Have you ever seen the Qur’an or heard about a prophet named Muhammed? While Christianity is the largest religion in the world (and certainly the largest in the United States) with 2.2 billion followers, the Muslim faith is quickly catching up with a 12 percent gap in growth. In fact, Islam is considered the fastest growing religion in the world with 1.6 billion followers today. So beyond the news coverage of Islam, what exactly is it and what makes it so popular?
Originating in Mecca and based on the teachings of Muhammad, who is considered the last prophet of God after Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, Islam’s basic beliefs are outlined in the Qur’an. These beliefs include the five pillars of Islam such as the pilgrimage to Mecca in addition to specific acts of worship and Islamic law on a variety of topics ranging from finances and family life to kindness, compassion and care for the environment.
Though oversimplified here, Islam’s basic tenants are exactly what has attracted people around the world including the 2.75 million Muslims in America, which make up less than one percent of the country’s population. But, we couldn’t help but wonder, are there any famous Muslims? From devout Muslims and converts to everything in between, join us as we take a look at 20 celebrities you probably didn’t know are Muslim. Let’s start our list with a real radio legend!
#20 – Casey Kasem
“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” With one of the most recognizable voices to ever hit the airwaves, Casey Kasem forever changed the world of music in 1970 when he co-founded the American Top 40 franchise. Hosting the show until his retirement in 2009, Kasem was also known as the voice of Shaggy in the Scooby Doo franchise in addition to providing voices for commercials and programs like Sesame Street, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Super Friends and Transformers.
Passing away of natural causes in 2014 at 82 years old, the former “voice of NBC” had a huge impact on radio but his faith meant even more. Born into a family of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Michigan where they worked as grocers, Kasem followed a less traditional sect of Islam known as Druze. An offspring of the more common Shi’a Islam, Kasem and his family were among one million Druze followers around the world with the majority concentrated in Syria and Lebanon. Despite being a minority in terms of faith, Kasem held firm to his beliefs and even declined a role on Transformers because the enemies were portrayed as evil Arabs.
#19 – Aasif Mandvi
Following a similar path of so many other comedians who launched their mainstream careers by appearing on The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi did exactly that in 2006 when he auditioned and was hired on the spot for the late night program. Debuting on the show the same night and immediately invited back, Mandvi is now one of the longest running correspondents on the show and also stars, writes and produces the web series Halal in the Family on Funny or Die in addition to starring on HBO’s comedy series The Brink.
Born in Mumbai, India to a Muslim family in the Dawoodi Bohra sect, Mandvi and his family moved to England when he was only a year old. Settling in Tampa, Florida with his parents by the age of 16, Mandvi majored in theater and moved to New York City where he learned to use his Indian-American ethnicity to set him apart. Obviously paying off on The Daily Show, Mandvi wasn’t afraid to satirize relations of his native country and assumed the role of Middle Eastern commentator and Senior Muslim Correspondent. All joking aside, he showed his true talent as a serious actor in the Pulitzer Prize winning production of Disgraced.
#18 – Shahid Khan
Chances are if you’re a sports fan, then you already know the name—Shahid Khan. The owner of both the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Football League Championship team Fullham F.C., Khan is known to many fellow Pakistanis as the man who embodies the American Dream. Making his fortune in central Illinois of all places, Khan opened an automobile parts manufacturer known as Flex-N-Gate. Now worth $6.5 billion and ranked 84th on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, Khan is also the wealthiest man of Pakistani origin.
The 65-year-old Khan was born in Lahore, Punjab to a middle-class family and moved to the United States when he was 16 years old to study at the University of Illinois. Refusing to let any criticism of his Muslim faith stand in his way of settling into his new life in America, Khan embraced his beliefs and set his eyes on success as he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Finally earning citizenship in 1991, Khan has continued to live by his Muslim faith while proving that the American Dream can exist in any shape or form for those who work hard enough.
