“Muhammad Ali converted to Islam to unlock the shackles of cultural enslavement (segregation) of the black community in the US back in the 1960s”
By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat
He proclaimed himself “The Greatest” boxer of all time, and indeed he was.
He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, well that he certainly did. Muhammad Ali was the only boxer that could dance while he was fighting in the ring. Nobody could argue with that. Ali took boxing technique and popularity to the next level. No other athlete was loved by so many people around the world, including the Muslim world, like Muhammad Ali was.
Ali is simply a legend when it comes to his achievement in sport and his contribution to the civil rights movement in the US, nobody could deny that. Throughout his life Ali has made many smart and legendary moves like his stance on the Vietnam War and his unprecedented reclaiming of the world title as the heavy weight champion for three times. Still when he converted to Islam Muhammad Ali, or should we say Cassius Marcellus Clay, was also making a legendary move but unfortunately the most ill-informed one in his remarkable life.
Sport commentators and pundits around the world have analyzed every aspect of Ali’s life that in a way carved his greatness as a unique athlete.
However, few have ever wondered why this outstanding/outspoken hero has, at the peak of his glory, converted to Islam.
Back in the 1960s that was not a very common thing amongst Americans and Europeans, and also back then the (current) tide of Islamic extremism was still brewing under the surface.
Ali was well trained in boxing and he has even contributed to the evolution and popularity of the game with his creativity and wit. When it comes to comparative religion and theology, I doubt very much that Ali was equally trained or let’s say well informed. He was a genius inside the boxing ring where he shone and captivated the hearts of millions around the world.
Outside the ring Muhammad Ali has done many extraordinary things, the most unexpected of which was his conversion to Islam. The reason I’m saying this is not because I’m an Islamophobe, nor am I an anti-Islam advocate, but rather because I’m an ‘insider’ who grew up in a predominantly Muslim culture and just happened to know better than Muhammad Ali when it comes to Islamic history and culture.
My reexamining of Ali’s conversion to Islam does not imply by any means any disrespect or defamation of that great faith, rather we are digging deep into the psychological and cultural reasons that somehow compelled Cassius Marcellus Clay to convert to Islam. We are also tracing the history of slavery and its trade in ancient Arabia hundreds of years before the emergence of Islam.
It is no secret that Ali was born into an era of an ugly racial segregation that targeted the black community in America. Though The 1960s had been Ali’s decade of glory, yet it was overshadowed by the heavy clouds of apartheid in the US.
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We are not going to get into the details/dynamics of that ugly era in the Modern History of the United States and how it affected (the psychology of) that brilliant young boxer. To put it in a nutshell Muhammad Ali, despite his fame and glory, deep inside he was still feeling like a slave.
Bounded by the shackles of a parallel culture of (American) apartheid, Ali couldn’t escape the feeling that no matter how high he soared as an athlete and as a world champion he would always be looked upon as another black “Nigger”.
That’s why he preferred England to his native USA, for the British treated him better and called him the Greatest (despite being a man of color).
He hated his American/Christian culture that treated his black community as some sort of outcast social class. Ali was right it was a sick culture and since he could not remedy the whole American culture, he simply sought a cure for himself. That’s when he decided to convert to Islam and change his name. It was not only unexpected but also an uneducated decision.
I don’t know who influenced the brilliant boxer to convert to Islam. I have no idea who put in his head this (unfounded) notion of an ancient Islamic Tribe called Shabazz that had earlier migrated to central Africa and thus their (Muslim) followers were established as the ancestors of most Africans. What a hilarious twisting of Ancient Arabian and African history.
Ancient Arabs only migrated to the nearby territories at the horn of Africa; what is currently known as Eritrea, and Ethiopia. That in a way explains how (the Yemenite) Judaism had been introduced to that part of Africa, and that also explains why the Eritreans and Ethiopians have different facial features than the central Africans (their features resembles that of Yemenites and Southern Arabians). You could read all about this migration and cultural exchange in my book (Egypt Knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites)
As for the spread of Islam in North African & Mediterranean territories, from Egypt in the East all the way to Morocco and South of Spain in West, it was simply achieved by the edge of the sword. Due to the gradual assimilation to the teachings of the new religion it only took a few centuries, as early as the 9th century, before Islam reached Sub-Sahara Africa.
Maybe it was Malcolm X, or maybe it was a Muslim circle of Sunni (proselytizing) clerics from the Arab world (Funded by Saudi Arabia). Anyway, whoever was behind Ali’s conversion to Islam they/he did not tell him the whole truth about Islam. Or maybe they were equally ill-educated in Islamic history.
Obviously Ali was proselytized to Islam by convincing him that this (Muhammadian) religion had adamantly abolished slavery and that black people and white people stood like equals before ‘Allah’ the God of Muslims. This new revelation worked like magic inside the heart and soul of the Black boxer from Louisville, Kentucky. Especially when he was told that the first Muezzin (the man appointed at a mosque to call to prayer) in Islam was a black man. Only Ali was not told that at the beginning of Islam when (almost) all Arabs rejected the new faith, the Prophet Muhamed resorted to the smart tactic of winning over the hearts of slaves by the promise of freedom should they prevailed.
