Betrayal or Personal Growth? Muhammad Ali’s Decision to Separate from Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam

Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer and during his career stood for various other socio-political issues

Ali rejected white supremacy and wanted to have an identity of his own.

He was a very high-profile figure of racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement and throughout his career.

Ali looked for religion to help him navigate the ills of racial discrimination as a young boxer. He chose not to follow Christianity as it was given to him by white people.

How Muhammad Ali joined the Nation of Islam

Ali got to know about the Nation of Islam, during one of his fights in 1959. The NOI was a popular and controversial organization for black Muslims who preached strict separation of the races and described white people as devils. In order to fight that, Ali converted to Islam and also left his Christian name Cassius Clay in 1964. “I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — it means beloved of God and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me,” Ali famously said.


Ali’s interest in the ideologies of NOI emerged after watching the likes of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Over the years, Ali and Malcolm X grew closer and Ali saw him as a mentor. However, their relationship collapsed after Malcolm X decided to split from the NOI.

After a decade of being together with NOI and providing them with his influence to spread their views, Ali decided to leave them. Ali embraced mainstream Islam which taught him about accepting and loving all other religions and races.

Ali at that time was one of the most famous Muslims in the world and was an icon for American Muslims too. He was a great ambassador of the religion and traveled all around the world spreading the message of Islam in his later years.


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