Boxing legend Mike Tyson, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, converted to Islam in the 1990s. He has held all three major championship belts and said he has made various religious pilgrimages, including one to the holy city of Mecca, CBS News reported.
Here are seven things for Black America to know about when Tyson converted to Islam.
Many sources have said Tyson converted to Islam while he was imprisoned following a rape conviction in 1992. But the ex-champ, who served three years of a six-year sentence, said this isn’t so.
“I was Muslim before I went in (prison). My chauffeur was in there (the Nation of Islam) — Captain Joe. He would educate me every day, every second,” Tyson said in an interview with Charlie Mack for the “Brotherly Love” show on the YouTube channel FightHype.com on June 20, 2020.
When asked why he gravitated to Islam, Tyson said “That’s just who I am as a person.”
Islam has given Tyson a purpose and a direction, said Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, a trainer who, as Eddie Gregory, won the light-heavyweight championship in 1980. Muhammad constantly visited Tyson when he was incarcerated, The Guardian reported. He said he detected a more humble Tyson, one at peace with himself. “I didn’t go to him for a job; I went as a brother,” Muhammad said.
Tyson’s discovery of Islam and new knowledge of self (KOS) didn’t seem to sit well with his long-time fight promoter Don King. “King is back trying to control his life. But Mike will stand up to him,” boxing promoter Butch Lewis told The Guardian. “If Allah wants Mike to pray at the mosque, then he will pray. Allah has many names, but one of them is not Don King.” Lewis stayed in touch with Tyson during Tyson’s incarceration.
A then-incarcerated Tyson was asked about Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan during a 1994 interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
“I love Farrakhan,” Tyson said, according to The Chicago Tribune. “People differ with Mr. Farrakhan because they are afraid the minister can control somebody’s thinking, just like people in the media control the thinking of people. They feel now they have to compete with somebody for the minds of these people. He makes them uneasy.”
Born into a Catholic home in Brooklyn, Tyson underwent a very public baptism in 1988, orchestrated by his promoter, King. Tyson was baptized prior to joining Islam in a ceremony attended by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a crowd of about 700 people at a Baptist church in Cleveland, The New York Times reported.
Tyson said he has not joined a particular branch of Islam. “My first obligation is to Allah,” said Tyson, The Chicago Tribune reported.
In 2016, Tyson declared he was a Muslim who supported then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. It was a controversial stance because of Trump’s anti-immigration platform, his proposal to ban Muslims from immigrating to the U.S., and his longstanding claim that then-President Barack Obama was Muslim and non-American.
“We’re really good friends,” Tyson said of Trump, according to a Daily Beast report. “We go back to ’86, ’87. Most of my successful and best fights were at Trump’s hotels. He didn’t manage me, though. He was just helping me with my court case.”
He continued, “We’re the same guy. A thrust for power, a drive for power. Whatever field we’re in, we need power in that field. That’s just who we are…”
Tyson went public with his endorsement of Trump for president.
“Listen: I’m a Black motherf***er from the poorest town in the country. I’ve been through a lot in life. And I know him. When I see him, he shakes my hand and respects my family. None of them—Barack, whoever—nobody else does that. They’re gonna be who they are and disregard me, my family. So I’m voting for him. If I can get 20,000 people or more to vote for him, I’m gonna do it.”
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There has been confusion about what Muslim name Tyson adopted. Tyson was reported to have taken a Muslim name, Malik Abdul Aziz, but he denied this, The New York Times reported. Other reports say that he adopted a different Islamic name, Malik Shabazz, the name of a former prime minister of Punjab, India, The Independent reported. Malcolm X also adopted the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.