We live in a political and social climate that has not been kind to people of the Muslim faith over the last 15 years. Following the 9/11 terror attacks, many people started to believe that all of Islam is led by radical beliefs, and began to target anyone who followed the faith. What many of those very same bigots don’t realize is that there are many popular sports figures, actors, models, musicians, and other celebrities, who practice the Islamic faith. We’ve rounded up a group of celebrities you might not know are Muslim. Each of these individuals have one big thing in common — they have all openly talked about being Muslim and how the religion has changed their lives for the better.
Muhammad Ali may have been one of the most famous Muslims in the world. Before his death, he regularly talked about being a devout follower of the faith. As late as December 2012 he told NBC News, “I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world.” He regularly asked Muslim politicians to bring understanding about the religion to Islam. He actually changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali in order to celebrate his religion.
It might shock some young followers of the incredibly popular group One Direction to learn that the group’s former singer, Zayn Malik, is a Muslim. Unfortunately, his religious views have placed him under regular attack from hate groups and individuals who don’t actually understand his religion. In 2012, blogger Debbie Schlussel claimed that “Jihad is sneaking into American girls’ favorite pop band.” American rapper Rucka Rucka Ali released a track in which he actually claimed, “Zayn Hussein did 9/11.” Bill Maher even compared his appearance to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that Muslim extremists constantly try to spread their propaganda by making millions of teen girls around the world super happy through music.
Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t exactly worn his Muslim faith on his sleeve. In fact, many fans of the six teams he played for during his 19-year NBA career may not be aware that the 7’1” center follows Allah. Shaq revealed his beliefs during a 2010 interview in which he was asked who the best center of all time was in his opinion. “Another Muslim brother, Hakeem Olajuwon,” he responded. Shaq has also revealed that he will likely one day take the Muslim pilgrimage to Turkey, a practice known as Hajj.
We don’t know when Mike Tyson turned to Islam but he has confirmed that he’s a follower of the faith. During an interview with Fox 411 in 2013, he explained, “I’m very grateful to be a Muslim. Allah doesn’t need me, I need Allah.” He has also voiced his disgust with Islamic extremists who have “made religion bad.” Oddly, Tyson is a supporter of Donald Trump, despite the fact that he has said some pretty hurtful and damning things about people of the Muslim faith.
In the early 2000’s it was impossible to avoid Dave Chappelle. He hosted the funniest show on TV, and he appeared in scores of movies ranging from Con Air to Half Baked to The Nutty Professor. While he was raised by a Unitarian Universalist minister, Chappelle converted to Islam in 1998. He hasn’t spoken publicly about his religion too much but he did tell Time magazinethat he doesn’t tend to talk about his religion 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.”
Janet Jackson has sold 160 million records, won five Grammys, and converted to Islam. While she is known for such songs as “Nasty” and “That’s the Way Love Goes,” along with nipple slips and raunchy music videos, she converted to Islam in 2015 and toned down her act. We have a feeling her sudden change was the result of marrying Muslim billionaire Wissam Al Mana.
Hip hop artist Ice Cube became one of the most polarizing figures in rap music with his rise to fame as a member of N.W.A. in the 1990s. After going solo towards the end of that decade, he converted to Islam. In an interview with The Guardian, he explained his Muslim faith: “I mean, what I call myself is a natural Muslim, ’cause it’s just me and God. You know, going to the mosque, the ritual, and the tradition, it’s just not in me to do. So I don’t do it.”
Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1997. He then changed his name, auctioned off all his guitars, and left behind his successful music career because it ran counter to his faith. Several months after 9/11 he shocked his fans when he picked up his guitar for the first time in years. “There was so much antagonism in the world,” he told Rolling Stone in January 2015. “Many Muslims have come up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you! Thank you.’ I’m representing the way they want to be seen.”
