Husain Abdullah takes an interception to the house. (Larry W. Smith / EPA)

Updated at 9:22 a.m. with NFL saying Abdullah should not have been flagged

When Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah intercepted a Tom Brady pass and returned it for a touchdown Monday night, he did what so many other NFL players do to celebrate a big play: He paused to make a religious gesture of thanks.

But Abdullah, a devout Muslim, found that his religious display was met with less latitude than, say, Tim Tebow when he brought Tebowing into the NFL. Abdullah was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct because he slid to the ground, then knelt in the end zone.

By 9:30 a.m., the NFL had clarified the ruling. “Abdullah should not have been penalized,” Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice-president of football communications, said in a tweet. “Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons.”

A strict reading of the rulebook reveals why Abdullah was flagged. Using the ground for celebration is not allowed, although Tebow was allowed to kneel. The penalty comes under Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL rulebook, which states that “players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground” as part of the league’s crackdown on excessive, elaborate celebrations. Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice-president of officiating and now a Fox Sports commentator, pointed out that there is an exception to the rule: going to the ground in prayer.

“For me, I just got a little too excited,” Abdullah said. “I think it was for the slide.” The lesson Abdullah took away? “Stop before you drop.”

Game officials offered no explanation, but Coach Andy Reid told him on the sideline, “You can’t slide,” Abdullah said.


(Courtesy SB Nation)

Reid had an explanation for the flag, but he wasn’t defending it. “When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want,” Reid said. “We’ve got two priests in here. They’d probably vouch for me.”

The idea that Abdullah might be fined was drawing enormous criticism Tuesday morning and, immediately after the game, Abdullah’s agent tweeted:

And elsewhere:

On Tuesday morning, Abdullah posted a photo to Instagram with the message “Subhana Rabbial-‘Ala” (Glory be to my Lord The Most High).”