leaving immediately and that, since the money he’d earned from them was tainted, he didn’t want it anymore. So here he was at the bank, meeting a Žalgiris official. “I laughed with the team manager about the situation,” Jaaber says. “How can somebody do this? Everybody lives for money.”

The bank teller confirmed the transfer. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were wired from Jaaber’s account to the team’s. He walked out of the bank and prepared to leave Kaunas with his wife and newborn son.

“I understand that maybe I will never earn money from basketball because of this decision,” he said at the time, “but I am ready to do such a sacrifice for my beliefs.”

Often people of religious conviction complain about the degraded character of contemporary culture. But I have to wonder if it might be less degraded if more of us were willing to do what Jaaber did, and sever our ties with the companies and organizations that promote values we strongly disagree with. I know that I am certainly more inclined to “go along to get along” than to take a stand.

Jason Schwartz tells Jaaber’s story carefully, thoroughly, and sympathetically. It really gives a vivid picture of how someone of moderate or limited convictions comes to have stronger ones, and to act on them — but without being unnecessarily confrontational. I must admit that I think Jaaber is following a path of cultural isolation that is unworkable for anyone who lives outside a relatively or wholly isolated community, and I share very, very little of his theological ethic, but I also have to admire someone who’s got more guts than I do. But whether you admire Jaaber or not, this is a great case study in religious conviction and the public sphere.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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