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Sean Stone and Other Famous Converts to Islam (PHOTOS)

From Oliver Stone’s son to Muhammad Ali, see famous folks who turned to Allah.

The director Oliver Stone’s son recently announced that he converted to Islam and says Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “misunderstood.” From Muhammad Ali to Dave Chappelle, see other famous folks who turned to Allah.

Vahid Salemi

Sean Stone

Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to political controversy, and his son is following in his footsteps. His father is Jewish (despite his remarks that were interpreted as anti-Semitic) and his mother is Christian, but 27-year-old Sean Stone announced two weeks ago that he converted to Islam while filming a documentary in the Iranian city of Isfahan. He even told Bill O’Reilly this week that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he’s met, is “misunderstood” because he’s said some sensational things to fight off other factions in the nation.

AP Photo

Muhammad Ali

He was the beautiful Cassius Marcellus Clay (“Ain’t I pretty?”), and the press saw him as a preening braggart, a joke. In 1964, at the age of 22, he proved everyone wrong when he won his first heavyweight title. But the undermining continued, since it was one of the most controversial fights in boxing history: for some reason, Sonny Liston had failed to answer the bell in the 7th round. But what came after shocked the world even more, as Clay announced that he had been a longtime member of the Nation of Islam, and a week later took the name Muhammad Ali. Whether it was racism or anti-Islamic sentiments, no one, with the exception of Howard Cosell, accepted the name. The New York State Athletic Commission withdrew its recognition of his title, and did it again when Ali refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War in 1967. But you know the rest. With countless acts of defiance and resurrection, Clay has, through the strength of his mind and his will, transformed himself into Ali the cultural icon, “The Greatest.”

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Malcolm X

He was Malcolm Little, a small-time crook from Boston, dealing drugs and working the occasional robbery, when in 1946 he was thrown in jail. There, he began reading everything he could get his hands on, and in 1948 he got a letter from his older brother Philbert saying that many members of his family had converted to the Nation of Islam. What is the Nation of Islam? It was started by another ex-con, Wallace D. Fard, who preached that the white race is comprised of mutants (“race of devils”) created by a black scientist named Yakub thousands of years ago. In 1931, a former sharecropper named Elijah Poole heard Fard preach and told him that “you are God himself,” though after Fard mysteriously disappeared in 1934 the disciple would increasingly think of himself in no less a divine light, and renamed himself Elijah Muhammad. Whatever you may think of the origin story, it’s not difficult to understand why Little was drawn to a group dedicated to transforming marginalized blacks into a spiritual force, and preached redemption through struggles, which among its many manifestations was the search for a name—what that X stood for was nothing short of the fight to regain black history, whether through civil rights, religious symbolism, or violence.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Lew Alcindor joined the Nation of Islam in 1968, right around the time the 20-year-old was dominating college basketball at UCLA. (He played three years, and won three national championships.) He took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971, which means “noble, powerful servant.”

Murad Sezer / AP Photo

Cat Stevens

He was born Steven Demetre Georgiou, chose the stage name Cat Stevens (because he had eyes like a cat, and because Americans love animals), and became Yusuf Islam in 1978, a year after he converted. The story has a biblical feel: in 1976, Stevens nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu, and he supposedly prayed to God that if he was saved, he’d dedicate his life to him. Sure enough, he was carried to shore by a wave, and when his brother gave him a copy of the Koran, he was hooked.

Julie Jacobson / AP Photo

Dave Chappelle

Chappelle’s Show was brilliant for its pointed irreverence. Nothing was sacred. But just when its loyal fans fervently awaited the premiere of the third season in May 2005, the comedian abruptly disappeared to South Africa. Time magazine’s Simon Robinson found him there, and revealed a Chappelle disillusioned with what the show had become. (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”) Chappelle had gone to South Africa in part to renew his spiritual practice. He converted in 1998. “I don't normally talk about my religion publicly because I don't want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is a beautiful religion if you learn it the right way. It's a lifelong effort. Your religion is your standard. Coming here I don't have the distractions of fame. It quiets the ego down.”

Getty Images

Isabelle Eberhardt

Born in 1877, Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt traveled extensively in North Africa. In 1897, both she and her Lutheran mother converted to Islam. After converting, Eberhardt, who often dressed as a man to overcome sexism, made Algeria her home and eventually married an Algerian soldier.

Frank Franklin II / AP Photo


A co-founder of the acclaimed rap trio A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip was born Jonathan Davis in Queens, New York. Along with Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip changed the face of hip-hop in the 1990s, earning writing, rapping, and producing credits on tracks like "Bonita Applebum" and "Can I Kick It?" A Tribe Called Quest disbanded in 1998. In 1996, Q-Tip, who went on to pursue a solo career as a hip-hop artist and producer, converted to Islam, and changed his name to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed. “I read the Koran and it appealed to me,” Q-Tip has said of his conversion. “At the time I was agnostic and it really breathed spiritually back into me.”

Christof Stache / AP Photo

Franck Ribery

French soccer star Franck Ribery converted to Islam so he could marry his childhood sweetheart, Wahiba Belhami, who is from Algeria. Ribery took the Arabic name Bilal. A midfielder, Ribery plays in Germany for the Bayern Munich club. He and his wife have two daughters.

G. Paul Burnett / AP Photo

Art Blakey

Blakey, one of the most influential jazz drummers ever, converted to Islam in the 1940s after a trip to Africa, taking on the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. Known for his aggressive and polyrhythmic drumming technique, Blakey earned the nickname “Thunder” over his more than 40 years in jazz. Best known for his work with his band the Jazz Messengers, Blakey also played with greats like Miles Davis and mentored young talents including Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Ross Gilmore, Redferns / Getty Images

Richard Thompson

In the early 1970s, musician Richard Thompson and his then-wife Linda converted to Sufi Islam. Thompson, whose songs have been covered by everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Elvis Costello, has said that Islam offers the right spiritual balance. When he was in his twenties, Thompson attended a Sufi meeting not far from his home in Hampstead, England, and saw a handful of musicians he knew. "I had been waiting as long as I could remember for an appropriate way to thank God,” Thompson told The Guardian in 2010. “Simple as that. I wanted to say thanks for life and creation for being here and I didn't know how to do it.”

Stefano Palter / AP Photo

Jermaine Jackson

Born a Jehovah’s Witness, Jermaine Jackson converted to Islam while on a trip to Bahrain in 1989. Following the death of his younger brother, Michael, Jackson suggested that the religion could have saved him. “I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam he would still be here today and I say that for many reasons,” he said. “Why? Because when you are 100 percent clear in your mind as to who you are and what you are and why you are and everybody around you, then things change in a way that’s better for you. It’s just having that strength. God is so powerful.”

Jason Decrow / AP Photo

Ghostface Killah

Born Dennis Coles, the Staten Island native was one of the founding members of rap collective the Wu-Tang Clan, who released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in 1993. His rap moniker, like much of Wu-Tang's syncretic blend of styles and influences, came from an esoteric source, a 1979 kung fu movie called The Mystery of Chess Boxing.

Peter Lennihan / AP Photo

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson, famous for Hangover cameos and his face tattoo, is also a Muslim convert. The former heavyweight boxing champ converted to Islam while serving a three-year stint in prison for a rape conviction in 1992. Tyson took the Muslim name Malik Abdul Aziz and even embarked upon a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2010. Tyson tweeted, “I just left the Holy City of Mecca where I was blessed to have been able to make Umrah,” later adding, “Inshallah (God willing), Allah will continue to bless me to stay on the straight path.”