Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Baptist pastor Billy Graham, opened up about his father’s friendship with Muhammad Ali and expressed hope that the late boxing great gave his life before his death to the Lord. The 64-year-old evangelist shared a photograph of a meeting between Billy Graham and Ali in June 2001 in Louisville, Kentucky, in a Facebook post on Thursday, and recalled that they had previously met in North Carolina in 1979.
Following the meeting, Ali allegedly said, “I’ve always admired Mr. Graham, I’m a Muslim and he’s a Christian, but there is so much truth in the message he gives, Americanism, repentance, things about government and country – and truth. I always said if I was a Christian, I’d want to be a Christian like him.”
Graham said: “My father always hoped Ali would give his life to Christ. I’ve wondered if he put his faith and trust in Christ before he slipped into eternity. I sure hope so. Islam’s Muhammad can’t save you, only Jesus Christ can save.”
Ali died at the age of 74, following a bout of respiratory illness. Although he was raised in a Baptist home, the former boxing champion was known to have been a devoted Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., to Muhammad Ali as a reflection of his faith.
The Independent recounts that Ali told people to use his new name, which means “beloved of God,” when addressing him, saying his old name was a “slave name.”
ChristianDaily notes that in 2005, Hana Ali said her father could be described more as a spiritual rather than a religious person, and said he was a “different person in his earlier years.” Ali’s spirituality changed along with his health over the years, his daughter revealed, and had focused more on making people happy and doing charity rather than converting people to Islam.