Five Famous Personalities Who Converted to Islam
Last week, in my blog about gender ambiguities, I mentioned the problems that Dave Chappelle encountered when he made a few jokes about people who were transgender. I thought I would follow up by naming a few Muslim celebrities and any details about their Islamic conversion. First, I will start with DAVE CHAPPELLE.
Dave Chappelle is an American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and producer. He is known for movies such as 'Robin Hood, Men in Tights,' 'You Got Mail,' 'The Nutty Professor,' and 'Half Baked.' According to Wikipedia, he has received numerous accolades, including five Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, and the Mark Twain Prize. Chappelle converted to Islam in 1991. In a 2005 interview with Time magazine, he says, "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 beautiful if you learn it the right way." If you want to see more about Chappelle, a YouTube video that people can access titled "Dave Chappelle talks Muslim beliefs Zam Zam."
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL. As he is commonly referred to, "Shaq" is regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He is a 7-foot-1-inch center who played for six teams over a 19-year career in the National Basketball Association. O'Neal does have an MBA degree and an Ed.D in Human Resource Development. Dr. O'Neal has been given several honorary law enforcement certifications and has participated in law enforcement activities in many of the cities where he played basketball. Most of us are aware of his commercials with General Car Insurance, Icy Hot, Papa John's, Buick, and Epson Printers; overall, he has endorsed products for about fifty companies. Shaq was raised by a Baptist mother and a Muslim stepfather, which indicates the connection to Islam.
O'Neal has rarely spoken publicly about being a Muslim, but in 2010 he did reveal he intended to take the Islamic pilgrimage known as the Hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government bars all non-Muslims from visiting Mecca.
MIKE TYSON. Tyson grew up in a rough neighborhood, being arrested 38 times by the age of 13. But boxing added discipline to his life, and he managed to become proficient in the sport. The former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, has held all three major championship belts that boxing offers. You also probably know that he was once disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield's ear.
According to USA Today, Mike Tyson reportedly converted to Islam while spending time in prison. The boxing great garnered a lot of negative attention after being convicted of rape. Mike Tyson was then known for his violent personality and decided to embrace Islam later. In an interview after being released from prison, Mike Tyson said he was very moved after reading books on Islam and decided to become a Muslim since he saw Islam as a religion of peace. Mike Tyson adopted a different name after converting to Islam. According to reports, Mike Tyson changed his name to Malik Abdul Aziz after becoming a Muslim. However, he continued to go by "Mike Tyson" throughout his boxing career, and his Muslim name was never used in any of his professional boxing contests after he converted. Tyson converted to Islam in the 1990s. He has said he has performed various religious pilgrimages, including one to the holy city of Mecca.
MUHAMMAD ALI. While Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time, he was a member of the Nation of Islam, the American version of Islam. Because the NOI worships another Prophet and has several racial dogmas unacceptable to true Muslims, the NOI is not considered Islamic. (See my blog, "Is the Nation of Islam a true Islamic religion?" October 4, 2021).
CAT STEVENS. Yusuf Islam was a British singer-songwriter who converted to Islam in 1977 after a long spiritual search. He had several hit songs to include "Father and Son," "Wild World," "Moonshadow," "Peace Train," and "Morning has Broken." In 1979, he left his musical career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. (In response to my blog on September 27, "The Sound of Music," I found this response from Yusuf absorbing :) Yusuf observed that there are no actual guidelines about instruments and no references about the business of music in the Qur'an and that Muslim travelers first brought the guitar to Moorish Spain. He noted that Muhammad was fond of celebrations, as in the case of the birth of a child or a traveler arriving after a long journey. Thus, Yusuf concluded that wholesome entertainment was acceptable within limitations and that he now felt that it was no sin to perform with the guitar. Music, he now felt, is uplifting to the soul, something sorely needed in troubled times.
OMAR SHARIF. Born Michel Dimitri Chalhoub, the three-time Golden Globe-winning actor converted to Islam in 1955 to marry Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, whom he later divorced in 1974. While we should not be surprised that this Egyptian actor of Lebanese and Syrian origin was Muslim, he did not start that way. Omar's family belonged to the Antiochian Greek Christian faith. This church had been a mainstay religion during the Byzantine Empire. He first became an Egyptian movie star and then in 1962, starred in "Lawrence of Arabia" which gave him international fame. He died in 2015, and his funeral was held in Cairo's Grand Mosque.