By Mike Adams and Charles Hamma
Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) is set to start its Spring Youth Basketball Program for children grades K-5 on April 10.
The program, now in its second year, is open to both Muslims and non-Muslims and includes basketball lessons and practices held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between the Maghreb and Isha prayers, which generally fall between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Entry fees are $50 for ICLI members and $60 for non-members.
The program helps promote religious education and a sense of faith for the area’s Muslim youth, ICLI executive board president-elect Amin Khwaja said.
“When the kids are here at the mosque, their sense of faith comes about at the same point,” Khwaja said. “The Center creates a culture of who we are as Muslims and our faith-based values.”
Muslim scholars encourage sports and similar activities as a way to promote health and physical fitness, provided a few rules are observed.
“Islam doesn’t stop any type of sports, and only says that the clothes should cover the body,” Habeeb Mohammed, a Quranic teacher and math professor at NYIT, said. “And if the game goes into the time to pray, then the game has to be stopped to pray. Also, if you have any bet on the game, then that is not allowed in Islam.”
The Center spent just under $80,000 constructing a basketball court in the mosque’s basement last May. ICLI sanctions investments like the court, which is free to use in the afternoons when no other events are scheduled, to help foster a community bond among its congregation.
“It’s a Center, so there’s lots of activities in addition to religious activities as well,” Sobia Patel, head of the Center’s sports committee. “You’re kind of building a community, and the community has lots of different assets.”
Parents of children participating in the basketball programs like Hamid Nawaz say it makes their children far more enthusiastic about coming to the mosque.
“Every Thursday he’s excited now,” Nawaz said. “Once he’s home from school, he’s just asking ‘let’s go to play,’ he doesn’t want to get here late.”
Some of the community’s older youth go on to participate in the Long Island Muslim Basketball Association, also known as LIMBA. While not every player views the league as anything other than an opportunity to play basketball, from time to time LIMBA hosts religious-themed events, like a recent talk with local scholar Mufti Farhan.
“We try to squeeze in as much [faith] as we possibly can, but obviously kids just want to play basketball,” Rashiq Rafeeq, captain of the ICLI’s LIMBA team, said. “Our main priority is to get the brothers to play together, be united and talk about Islam sometimes.”