Tens of thousands of people are heading to Louisville, Kentucky, to pay homage to the late boxing legend and hometown hero Muhammad Ali on Friday. One of those people could be presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a man indisputably considered to have been on friendly terms with the late boxing champ for more than three decades.
But Ali’s Islamic faith clashed with Trump’s suggestion last year that the U.S. should ban Muslims from entering the country, raises questions about whether Trump’s presence could rankle supporters of Ali’s inclusive ideology, which he promoted in his post-boxing years.
According to Voice of America (VOA), Trump has inquired to volunteer organizers about attending the memorial service Friday, which reportedly led to some debate with the organizers about Trump’s presence. Can an event promoting inclusiveness welcome a man promoting exclusiveness? To some, it only makes sense to welcome him.
"None of us care for [Trump's] rhetoric, but this is what Ali would have wanted," Saliha Shakir, a friend of Ali’s, told VOA. "He would not have turned him away."
— ABC News (@ABC) June 6, 2016
The Trump campaign did not confirm late Tuesday if Trump would be attending the memorial service.
The three-time world heavyweight champion, anti-war activist and philanthropist died Friday at age 74 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Per Ali’s request, the memorial service will include participation from members of multiple religions, including Islam.
The relationship between Trump and Ali dates to Trump’s days in the boxing world, where his casinos would host matches. Trump once threw a birthday party for Ali in Atlantic City, New Jersey, featuring hundreds of guests, according to the New York Times. And as recently as 2007, Ali gave Trump an award for his philanthropy at Ali’s annual Celebrity Fight Night event in Phoenix.
Santana playing the national anthem after a memorial for Muhammad Ali, Donald Trump must be having a fit!
— Erin Vucurevich (@JumpingCactusMa) June 6, 2016
But more recently, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, in which he’s called for surveillance of mosques, a national database of Muslims in the country, as well as a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, including war refugees, elicited an indirect response from Ali.
“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” Ali said in a statement in December, a clear reference to Trump’s fearmongering.
Born in 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay and raised as a Baptist Christian, Ali adopted his Islamic name after converting to the Nation of Islam in the early 1960s. After a falling out over the group’s radical black separatist ideology, Ali converted in the 1970s to Sunni Islam, the dominant branch of the world’s second-largest faith. In 2005, he adopted Sufism, or Tasawwuf, a mystical iteration of Islam that is rejected by extremists but is commonly considered a legitimate practice of the faith, unlike the Nation of Islam.