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Donald Trump, who once questioned Muslim sports heroes, praises ‘truly great’ Muhammad Ali

(Keith Bedford/Reuters; Erik S. Lesser/EPA)

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president who has called for a ban on Muslim immigration, praised Muhammad Ali the day after the legendary boxer’s death Friday night. Trump’s words came almost six months after Ali, in one of the devout Muslim’s last public statements, issued a plea for peace and warned of those who “use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” whether as politicians or jihadists.

On Twitter, Trump, who had often crossed paths socially with Ali, called him “a truly great champion and a wonderful guy.”

That, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out, was more in line with what Trump wrote in 2000.

Trump, however, was ripped for his comment because of his stance on Muslim immigration. After a mass shooting by terrorists affiliated with ISIS last December in California, there were calls for restrictions on immigration by Muslims, with Trump calling for a ban. (Last month, however, Trump said that the proposed ban was “just a suggestion.”)

Trump even wondered at the time on Twitter about the existence of Muslim sports heroes, perhaps forgetting about the man he had called “my friend” in a May 2015 Facebook post.

Here are some Muslim sports heroes

A few days later, one of those heroes spoke up. Ali issued a gentle rebuke, finding a way to lend his voice to the conversation even as he was becoming increasingly debilitated by Parkinson’s.

“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion,” he said in a statement.

“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.

“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

Ali’s faith had changed from the time when, as young Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Ky., he was a rising young boxer whose conversion to the Nation of Islam under the guidance of Malcolm X was controversial and by 1975, his views had changed. He had converted to Sunni Islam and later embraced Sufism, stressing that Islam is a religion of peace as violence by extremists increased around the globe.

Ali’s daughter Hana Yasmeen Ali explained what was different about Ali in 2005.

“My father has a collection of books by a man named Hazrat Inayat Khan. They’re Sufi teachings. He read them front to cover,” she told Beliefnet.com. “They’re old and yellow and the pages are torn. They’re amazing. He always says they’re the best books in the world.

“My father is very spiritual — more spiritual now than he is religious. It was important for him to be very religious and take the stands he did in earlier years. It was a different time. He still tries to convert people to Islam, but it’s not the same. His health and his spirituality have changed, and it’s not so much about being religious, but about going out and making people happy, doing charity, and supporting people and causes.”

More coverage of Muhammad Ali’s death:

Obituary: Goodwill ambassador, boxing icon, dies at 74

Beautiful, controversial, transcendent: Muhammad Ali dies at 74

Reaction pours in from around the world

Tom Boswell: His greatness transcended sports

Jerry Brewer: Ali’s voice will continue to be heard

Ali was the star of one the most iconic sports photos

President Obama remembers man who ‘shook up the world’

The legend of Muhammad Ali as told by Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich

Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods lead tributes to Muhammad Ali

‘Part of me just passed with him’: George Foreman reacts to Muhammad Ali’s death

Muhammad Ali remembered fondly for a life that transcended sport

The iconic moment Muhammad Ali lit Olympic flame in Atlanta almost didn’t happen

‘Wait till you see Muhammad Ali’: A look back at the boxing great’s way with words

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