On February 7, 1964, at the age of 22, Cassius Clay officially converted to Islam, renaming himself as Mohammad Ali.
“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me,” declared the man who dubbed himself “The Greatest”.
Malcolm X became both a spiritual and political mentor to Ali, who referred to himself as Cassius X before switching to Muhammad Ali, after Elijah Muhammad, the leader of Islam at the time.
Two greats. Two civil rights activists, in their own right, who held their tongues for no man. Two individuals who would be absolutely outraged at the discrimination this country is currently experiencing (although this would be nothing new to them.)
Last night, I read Black Muslim Futures Matter, a Huffington Post Black Voices published article written by Miski Noor. Noor is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis chapter, which has been at the forefront of nationwide protests.
In the article, Noor reflects on her past experiences as a Black Muslim in America. She educates her readers on not only the daily struggles of being Black and Muslim in America, but also the history of Black Muslims contributing to the building of this great nation.
“My whole life is emblematic of what Black Muslims face in America on a daily basis: Erasure.,” Noor wrote.
She went on to explain how the executive order is “an attempt to pass off an anti-Black, racist policy as a act in the interest of the safety of Americans.” Noor mentioned that many Black Muslims are not immigrants, but have ancestors who were kidnapped and forced into slavery, which obviously led to the fact that Black Muslims have played an important role in American history for centuries (i.e. Ali and Malcolm X).
According to Noor, one third of American Muslims are black, while black immigrants are approximately three times as likely to be detained or deported.
Just as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali fought for what is right and just, resisting evil, inequality, and injustice, it is now our turn to follow in their footsteps on the foundation they laid.
“Too cooperate with what the current Administration is establishing is to be complicit in the deaths of our friends, neighbors, coworkers and loved ones.”
The Black Lives Matter Movement, for whom Noor serves as communications strategist, is a melting pot of a movement, comprised of members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and undocumented people, black women, and many others. It’s a movement that would simply not be possible if it weren’t for those who came before us, who turned their feeling into actions.
I’m sure there are plenty of people in favor of the executive order who praise Muhammad Ali as the greatest boxer of all time who shook up the world, and recognize Malcolm X as an activist who opposed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent views. Both placed in boxes by those who choose to ignore their brave, bold, controversial contributions to the advancement of African Americans.
Two men who changed not just this nation, but this world, forever.
In 2017, we can’t go backwards.
Here is a list of other famous Black Muslims who either converted or were born into Islam.