This R&B singer has released such hits as “Smack That” and “I Wanna Love You.” He’s also a Muslim who guys by the full name Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam. While he born in St. Louis, Missouri, he lists the West African country of Senegal as his hometown after spending much of his early life in the region. In June 2015 he revealed, “I was born a Muslim… and there has always been a debate about Islam and music. I never looked at the performing aspect of the music itself, but on the intention. Even if you look at the daily prayers in Islam, we pray in melody…”
Dr. Mehmet Oz has become one of the most popular figures in daytime talk. He is also a well-respected cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital.” The Turkish-American doctor is also a Muslim. During a Faces of America episode on PBS he admitted to “struggling” with his Muslim identity because his mother and father both came from opposite belief systems.
Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time. He led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and won NBA Finals MVP in both of those years. He was also nicknamed “The Dream” because of his demeanor during games. Olajuwon began using the proper Arabic spelling of his name when he became a more devout Muslim in 1991.
Actress Ellen Burstyn is among only a very small handful of people who have won a Triple Crown of Acting: An Oscar, Emmy, and Tony. She has appeared in over 150 films and TV shows, and has made regular theater appearances. She was raised Catholic, but now practices a combination of Sufi Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. While not solely a devout Muslim, she practices at least some of its tenants.
Another one of the NBA’s most respected players, he is the all-time NBA leading scorer. Abdul-Jabbar was born Lew Alcindor in New York City and raised Roman Catholic. At the age of 24 he made the decision to convert and changed his name. He continues to be a champion for his religion. During a 2015 interview with NPR he defended his fellow Muslims while calling for them to speak out about their beliefs which do not call for the killing of innocent people in any religion.
Rapper Lupe Fiasco wanted to keep with his Muslim faith so he set out to avoid raps about drugs, violence, and misogyny. While speaking to Katie Couric in 2014, Fiasco said that he had to reconcile his Muslim faith with his rapper lifestyle. “At the end of the day, we’re human,” he said. “We have faults. We make mistakes. You know, that’s what the religion is for, to help you correct your mistakes.”
Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid is a popular Somali-America fashion model, entrepreneur, and actress. She goes by the name “Iman,” and her stage name literally means “faith” in Arabic. She wrote the memoir I Am Iman in 2001 with husband David Bowie. The former supermodel talked about the difficulties of being a Muslim in high fashion. “Somalia is a moderate Muslim country, but my religion dictates that this is not a profession I should be in.” Grappling with her job and her faith she concluded in her book, “May Allah have mercy on my soul if I have sinned.”
Janet Jackson and her brother Jermaine Jackson were raised as Jehovah’s Witness’ and both later converted to Islam. Unlike his sister, it didn’t take marrying a billionaire Muslim to change his faith. Jermaine took a trip to Bahrain that changed his life. In 2010, Jackson sat down with the BBC’s Ed Butler where he revealed, “I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam he would still be here today.” His brother’s own security detail was composed mostly of Muslims.
Hip Hop star Busta Rhymes attributes much of his success to the Muslim faith, which he has repeatedly said keeps him grounded. In 2007, he told Hollywood TV, “I try to really just understand every aspect about the most high. For me, the most-high is Allah… And I live my life by Islam.” He says he tries to just enjoy life and not add a bunch of “other additive and preservatives” to his perspective on life.
Actor Aasif Hakim Mandviwala is an Indian-American actor best known professionally as Aasif Mandvi. His list of Hollywood film appearances is impressive, including Spider-Man 2, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, and The Internship. He is also a writer, actor, and co-producer on the HBO series, “The Brink.” He has brought his religious views to the main stage as a former Senior Muslim Correspondent on “The Daily Show.”
East Coast rapper Mos Def is a very vocal Muslim. He’s one of the few mainstream hip-hop performers to successfully incorporate religious and social beliefs into his songs. The very first lyrics on his critically acclaimed album “Black on Both Sides” were, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem” (“In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful). In 2001 he told Beliefnet, “You’re not gonna get through life without being worshipful or devoted to something.”
Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir has appeared in some massive recent blockbuster hits including Iron Man, Star Trek, and the hit TV series “24.” He is also a devoted Muslim follower of Allah who plays Muslim characters in the shows and movies he works on. His characters often rely on the belief in their Islamic faith to deal with the tough and trying situations they face on a daily basis.