#17 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
It’s nothing but net! Known for his trademark skyhook shot, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor in New York where he won 71 consecutive games on his high school basketball team before heading to college at UCLA. Turning heads as a three-time MVP of the NCAA Tournament, Abdul-Jabbar was drafted in the first overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA Draft. Spending the next six seasons with the Bucks and winning the 1971 NBA Championship title, the world watched as the 24-year-old Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Having converted to Islam while in college, Abdul-Jabbar changed to a Muslim name in 1971—which means “noble servant of the mighty one”—as a way to hold onto part of his heritage. Joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 and skyrocketing to stardom up until his retirement in 1989, the NBA legend has been an advocate for his faith especially in modern culture and said, “I’m very concerned about the people who claim to be Muslims that are murdering people and creating all the mayhem in the world. That is not what Islam is about…but it’s up to all of us to do something about it.”
#16 – Muhammad Ali
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.” While Lew Alcindor was one of the greatest basketball players of all time who gained even greater fame as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the same can be true in the world of boxing when it comes to Cassius Clay. Jumping in the ring at 12 years old, Clay won the World Heavyweight Championship title in 1964 after a huge upset over Sonny Liston. After the match, Clay joined the Nation of Islam and converted to Sunnism while changing his name to one we recognize today, Muhammad Ali.
Surprisingly enough, the Nation of Islam first refused Ali entrance into the organization because of his boxing career; however, after winning the 1964 title, he was granted access as a way to help the NOI gain more exposure and positive publicity. And, while many fans criticized his name change, journalists like Howard Cosell helped ease the transition with their public support as Ali told the media, “Cassius Clay is my slave name.” Now 74 years old and identifying with Sufism, Ali will forever go down in boxing history as “The Greatest” when it comes to his reputation both in and out of the ring.
#15 – Zayn Malik
The youngest celebrity on our list at only 23 years old, Zayn Malik first took the stage in 2010 when he auditioned for Britain’s The X Factor and was asked to join Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson to form One Direction. Rising to fame as one of the biggest bands in the world and earning overnight celebrity status, Malik spent five years with the group before announcing his departure in March 2015. Leaving many fangirls crying in complete despair, Malik remedied their broken hearts when he launched his solo career with the hit single “Pillowtalk.”
Born in England in 1993, Malik and his three sisters were raised in a devout Muslim household led by their British Pakistani father and English-Irish mother who converted to Islam upon marriage. Despite the extreme demands of his life in the spotlight, Malik is still a practicing Muslim today and not only speaks English and Urdu but also reads Arabic. Though his faith often goes under the radar, the Palestinian conflict in 2014 brought his beliefs to the forefront as he received many threats and anti-Muslim comments on social media, which led him to temporarily delete his Twitter account until the chaos quieted.
#14 – T-Pain
When it comes to auto-tuned rap music, T-Pain reigns king. Born in Tallahassee, Florida in 1985 as Faheem Rashad Najm but better known by his stage name, T-Pain rose to fame in 2007 after his second album—Epiphany¬—reached the top of the Billboard 200 charts. Since then, the 30-year-old rapper and producer has taken home two Grammy Awards in addition to releasing hit singles like “The Good Life,” “Buy U a Drank (Shwaty Snappin’)” and “Bartender.” But, that’s not all! He also owns his own record label known as Nappy Boy Entertainment.
Despite being raised in a Muslim household, T-Pain is a controversial addition to our list since he has very little interest in his religion and has even said as much by telling the media, “I don’t think I like religion. I think it’s another form of separation…I try not to put a label on my beliefs.” Instead of being influenced by his family’s faith, T-Pain was heavily influenced by music when family friend, jazz artist and producer Ben Tankard first took him to the recording studio and let him “twist the knobs.” Building his first music studio in his bedroom at the age of 10, the rest is history.
#13 – Iman Abdulmajid
Recognized as a pioneer in the ethnic cosmetic industry and as the widow of English rocker David Bowie, the world knows Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid simply as Iman, which means “faith” in Arabic. Launching her career in the late 1970s with an assignment with Vogue magazine, the 5’10” tall Iman quickly skyrocketed to stardom as a supermodel throughout the 1980s walking the catwalk for designers like Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint-Laurent. She even proved her talents as an actress with film and television credits in hits like Miami Vice, Out of Africa and The Fashion Show.
