Muhammad Ali and Islam

Muhammad_Ali_1966On Saturday June 4th the world lost one it’s greatest ever boxers in the shape of Muhammad Ali. Ali was born on January 1942 in Lousiville, Kentucky and named Cassius Clay. He started training as a boxer at the age of 12 and went on to be one of the greatest in the sport. At the 1960 Summer Olympics he won gold for the US in the Light Heavyweight class and what followed was a amazing professional boxing career.

Aside from the sport Ali was also well known for his political and religious convictions. He argued for civil rights for Black Americans.

“I am America, I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me”

In 1964 Ali joined the Nation of Islam and from then changed his name to Muhammad Ali, as Cassius Clay was his “slave name”. Malcolm X was regularly seen in his entourage before his joining of the Nation of Islam, but their friendship ended shortly after Malcolm X split from the Nation of Islam. Ali later converted to Sunni Islam in 1975.

His faith was very important to Ali and was one of the reasons he refused to be called up in the draft during the Vietnam War. He declared himself a “conscientious objector”. He stated

“War is against the teachings of the Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.”

StangoAliIn Houston, Texas in 1967 Ali was due to be inducted in the United States Army, Ali refused three times to step forward when his name was called. An officer warned him he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 if he did not step forward. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called. He was arrested. On the same day the New York State Athletic Commission was the first commission to suspend his boxing license and the WBA stripped him of his World Heavy Height title.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father…. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

As a strong objector to the war, following his conviction, he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court who decided 8-0 to reverse the conviction as the appeal board did not follow the proper guidance on conscientious objectors.

Muhammad Ali remained faithful through his life. In 2002 when he was awarded a Star on the Hollywood walk of fame, and his star is different to all the other stars on that Boulevard. His hangs on the wall.

AliThe reason? He said he did not want his name to be walked on by people who did not respect him, but he also had a religious reason.

“I bear the name of our Beloved Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), and it is impossible that I allow people to trample over his name,”

Ali spoke a lot about his faith over the years

“The word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace.’ The word ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who surrenders to God.’ But the press makes us seem like haters.”

On God

“Allah’s the Arabic term for God. Stand up for God, fight for God, work for God and do the right thing, and go the right way, things will end up in your corner.”


“God tries you in certain, certain ways. Some people are rich, and they believe in God. They lose the money, things get hard, they get weak and quit going to church. Quit serving God like they did.”

On Belief

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.


“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

On Service

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

On “Islamic” Terrorism

Terrorists are not following Islam. Killing people and blowing up people and dropping bombs in places and all this is not the way to spread the word of Islam. So people realize now that all Muslims are not terrorists.

On Religion

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.

192px-Muhammad_Ali_NYWTSMuhammad Ali died on June 4th 2016 of septic shock following a respiratory illness. He was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease in 1984. He is survived by his wife Yolanda Williams and his children Laila Ali, Hana Ali, Asaad Amin, Khaliah Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr., Rasheda Ali, Jamillah Ali, Miya Ali and Maryum Ali.

His funeral will take place in his home town of Louisville on Friday June 10, at 2pm at the KFC Yum! Centre, where it will be live streamed on the internet and translated into other languages.



I am from Cork and a Member of the Church of Ireland. I attend St Anne's Union, Shandon and represent the parish on the Diocesan Synod of the Cork, Cloyne and Ross as well as on the diocesan Charting a Future with Confidence Council. Stephen is committed to the idea of an Inclusive Church and serves on the committee of Changing Attitude Ireland. He is also a member of Diverse Church. 


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