Muhammad Ali whose public conversion to Islam in 1964 shocked the whole World, a decision which cost him a lot and was highly criticized by several popular figures among others.
The Legendary American World Heavyweight boxer, who was known as Cassius Clay before embracing Islam initially offered different reasons for his conversion.
According to the 1967 book, Black Is Best: The Riddle of Cassius Clay, by former Sports Illustrated writer Jack Olsen, Ali said his first encounter came from a street-corner proselytizer in Harlem. He later told Olsen that it came at a Nation of Islam meeting in Miami in 1960 or early 1961, and he also said that his first meeting was in Chicago.
Now there is another version of Ali’s story which was first sighted by TIME. In a never before published letter, Muhammad Ali tells his former wife why he converted to Islam which arguably has been described as most detailed reasons for his conversion.
In his forthcoming book ‘Ali: A Life’, which comes out in October from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, author Jonathan Eig excerpts a letter that Ali wrote to his second wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, who was married to the legendary fighter from 1967-1976.
In the letter, which Camacho-Ali says her ex-husband wrote some time in the late 1960s, Ali describes seeing a cartoon in the Nation of Islam newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, outside his hometown of Louisville.
The cartoon illustrated how white slave owners brutally beat their slaves while insisting that they pray to Jesus.
The transcribed letter reads:
‘One night at a skating rink in Louisville (I was on my way home), the skating rink was located at 9th and Broadway St., while I was standing outside the building in a crowd of about 400 people, all black people, like most boys [I was looking] for a pretty girl to say something to. A black brother dressed in a black Mohair suit, [with a] white shirt and a black bowtie, was [selling] some newspapers called Muhammad Speaks.
At that time it was the first time I had seen a Muhammad Speaks newspaper. The brother walked up to me and said, ‘my brother, do you want to buy a Muhammad Speaks newspaper, so that you can read about your own kind, read the real truth of your history, your true religion, your true name before you were [given] the White Man’s name in slavery?’ He said, ‘oh, by the way there is a meeting that we are having today on 27th and Chestnut St. at 8 o’clock this evening. And at the time it was about 6 o’clock in the evening. I told him OK, I will be there.
But I had no intention to go to any meeting. 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.’
According to TIME, Camacho-Ali asked Muhammad to write the letter after she confronted him about his extramarital dalliances.
The author of the new book, Jonathan Eig who claims he paid Camacho-Ali $600 for the letter says: “The incident he describes in the letter—picking up the newspaper and reading the cartoon—may have been one in a series of influential events for his conversion.
Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016, at age 74. As today marks the first year anniversary of his passing, Camacho-Ali sees it as another chance to celebrate him, his flaws and all.
“Allah has opened the door for him in paradise,” she tells TIME. “He’s not suffering anymore. I cherish the good moments. There was more good than bad. It was a blessing to be a part of that journey.”