- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Back in the United States after a life-altering experience last fall, Husain Abdullah allowed himself to take a glimpse back at the world he temporarily gave up.
“I’d watch some NFL games on television last November,” Abdullah said. “I missed the game, but I was not upset or sad. I was at peace with what I did. I wouldn’t change it.”
A safety who worked his way from undrafted rookie to starter in Minnesota, Abdullah surprised many in NFL when he hit the pause button on his football career at the age of 27 to fulfill a spiritual and family commitment last year. He is back in the NFL after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs in February.
“It was totally worth it,” Abdullah said in a phone interview this week. “It was life changing, energizing and spiritual. ... Now I am back and I feel great about everything moving forward.”
Husain and his brother, former Denver and Arizona safety Hamza Abdullah, made news when they took the 2012 season off to make the Muslim hajj to Mecca in October (their story is chronicled above in an "Outside the Lines" video from last year). The brothers and their parents were gone for 3 1/2 weeks. The focal point of the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, which draws Muslims from around the world, is prayer.
For Abdullah, the experience was all about fulfilling a lifelong spiritual quest. The highlights? Simply being able to pray at the hajj pilgrimage. Asked what he most remembers, Abdullah said: “Seeing Muslims from France, Brazil, Pakistan, all over the world, everyone being together for the same reason. … It was all about asking for forgiveness and guidance.”
Abdullah, who always fasted during the sunlight during the holy time of Ramadan throughout his career, said he had long wanted to take the trip. Last year, he and his family figured since they had the means to do it, they shouldn’t delay the trip any longer. Even though it meant walking away from the NFL, the family decided it was time.
“I couldn’t just ask to leave during the season,” Abdullah explained. “I know I had to take the whole time off leading up to the experience. It was not really a tough decision, because it was something I always wanted to do. I felt the need to go.”
Abdullah admits it did cross his mind that if he left the league on his own, he was risking the chance of never returning. He resumed heavy football training when he returned from his pilgrimage in November and had hopes of joining a team late in the season.
“But teams figured that I missed OTAs and training camp, that I might not be ready,” Abdullah said. “I understood. So I had to wait. It crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get a chance. I was at peace with that. I was so grateful do to something I waited my whole life for.”
Now that he is back in the league, Abdullah is thrilled. He said he is enjoying the NFL experience greatly, even though it’s just the organized team activity season.
“It’s as fun as ever,” Abdullah said. “To get the opportunity to be back is really special. I’ve really enjoyed the entire experience.”
The Chiefs aren’t simply giving Abdullah a chance to put on an NFL helmet one last time before he is cut. The team is high on Abdullah. He was signed shortly after he had a workout in February.
The Washington State product was known as a quality player when he left the game. He started 15 games in 2010 and he started nine games in 2011 in Minnesota before getting injured.
New Kansas City general manager John Dorsey jumped at the chance to take a look at Abdullah. Dorsey was previously in Green Bay and had a strong knowledge of him. He was always impressed by Abdullah’s ability to work his way up the Minnesota roster. Dorsey said Abdullah has been a diligent worker this spring and he expects him to not just compete for a roster spot, but compete for a significant role on the team.
Dorsey looked at Abdullah’s pilgrimage as an impressive feat. He had no worries about Abdullah being away from the game for a season.
“The way he works, you can tell that this is important to him,” Dorsey said. “Anytime you get a chance to get a quality person, you should do it. He is one of the most refreshing guys I know. He is mature beyond his years. He has great self confidence. He is a wise, intelligent, deep guy. He is clearly spiritual and it’s neat thing to have a guy like Husain in our program.”
Abdullah said he plans to make the hajj pilgrimage often in the future. For now, though, he is back to concentrating on football in the fall.
1dEric D. Williams