Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He began training as an amateur boxer at age 12. At 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and turned professional later that year. He won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset on February 25, 1964, at age 22. In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military, citing his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the Vietnam War. He was found guilty of draft evasion so he faced 5 years in prison and was stripped of his boxing titles. He stayed out of prison as he appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, but he had not fought for nearly four years and lost a period of peak performance as an athlete.
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. He announced that he no longer would be known as Cassius Clay but as Muhammad Ali. At the time NOI was more focused on being a black nationalistic movement and less about following the tenets of mainstream Islam.
But by 1975, Ali left NOI and became a part of Sunni Islam, the most popular sect of the religion. In 1989, Ali went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. And in 2005, as his daughter explained, Ali embraced Sufi Islam, which is a more spiritual sect of the faith.
After converting to Islam, Ali felt as if "Muslims worldwide had become his brothers". He was very right about this feeling: In his passing away from this World, all Muslims were deeply mourning his departure (June 3, 2016).
May Allah, The All-Mighty, forgive all of his shortcomings and bless him with the highest heavens in Paradise.
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