Born as one of five children to a Somalian diplomat and a gynecologist, Iman was raised Muslim and spent the majority of her childhood in Egypt under the watchful eye of her grandparents while her father dealt with widespread political unrest in Somalia. Eventually reunited with her family in Kenya, Iman was fluent in Somali, Arabic, Italian, French and English by the time she enrolled at the University of Nairobi to study political science. Eventually making her way to the United States to pursue modeling, Iman never faltered in her faith even with her marriage to Bowie in 1992 when she said, “Getting married did not convert me from a Muslim to a Christian.”
#12 – Hakeem Olajuwon
Yet another basketball star on our list, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon took the basketball world by storm as he made his way to the University of Houston in the early 1980s and made three unforgettable trips to the Final Four. Drafted in the first round of the 1984 NBA Draft alongside Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, Olajuwon joined the Houston Rockets where he became one half of the “Twin Towers” duo who led the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals. Nearly 18 years later with two NBA titles, 12 All-Star Team appearances and one MVP award, the 7’0 center retired his jersey on a high note in 2002.
Olajuwon, which translates as “surpassing wealth” in Yoruba, was born in Nigeria as the third of six children and was raised in a strict Muslim household dedicated to hard work and honesty. Moving to the United States where his faith quickly took a backseat to his career, Olajuwon realized that he argued with the referees on the court too much and that his play was undisciplined. Reinforcing his Muslim faith, he said, “I studied the Qur’an every day. At home, at the mosque…I would read it in airplanes, before games and after them.” Coincidentally, it was at this time that he changed the spelling of his name from Akeem to Hakeem.
#11 – Lupe Fiasco
Born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, Chicago based rapper Lupe Fiasco became a huge hip hop sensation a decade ago with the debut of his album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor in 2006. Receiving several Grammy nominations along the way, Fiasco has become an incredibly marketable star and pop icon who has worked with big music industry names like Jay-Z and Kanye West. Taking his talents to business, Fiasco has not only designed a pair of sneakers for Reebok and launched two clothing lines, he is also the CEO of 1st & 15th Entertainment.
Though perhaps best known for his music, Fiasco also has a reputation for being anti-establishment, which he proudly talks about in both his lyrics and during interviews. Growing up Muslim in Illinois, the 34-year-old rapper told MTV that Islam plays a part “in everything I do to a certain extent…but I don’t like putting my religion out there. I don’t like wearing it like that because I don’t want people to look at me as the poster child for Islam.” He then explained that he feared if the public were to find flaws in his personality, it would only be because he is Muslim and for no other legitimate reason.
#10 – Shaquille O’Neal
Topping the charts at a whopping 7’1” tall, we turn our attention to yet another NBA seven-footer—Shaquille O’Neal. After a successful career at Louisiana State University, O’Neal was drafted as the first pick in the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic where he quickly became one of the best centers in the league. Leaving the Magic after four years and spending the next 16 years of his career with teams like the Lakers, Heat, Suns and Cavaliers, the four-time NBA Champion retired in 2011 with the Boston Celtics and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in April 2016.
Throughout his 20 years on the hardwoods and even after, O’Neal has been very vague about his religion as many people wondered if he followed his stepfather’s Muslim faith or acknowledged his mother’s Baptist beliefs. While many speculate that O’Neal is in fact Muslim, he has dodged the question time and time again by saying, “I’m Muslim. I’m Jewish. I’m Buddhist. I’m everybody because I’m a people person.” Whatever the case, it’s undeniable that the NBA’s gentle giant is definitely a fan favorite.
