From Bella Hadid to Ramy Youssef: 18 celebrities who are Muslim

A number of famous faces have used their voices to challenge stereotypes surrounding Islam

Ramy Youssef, Bella Hadid and Muhammad Ali. AFP

From musicians and actors to sporting champions and fashionistas, there are numerous famous American Muslims who have charted a trailblazing path.

And, not only have they built careers to inspire people of all backgrounds, they'v also dispelled misconceptions surrounding their faith along the way.

While there are many more out there, here are 11 Muslim personalities who have left their mark at home and abroad.

1. Muhammad Ali

He may have died in 2016, but the boxing legend continues to motivate generations of fans. He might have been a champion in the ring, but it was Ali’s humanity that landed a greater punch.

In a famous 1978 interview with US journalist Barbara Walters, Ali spoke about how his faith centred his life, revealing Islam had allowed him to focus on a life extending well beyond retirement.

"If I had a year left to live, what would I do? I would do all I could to please God, not in a hypocritical way,” he said. “I would do it as sincerely and honestly as I could to get right with God so I could go to heaven."

Ali passed away almost 40 years later in 2016, and his funeral was televised live to millions across the world.

2. Iman

Somali-American fashion model and actress, Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, known as Iman, poses as she arrives for the opening ceremony and the screening of the film "La Verite" (The Truth) presented in competition on August 28, 2019 during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

She was born in Somalia as Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, but the elegant former supermodel is simply known as Iman, meaning "faith" in Arabic. The widow of David Bowie has said her spirituality is as important to her as her privacy.

She details that relationship in her 2001 memoir I am Iman, where she explains the internal struggles of inhabiting a profession viewed at odds with her beliefs. She eloquently sums up that tension in the last passage of the book where she writes: "May Allah have mercy on my soul, if I have sinned."

3. Ramy Youssef

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: Ramy Youssef attends Hulu's "High Fidelity" New York premiere at Metrograph on February 13, 2020 in New York City.   Steven Ferdman/Getty Images/AFP

The Egyptian-American writer created the groundbreaking comedy series Ramy, which explores issues facing western Muslims today. As the show illustrates, many of these challenges are often universal. Of course, it is a sitcom, with certain situations dialled up for laughs.

"Ramy is kind of like a very [egotistical] version of me. He's who I'm afraid of becoming," Youssef told The National this year. "But in terms of people watching the show and thinking whether that's me or not, that's up to people being responsible television viewers and remembering that TV is TV."

4. Bella Hadid

The supermodel has never been shy about expressing pride in her faith and Palestinian heritage. In a 2017 interview with Porter magazine, she revealed how her life had been shaped by her father, real-estate mogul Mohamed Hadid.

“He was always religious, and he always prayed with us,” the model said of her father, who is of Palestinian descent. “I am proud to be a Muslim.”

Hadid also told Elle magazine that same year that she came "from a really diverse background".

"I’ve had incredible experiences all over the world … and I’ve learnt that we’re all just people, and we all deserve respect and kindness," she added.

5. Dave Chappelle

MY NEXT GUEST NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (L to R) DAVE CHAPPELLE in MY NEXT GUEST NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION WITH DAVID LETTERMAN Cr. MATHIEU BITTON/NETFLIX © 2020

The popular comedian's material has always been informed by a deep-seated wisdom. Appearing as a guest on the latest season of the Netflix series My Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, Chappelle said he was first drawn to Islam's message of tolerance and inclusivity at 17.

"It is a beautiful religion. And the ideas in that religion are reflected in all the major Abrahamic faiths," he said. "You'll see these ideas in both Christianity and Judaism. It is the idea that this place does mean something, you know?"

6. Akon

Born in the US to Senegalese parents, the singer and entrepreneur credits his spirituality with maintaining his focus as both a creative and businessman.

"It makes you ask the question: what is success? Is it fame or fortune? Does that measure what success means to you? Or is it faith?" he told The National in 2019. "For me, real success is faith. If God is not smiling upon me, I am not successful. I don't care even if I have a billion dollars in the bank. And what good am I if have a billion dollars sitting in the bank in the first place?"

During a previous visit to the Gulf in March, Akon went to Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

7. Ibtihaj Muhammad

Olympic Athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad attends the United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)

As the first American athlete to compete in the Olympic Games in a hijab, the 2016 bronze medallist’s pioneering journey rattled the world.

Confident and forthright, Muhammad detailed how she overcame sustained prejudice as part of the US fencing team in her startling 2019 memoir Proud: Living My American Dream.

"I wrote it with the youth in mind," she told Vogue Arabia last year. "I wanted them to feel inspired by my story. I'm just a girl from Jersey who chose to work hard. I genuinely don't think I'm special, I just want the youth out there to know that they can have the same thing with hard work."

8. Jermaine Jackson

US singer Jermaine Jackson arrives on May 24, 2017 for the screening of the film 'The Beguiled' at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

He has been a frequent visitor to the Middle East ever since converting to Islam in 1989. In an interview with The National in 2013, the singer described how The Jacksons Abu Dhabi show at du Arena the previous year was a highlight of that world tour.

"I always feel very welcome when I am over there, and the people are kind and gracious," he said. "Also my wife is Afghan and she has been a Muslim all her life. She speaks fluent Arabic and she has supported me in understanding and strengthening my beliefs. So when I come to this part of the world, I feel like I did come full circle."

9. Halima Aden

American-Somali Aden, 23, proudly made the term "hijabi supermodel" a thing.

