Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Baptist pastor Billy Graham, has opened up about the friendship between his father and Muhammad Ali and expressed hope that the late boxing great gave his life to Christ before his death.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the 64-year-old evangelist shared a photo of a meeting between Billy Graham and Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2001, and recalled that they had met before in North Carolina in 1979.
Following the meeting, Ali reportedly 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 wrote: "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 on June 3 at the age of 74, following a bout of respiratory illness and will be buried in his home city of Louisville on Friday afternoon. Although 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."
Ali's daughter, Hana, shared her father's final hours in a series of Twitter posts.
"All of us were around him hugging and kissing him and holding his hands, chanting the Islamic prayer.
"All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn't stop heating. For 30 minutes ... his heart just keep beating," she added.
"No one had ever seen anything like it. A true testament to the strength of his Spirit and Will!"
ChristianDaily notes that in 2005, Hana 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.
According to an autobiography the boxer wrote with his daughter, The Soul of a Butterfly, he had a lifelong search for God: "When I was about nine years old, I would wake up in the middle of the night and go outside to wait for an angel or a revelation from God. I would sit on the front porch, look up at the stars and wait for a message. I never heard anything, but I never lost faith, because the feeling was so strong in my heart."
"All religions are good," Ali told Reg Gutterage on the British World of Sport show in Newcastle, England, in 1977. "Rivers, lakes, and streams; they all have different names but they all contain water."