No community will miss Muhammad Ali more than Muslim Americans. Why do I say that? Simple: Ali was more than a sports figure or a celebrity to our community. He was a source of pride to so many Muslim Americans for so many different reasons.
On a personal note, I had an opportunity to meet Ali when I performed stand-up comedy at the Arab American Institute’s annual gala in 2004 where Ali was receiving a lifetime achievement award. Ali gave a speech that night was touching, inspiring and funny. While he spoke at a slower pace than the Ali who boasted he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” the three-time champion was still riveting. He shared some jokes and noted that when he converted to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay, he felt as if Muslims worldwide had become his brothers.
Ali’s spiritual journey to Islam began in 1964 when, with the mentorship of his then close friend Malcolm X, he joined the Nation of Islam. At the time NOI was more focused on being a black nationalistic movement and less about following the tenets of mainstream Islam.