Again Muhammad Ali was not told the whole truth about Islam, for first of all this Arabian faith did not do away with slavery. On the contrary, slavery was an essential foundation of the Muslim culture and its fledgling religion. Freeing a big chunk of ‘Muslim’ slaves (for the sake of militarily expanding the Caliphate) while enslaving people of other faiths is not the ideal model for emancipating the human soul and treating all humans as equals.
The Prophet of Islam as well as most of his early companions, known in Arabic as Sahabah, did own slaves. Slavery was a genuine tradition in ancient Arabia that kept thriving for centuries well after the death of Prophet Muhammad. What Islam did was to institutionalize slavery rather than to abolish it altogether, the thing that was not expected from the last of the ‘Abrahamic’ religions.
Slavery was not banned by any religion or faith, rather it was abolished by a long and exclusively secular struggle.
If Islam had abolished every shape and form of slavery that had for long shackled the human spirit that would have been the real ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ for all proud Muslims. Only that did not happen.
As a matter of fact the Arabs, especially the Arab Jews, were the first slave traders in the history of mankind. Long before the Portuguese and the Spanish, the Arabs had been the pioneers in trading/trafficking slaves from East and Central Africa.
Arabs sold the Africans as slaves in ancient Arabia and were also trafficking them as far as Persia and India in the East and North Africa and Greece in the West.
Ironically it is the Arab Slave Trade that ushered in The European Slave Trade in the 18-19th century.
The number of people enslaved by Muslims has been a hotly debated topic, especially when the millions of Africans forced from their homelands are considered. Some historians estimate that between A.D. 650 and 1900, 10 to 20 million people were enslaved by Arab slave traders.
The Arab slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. Black boys between the age of 8 and 12 had their scrotums and penises completely amputated to prevent them from reproducing. About six of every 10 boys bled to death during the procedure, according to some sources, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable.
Some men were castrated to be eunuchs in domestic service and the practice of neutering male slaves was not limited to only Black males. “The Caliph in Baghdad at the beginning of the 10th Century had 7,000 black eunuchs and 4,000 white eunuchs in his palace,” writes author Ronald Segal in his 2002 book, Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora.
Slavery has always been characteristic of the ancient Arabian culture, be that Jewish or Islamic. A Muslim Arab is entitled to four wives and as many sex slaves as he could own. This is an essential tenet of the Islamic culture of polygamy that is regulated by ‘Sharia law’. The ‘Sex Slaves’ are known in the Muslim/Arabic culture as ‘Molk El Yameen’ (what the right hand owns)
“Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those (captives and sex slaves) whom your right hands possess. Thus has Allah ordained for you” Qur’an 4-24
It is also known that pedophilia/sexual lust for young boys and girls has always been rampant in the nomadic culture of ancient Arabians. A need that was best served and maintained by (as mentioned earlier) castrating young black/white slaves.
So the historical origin of slavery goes way back to ancient Arabia and their Jewish/Muslim traffickers in African and later white slaves. In that way converting to Islam (to unlock the shackles of cultural slavery) is as naïve a move as adopting Zionism to combat the brutal Israeli Apartheid and occupation.
Chances are if Muhammad Ali were born into ancient Arabia where Islam was still a fledgling religion he would have certainly ended up as a ‘slave’.
Mohammad Ali made history for boxing every time he fought inside the ring; I only wished he knew better about the history of slavery in Islam when he decided to change his name to Mohammad Ali; the greatest of all time.
For more information about the history of the slave trade in ancient Arabia read Dr. Ashraf Ezzat’s book – Egypt knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites.
For more articles and videos by Ashraf Ezzat visit his website
The author is an Egyptian, born in Cairo and based in Alexandria. Ashraf Ezzat joined the staff of Veterans Today in 2009.
Graduated from the faculty of Medicine at Alexandria University but keen not to be entirely consumed by the medical profession, Dr. Ezzat invests a lot of his time in research, documentary filmmaking, and writing. He is a regular guest lecturer at the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the national museum of Cairo.
History of the ancient Near East and specifically of Ancient Egypt has long been of special interest to him.
In his writings, Ashraf Ezzat approaches ancient history not as some tales from the remote times but as a contributing factor in our existing life; and to him, history is as relevant and vibrant as the current moment.
In his research and writings, Dr. Ezzat is always on a quest trying to find out why the ancient wisdom & spirituality had been obstructed and diminished whereas the Judeo-Christian teachings and faith took hold and prospered.
Dr. Ezzat has written extensively in Arabic tackling many issues and topics in the field of Egyptology and comparative religion.
He is the author of Egypt knew neither Pharaoh nor Moses, a kindle book published in 2015 and available on amazon.
In 2013 his short film, The Pyramids: Egyptian Genesis
The following documentaries were screened at many international film festivals in Europe.
In 2020 the documentary film: SEA OF LOVE: Transforming Journey to Egypt (Documentary)
Dr. Ezzat is working now on his upcoming documentary “Egypt knew neither Pharaoh nor Moses”.