HOW FAMOUS NAMES FOUND MEANING IN THE MUSLIM FAITH
by ASJAD NAZIR
THIS week millions of Muslims around the world will be celebrating Eid and giving thanks for all the blessings they have.
Many of those who have a special connection to the religious holiday are massively famous global stars that converted to the Islamic faith as adults. Here are some of the most high-profile celebrity converts and their close connection to Islam.
Paul Pogba: The football superstar has a Muslim mother, but didn’t connect to the faith until he was an adult and said it has given him peace. The devout Muslim had wished all his Muslim followers Ramadan Kareem on Instagram at the beginning of fasting and shared a photo of himself when he went on pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca. Other famous sportsmen who converted to Islam include Mike Tyson, Nicholas Anelka, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.
Dave Chappelle: You are likely aware that globally famous funny man Hasan Minhaj is a devout Muslim, but did you know that popular stand-up comedian Chappelle is one too. He converted in the late nineties, but doesn’t discuss his faith often and once said: “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 a beautiful religion if you learn it the right way. It’s a lifelong effort.”
Janet Jackson: There have been numerous reports the pop superstar converted to Islam after marrying a multi-millionaire Qatari businessman and having a child with him. Although she has been photographed in full Islamic outfits and signed off messages to fans with the word Alhamdulillah, which means ‘praise be to God alone’, she has never confirmed or denied the rumours. Her brother Jermaine Jackson has been more open about his religious beliefs and had converted to Islam in 1989.
AR Rahman: The most globally famous Indian to convert to Islam was born AS Dileep Kumar into a Hindu family and became a Muslim with other members of his family in his twenties. The deeply spiritual musician said it saved him from many falls and has given him a sense of peace. He is very respectful of other religions and said faith should not be imposed on others. He also said: “The Sufi path spiritually lifted both my mother and me, and we felt it was the best path for us, so we embraced Sufi Islam.”
Mahershala Ali: The double Oscar winning actor was brought up a Christian by a mother, who is an ordained Baptist minister, but he converted to Islam in 2000 and changed his surname from Gilmore to Ali. He has recounted in numerous interviews facing difficulties at airports, banks and other places as an American Muslim since 9/11. Talking about converting in 1999, he said: “It just felt like a life sign. I’d come from sports, so I appreciated the discipline that the religion requires. For me, it was a way of living more deliberately.”
Sinéad O’Connor: The Irish singer was brought up as a Catholic and ordained as a priest during the early nineties. She converted to Islam in 2018 and changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat. The singer faced a lot of Islamophobia since converting and has performed live in Muslim dress. She said: “I started studying scriptures from different religions, trying to find the ‘truth’ about God. I never thought I would join a religion, but I left Islam until last because I had so much prejudice about Islam. But then when I started reading, and I read just chapter two alone of the Quran, and I realised, ‘Oh my God, I am home’.”
Yusuf Islam: The first globally famous convert was Muhammad Ali and the second was Cat Stevens, who gave up pop superstardom for his religious beliefs. After becoming globally famous as Cat Stevens, he converted to Islam in 1977 and gave up fame for religion. He would become a leading light in philanthropy and education in subsequent decades, and then made a return to music decades later with meaningful songs.
Mos Def: The popular singer, rapper, actor and activist was first exposed to Islam at the age of 13 by his Muslim father and adopted the faith when he was 19. Many of his albums and live performances have begun with the Islamic prayer. “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem” (in the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful). He once said: “You’re not gonna get through life without being worshipful or devoted to something. You’re either devoted to your job, or to your desires. So the best way to spend your life is to try to be devoted to prayer, to Allah.”
Other famous American rappers who converted to Islam include Raekwon, Ice Cube, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, QTip and Everlast.