By Laura Fawaz, TMO Contributing Reporter
Worldwideâ€“Over the years, weâ€™ve heard more and more celebrities openly converting to Islam, and making a statement while doing so.
File: Sean Stone
We all remember the notables such as Muhammad Ali, Cat Stevens, or the attention-grabbing Dave Chappelle, but the interesting aspect, is the manner in which it happens. For example, Sean Stone, son of film director Oliver Stone, converted to Islam in early 2012 during a visit to Iran. And Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law to former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, who converted to Islam after traveling to Palestine and seeing the destruction of the occupied country.
You will always see Sean Stone, 27, who adopted the Islamic name Ali, wearing his necklace that symbolizes the sword of Sayyidina Ali. He told Iranian media he hopes his conversion to Islam helps Americans to understand more about the faith. His father Oliver, who has supported his decision to convert to Islam, is no stranger to political controversy. He has been targeted for making remarks that were considered as anti-Semitic, even though he is of Jewish decent. Aliâ€™s mother is Christian, and now he Muslim after his conversion while filming a documentary about Rumi, the 13th-century mystic Persian poet, in the Iranian city of Isfahan. He even told Bill Oâ€™Reilly last year that after sitting down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is â€œmisunderstoodâ€ because heâ€™s said some sensational things to fight off other factions in the nation. He said the best Iran could do with regard to the tensions surrounding the country over its controversial nuclear program was not to look to the West. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian purposes. â€œPay attention to the east, and work with its partners like China,â€ he said.
â€œI feel good when I enter a mosque. I believe there is only one God and with this view it is not important whether you are Muslim, Christian or Jewish, â€ said Ali.
News coming out of the Philippines in November 2011 was on actress Queenie Padilla, daughter of actor Robin Padilla, who has quit show business for her Muslim religion. In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Padilla said she finds inner peace and direction in life in Islam. â€œIslam is a way of life. When you start to [become a] Muslim, you know [what] your life purpose really is. I am such a sinful person, but Allah invited me to his house. I am so close to him,â€ she said.
When interviewed after she returned from making the Islamic pilgrimage of Haj, Queenie said, â€œWhen I was in showbiz, I was very unhappy. I was lost and I always felt I never belong. But now that Allah is in my life, Alhamdullilah, La illa illalah, I am so happy and content in my life,â€
The next convert was well known in his early years for saying, â€œAinâ€™t I pretty?,â€ and formerly-known-as Cassius Marcellus Clay. Until he won his first heavyweight title in 1964, and later shocked the world as Clay announced that he had been a longtime member of the Nation of Islam, and a week later took the name Muhammad Ali. No one, with the exception of Howard Cosell (an American sports journalist), accepted his name change. The New York State Athletic Commission withdrew its recognition of his title, and did it again in 1967 when Ali refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. With countless acts of defiance and resurrection, Clay has, through the strength of his mind and his will, transforming himself into Ali the cultural icon, â€œThe Greatest.â€
We all remember Malcolm X. He was Malcolm Little, a small-time crook from Boston, dealing drugs and working the occasional robbery, and thrown in jail in 1946. There, he began reading everything he could get his hands on, and in 1948 he got a letter from his older brother Philbert saying that many members of his family had converted to the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam was started by another ex-con, Wallace D. Fard, who preached that the white race is comprised of mutants. Many know him from his original story, as the young man drawn to a group who dedicated themselves to transforming marginalized blacks into a spiritual force. As for Malcolm, what that X stood for was his symbol to the fight to regain black history, preferably through civil rights or religious symbolism.
Cat Stevens, born as Steven Demetre Georgiou, created this as his stage name because he had eyes like a cat and because Americans love animals. Another name change came in 1978 when he became Yusef Islam, a year after he converted to Islam. The underlining story that lead to his conversion is almost biblical: in 1976, as Cat Stevens, he nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu. He then prayed to God that if he were saved, he would dedicate his life to him. Sure enough, he was carried to shore by a wave, and when his brother gave him a copy of the Qurâ€™an, he was captivated.
When this man announced his conversion, most people were not sure if it was a rumor, or accurate. As a well-known comedian, Dave Chappelleâ€™s show was known for its pointed disrespect, and for â€œIâ€™m Rick James, b—-!â€ But in May of 2005, as his loyal fans enthusiastically awaited the premiere of his third season, the comedian abruptly disappeared to South Africa. Chappelle had gone to there in part to renew his spiritual practice; he converted to Islam in 1998 and very few people even knew. Chappelle explained, â€œI donâ€™t normally talk about my religion publicly because I donâ€™t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is a beautiful religion if you learn it the right way. Itâ€™s a lifelong effort. Your religion is your standard. Coming here I donâ€™t have the distractions of fame. It quiets the ego down.â€