September 30th, 2014
07:42 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Husain Abdullah can kneel and pray pretty much anywhere in America he wants. Except, perhaps, for an NFL end zone.
The Kansas City Chiefs' safety and devout Muslim was flagged for "unsportsmanlike conduct" after sliding to his knees in prayer to celebrate a touchdown Monday night.
On Tuesday, the NFL said the referee botched the call.
"Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct," said Michael Signora, a league spokesman.
The rules prohibit players from celebrating while on the ground, but officials should not "flag a player who goes to the ground as part of a religious celebration," Signora added.
As many observers have noted, Christian players often celebrate by kneeling in prayer after making big plays.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, called on the NFL to make its rules about on-field celebrations more clear.
“To prevent the appearance of a double standard, we urge league officials to clarify the policy on prayer and recognize that the official made a mistake in this case,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
After the game, Abdullah told reporters that he might have been penalized because he slid and celebrated too excitedly, not because of the prayer.
The safety said he told himself earlier in the game that if he scored a touchdown he would "prostrate before God in the end zone."
"I got a little too excited," Abdullah said, according to ESPN. "So, I think it was because of the slide.”
Abdullah's coach, Andy Reid, also said Monday that the referees told him the slide, not the prayer, led to the penalty.
But online, Muslims flagged NFL referees for having a double standard.
Others pointed out that Tim Tebow, an evangelical Christian, was not penalized for "Tebowing" - kneeling in prayer - during games.
On Tuesday morning, Abdullah posted this photo on Instagram.
Several years ago, Abdullah shocked his team by temporarily leaving football to explore his faith on spiritual journey to Mecca.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.