#9 – Mehmet Oz
What would Dr. Oz say? Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1960 to Turkish parents who had recently emigrated to the United States, Dr. Mehmet Oz graduated from Harvard University in 1982 and went on to earn his doctorate and masters of business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School. Named a professor at Columbia University’s Department of Surgery in 2001, Oz caught the break of his career in 2004 when he was invited on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Spending five seasons with Oprah, Oz was given his own afternoon talk show in 2009 where he continues to give medical advice to the world today.
Emigrating from Turkey in the late 1950s in order to find more career opportunities in the medical field, Oz’s parents were devout Muslims who came from different sects. Despite the minor differences in faith between his parents, Oz grew up in a devout household where the Turkish language united the family of five (Oz has two sisters). Identifying as a Sufi today, Oz admits that he is not as devout as his parents were but that he still considers his faith an integral part of his life.
#8 – Busta Rhymes
Known for his wild fashion sense and intricate rapping style, Busta Rhymes was born Trevor Smith, Jr. in Brooklyn, New York in 1972. Working with hip hop groups throughout the early 1980s, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when Rhymes found mainstream success in the industry thanks to guest appearances on songs with artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige and TLC. Over the last two decades, he has received nearly a dozen Grammy nominations while earning his place as one of the 50 greatest rappers of all time and one of the best of the 1990s.
Making his Muslim faith public in 2007, Rhymes admitted that his faith has kept him grounded throughout his life in the spotlight thanks, in part, to being introduced to the religion as a child. Rhymes said, “Growing up in Harlem I was always surrounded by Arabs and Muslims. We embraced their culture and they embraced ours and we always joked with each other.” Though he may have spent much of his childhood in the streets of Brooklyn, he spent the majority of his high school career in a rap-off with fellow schoolmate Jay Z—talk about a small world!
#7 – Snoop Dogg
Though Busta Rhymes is considered one of the best rappers of the 1990s, Snoop Dogg takes the title as one of the most influential and popular rappers in the entire industry. Born in California as Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. in 1971, Snoop made his debut in 1992 on Dr. Dre’s album The Chronic before launching his solo career. Spending the last 24 years earning incredible success, Snoop has sold 35 million albums around the world while dabbling in everything from acting and producing to hosting television shows and coaching youth football teams.
Unlike so many others on our list, Snoop didn’t grow up in a devout Muslim household. Instead, it wasn’t until 2009 when he arrived at an event with the Nation of Islam that he confirmed his membership. Encouraging others to join and match his $1,000 donation, Snoop never publicized the date he actually joined. Three years later, Snoop’s religious loyalties wavered again while vacationing in Jamaica when he converted to the Rastafari movement changing his name to Snoop Lion in the process. Of course, if you blinked, you surely missed the fact that he’s back to being Snoop Dogg once again.
#6 – Mos Def
Better known throughout his early career as Mos Def, these days Dante Terrell Smith Bey prefers to be called Yasiin Bey. Spending his early career as a child actor in sitcoms and films like You Take the Kids and God Bless the Child, Bey launched his music career in 1998 with the release of his debut rap album. Despite his moderate success as a hip hop artist, the New York native has earned the most fame from his acting career with starring roles in films like The Italian Job, Be Kind Rewind and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Although his father was an active member of the Nation of Islam, Bey was not exposed to the religion until the age of 13 when he could better understand, appreciate and experience the faith. Spending the next six years studying the Qur’an, Bey declared his faith and marked his final conversion to Islam as his father joined the Sunni movement. Continuing to practice his faith today, Bey is friends with fellow Muslim rappers like Al Shaheed Muhammad and says that, “If Islam’s sole interest is the welfare of mankind, then Islam is the strongest advocate of human rights anywhere on Earth.”
#5 – Akon
Despite being born in the United States, Akon actually spent the majority of his early childhood living in Senegal under his full name—Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam. Learning to play five instruments before the age of seven, Akon moved back to the United States and settled in New Jersey before launching his music career. Known simply as Akon by 2004 as he rose to stardom with his first hit single “Locked Up,” the 43-year-old R&B artist has released several hit songs since then while earning a trio of Grammy Award nominations and opening up two record labels.