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya before moving to the US at the age of 6, Aden went on to become the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2017, where she was a semi-finalist. The national attention got her signed to influential agency IMG Models, and she was cruising the catwalks of Milan Fashion Week a year later.

Despite her rapid rise, Aden told The National in 2019 that her success is part of a greater movement of amazing Muslim women. "There's a whole wide range of hijab-wearing women who are doing incredible things with their professions; who aren't necessarily getting the clicks on Instagram, who aren't trending on Twitter, but they matter," she said.

10. DJ Khaled

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 30: DJ Khaled performs onstage during the EA Sports Bowl at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest on January 30, 2020 in Miami, Florida.   Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for EA Sports Bowl at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest /AFP

The Palestinian-American hip-hop artist and producer keeps it real when it comes to his roots. A popular figure within the industry, who has collaborated with superstars Rihanna and Jay-Z, Khaled says a no-ego approach to his craft is down to values found in his faith.

"If you're asking if I'm the perfect Muslim, and I do everything down to a T, then no," he told Esquire Middle East in 2018. "My faith has helped make me the man I am right now, with the love and the respect that I put out there. I love anybody that loves God. That's what I am about."

11. Mike Tyson

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 18: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO COMMERCIAL USE) Mike Tyson speaks with Mario Lopez at Capital One Podcast Studio during the 2019 iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Presented by Capital One at the iHeartRadio Theater LA on January 18, 2019 in Burbank, California.   Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia/AFP

During the prime of his boxing career in the 1980s, “Iron Mike” was the epitome of a brute, exploding in the ring with dazzling and often savage displays, which led to 44 knockouts in 50 bouts. However, outside the ring, Tyson credited his embrace of Islam in 1992 as the beginning of his painful journey of reflection and self-acceptance.

"When I first became Muslim, I didn't look at it as what it should be. Then when I did that and I believed that God created everything I learnt to love all of God's creation," he told The National before a 2013 visit to the UAE. "Whenever I come to the Middle East, I become more God-conscious because I don't always make my prayers and here you are reminded with the calls to prayer. I am very aware when I come here."

12. Shohreh Aghdashloo

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 2:  Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo speaking at the Encyclopaedia Iranica Benefit Gala held at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai on May 2, 2008.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National) *** Local Caption *** RS006-Iranica.jpg

Born into a Muslim family, the Iranian-American actress has spoken about her faith publically in the past. In a 2013 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Aghdashloo revealed her belief that her Muslim identity may have cost her a film role in the past. Director George Nolfi had wanted her for the role of God in the 2011 thriller The Adjustment Bureau, however, she was let go from the project.

"I say I was born a Muslim. I don't introduce myself as a Muslim woman, but I guess the distribution company put the dots together and felt it's too early for this," Aghdashloo said.

13. Aasif Mandvi

Star of CBS's Evil has spoken of the importance of speaking out as an American Muslim today. In a previous interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor said:  "I feel like there's a moment in the history of this country, and American Muslims do need to speak out. It's a privilege in a way to be an American Muslim speaking in whatever way I can at this time in history, when it's so crucial."

14. Mahershala Ali

In 2017, Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, taking home the Best Supporting Actor gong for his role in Moonlight. He bagged his second two years later for his turn in The Green Book. 

Ali converted to Islam in 2000, and, during his acceptance speech at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild awards, gave an impassioned speech about his faith. "My mother is an ordained minister, I'm a Muslim. She didn't do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago," he said. "But I tell you now, we put things to the side, I'm able to see her, she's able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown. That stuff is minutiae. It's not that important."

15. Shaquille O'Neal

Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal speaks at a press conference in McDonough, Ga., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, after being named Henry County Sheriff's Office Director of Community Relations by Henry County Sheriff Reginald Scandrett.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

During his two-decade NBA career, Shaquille O'Neal played for six different teams, including the LA Lakers, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic. The star has in past spoken of his wish to complete the Hajj pilgrimage, and also named his "Muslim brother" Hakeem Olajuwon as one of the best players of all time.

16. Ice Cube

Born O'Shea Jackson, rapper Ice Cube converted to Islam after going solo in the 1990s. The star rose to prominence years earlier as a member of the group N.W.A, and has gone on to star in a number of films and television shows.

In a 2000 interview with The Guardian, he spoke of the importance of his Muslim identity. "I mean, what I call myself is a natural Muslim, 'cause it's just me and God. You know, going to the mosque, the ritual and the tradition, it's just not in me to do. So I don't do it."

17. Lupe Fiasco

Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and activist. In a 2017 interview with the Chicago Tribune, he said: "I think you've got a lot of people who want to represent and show the world that Islam is not just some Arab dude with a full gown and a long beard. I'm Muslim, and I'm standing right next to you. Islam comes in every form and every colour."

18. SZA

FILE PHOTO: 2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals - Radio City Music Hall, New York, U.S., August 20, 2018. - SZA. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Grammy-nominated singer SZA, real name Solana Rowe, has spoken about her experience of growing up in a Muslim household in a predominantly white area of New Jersey. During a TikTok Live with Muslim Girl in April 2021, the All the Stars singer, 30, said: "On a direct scale, someone threw a brick in my dad's mosque. And that was very weird. Getting chased home by children at school and getting my hijab snatched is also weird."

She also revealed she stopped covering her hair in 2001 following the terror attacks in America that took place on September 11, 2001. “I stopped covering after 9/11 because I was so scared. This was like elementary school, middle school. I regret so much – like, being afraid or caring what people said about me,” she said.

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