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From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali: Why “The Greatest” changed his name

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Muhammad Ali, considered to be one of the greatest heavyweight champions, embraced Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He termed his old alias Cassius Clay as his ‘slave name’.

He was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. after his father. He rejected his birth name after becoming a Muslim and got affiliated with the Nation of Islam (NOI).

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He became a member of Nation of Islam (NOI) and Ali took part in his first meeting in 1961. The former champion continued take part in the African American Islamic religious movement meetings.

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He looked up to Malcolm X as his teacher and used to refer himself as Cassius X.  He finally named himself Muhammad Ali in 1964.

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Ali once said, “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.”

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Ali’s stance on social views inspired people across the world. A New York Times columnist wrote, “Ali’s actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete’s greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?”

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He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years and was admitted to hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He passed away due to a respiratory illness on Friday.

The boxing legend will be laid to rest in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky.

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