Known for being extremely private when it comes to his personal life including his relationships and his religion, Akon has stated that he has always been a practicing Muslim but understands why some of his music videos have been controversial for fellow followers. Although he doesn’t offer frequent comments about his faith, he does say that he is an incredibly spiritual man and has mentioned Allah before in his lyrics. As to how devout he actually is, his music videos are sure to leave everyone scratching their heads.
#4 – Janet Jackson
How would you like to grow up as the youngest of the famed Jackson family? In the world of entertainment, few families can say they ever achieved the same fame as the Jacksons. The youngest of the crew, Janet became a huge pop music icon in the late 1980s thanks to hits like “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” and “Nasty.” Earning the title as the 11th best-selling female artist in the United States over the last four decades, Jackson is now focused on her acting career with appearances in films like Why Did I Get Married? and For Colored Girls.
Born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness alongside her brothers, Janet has long broken ties with her family’s religious roots in an attempt to find her own way in both the spotlight and in her faith. In 2012, Jackson married billionaire Wissam Al Mana, a Muslim man, and was inspired to convert to her husband’s religion. Sources close to the 50-year-old diva say that Janet finally “feels like she has found a home with her new religion and has told members of her family who completely respect her choice.”
#3 – Ice Cube
The final rapper on our list comes in at number three with hip hop artist, songwriter, record producer and filmmaker Ice Cube. Born as O’Shea Jackson in 1969, Ice Cube rose to fame as a member of the NWA who became one of the influential groups in music history and paved the way for modern hip hop. As a result, Ice Cube is often named by many as the greatest MC in history. However, like Janet Jackson, he is taking a hiatus from music to build his acting and producing career in hit series like Barbershop and Are We There Yet?
Known as one of the greatest lyricists and musical storytellers, Ice Cube converted to Islam during the 1980s when life in Los Angeles was incredibly tumultuous for the rising star. He said that, “What I call myself is a natural Muslim because 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.” Once a member of the Nation of Islam, the 46-year-old artist and actor has since cut ties with the organization.
#2 – Mike Tyson
Just call him “Iron Mike, the Baddest Man on the Planet!” Boxing was far more popular and mainstream in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to boxers like Mike Tyson whose lethal knockout punches instantly dropped men to the mat as the world watched in awe. Taking the title as the undisputed heavyweight champion and known by many as the “scariest boxer ever” and the “hardest hitter in heavyweight history,” Tyson’s career in the ring was incredibly successful with 44 knockouts and only six losses.
Iron Mike’s success, however, came to a screeching halt in 1992 when he was charged with rape and sentenced to six years in prison. While serving time at the Plainfield Correctional Facility in Indiana, Tyson converted to Islam after speaking with his friend and spiritual mentor, Hakeem Olajuwon. He was released after serving less than half of his sentence and has spoken openly about his religion and experience behind bars. Despite nearly ruining his career, Tyson said that his conversion played an integral part in making him a better, humbler person who needs Allah in his life.
#1 – Dave Chappelle
Once praised as “the comic genius of America,” Dave Chappelle launched his career as an actor in the early 1990s in films like The Nutty Professor, Con Air and Blue Streak before proving his talents as a stand-up comedian. Turning more heads in Hollywood for his wild humor, Chappelle was given his own sketch comedy series—Chappelle’s Show—on Comedy Central in 2003. Wrapping up the series two years later, Chappelle returned to stand-up where he makes impromptu visits at comedy clubs around the country and has since returned to film for the first time in 13 years with the 2015 Spike Lee hit Chi-Raq.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, it wasn’t until Chappelle’s career took off in the 1990s with films like Half Baked when he converted to Islam. In an interview with Time magazine, the now 42-year old Chappelle said, “I don’t normally talk about my religion publicly because I don’t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is beautiful if you learn it the right way.” Essentially taking a note from Lupe Fiasco (or vice versa), Chappelle is proud of his faith but it’s definitely off limits when it comes to his stand-up routines.