On June 3, 2016, the world lost one of its greatest fighters and biggest humanitarians when 74-year-old Muhammad Ali passed away. The iconic and charismatic sports hero lived a full, loud life and was well aware of his impact when he said “I shook up the world!”
Now, on the one year anniversary of his passing Time reveals a not widely known reason why Ali converted to Islam. There have been many tales of Ali’s first introduction to the faith. Some say he was in Miami in 1960 or 1961, while others maintain the boxer first learned about the religion he would dedicate the rest of his life to while in Chicago. However a forthcoming book divulges something different.
Out in October Ali: A Life from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, author Jonathan Eig says it was when Ali was outside of a skating rink back home in Louisville that he began reading The Nation of Islam’s paper Muhammad Speaks when he saw a cartoon. The cartoon was an illustration of a white slave master beating his slaves while instructing them to pray to Jesus. The point was Christianity was an oppressive religion. In a letter written to his second wife Khalilah Camacho-Ali he said he liked the cartoon and admits “It did something to me. And it made sense.”
But I did buy the Muhammad Speaks paper. And [one] thing in the paper [made] me keep the paper, and that was a cartoon. And the cartoon was about the first slaves that arrived in America, and the cartoon was showing how the black slaves were slipping off at the plantation to pray in the Arabic language facing the east. And the white slave master would run up behind the slave with a whip and hit the poor [slave] on the back with a whip and say, ‘what are you doing praying in that language, you know what I told you to speak,’ and the slave said, ‘yes sir, yes sir, Master. I will pray to Jesus, sir, Jesus.’ And I liked that cartoon. It did something to me. And it made sense.
Eig tells Time he paid Camacho $600 for the letter, and while Ali’s interest and subsequent love for Islam would grow, moving him to not enlist in the Vietnam War, this is one of the rare times when Ali wrote about indoctrination and finding his own religious path.