Best Muslim Athletes Of All Time: Islam is the second largest religion worldwide, with 1.9 billion followers, making up about 24% of the global population. As a result, there are numerous exceptional athletes who identify as Muslims.
Many boxers, NBA players, cricket players, and soccer players are Muslims. While some of these athletes were born into the faith, others chose to convert later in life.
These athletes have left an indelible mark in the history of their respective sports. Surprisingly, many fans may not be aware of the religious beliefs these athletes hold. Some NBA players, for example, observe fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, even while playing in the league.
Best Muslim Athletes Of All Time
Most of the athletes on this list openly practice their religion, although there are a few who may not actively practice due to personal circumstances.
Without any more delay, let’s explore the top Muslim athletes of all time.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon, a Nigerian-American former professional basketball player, is known as “The Dream.” At 59 years old, he is considered one of the greatest centers and basketball players of all time.
Olajuwon initially played cricket at the age of 15 after participating in a local tournament at the Muslim Teachers College in Lagos, Nigeria. However, he quickly developed a passion for basketball and moved to the United States to play at the University of Houston.
In the 1984 NBA draft, Olajuwon was selected as the first overall pick by the Houston Rockets. In his early years, he had some disciplinary issues and got into minor fights.
However, Olajuwon experienced a spiritual transformation and became a devoted Muslim. He joined the ranks of elite Muslim players in the league and strictly observed Ramadan, during which he played remarkably well.
After his tenure with the Houston Rockets, Olajuwon also played for the Toronto Raptors. Some of his career highlights include winning two NBA championships, being named two-time NBA Finals MVP, and receiving the NBA Most Valuable Player award.
Furthermore, he achieved numerous accolades such as being selected twelve times for the NBA All-Star Game, making the All-NBA First Team six times, and earning a spot on the All-NBA Third Team three times. In 1996, Olajuwon was part of the United States team that won the Olympic gold medal.
Olajuwon is recognized as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
9. Mesut Ozil
Mesut Özil is indeed recognized as one of the prominent Muslim athletes. He is a German professional soccer player of Turkish descent. Özil has achieved significant success throughout his career and has been an influential figure both on and off the field.
Known for his exceptional skills and creativity as a midfielder, Özil has played for several top clubs, including Real Madrid and Arsenal. He has also represented the German national team in various international competitions.
In addition to his athletic achievements, Özil is a devout Muslim who has openly expressed his faith. He has been known to engage in acts of charity and has shown support for humanitarian causes. Özil’s dedication to his religion and his philanthropic efforts have earned him admiration from fans worldwide.
It is important to note that while Özil is regarded as one of the best Muslim athletes, there are numerous other remarkable Muslim athletes in various sports who have also made significant contributions to their respective fields.
8. Karim Benzema
In a recent interview, Karim Benzema explained why he has an interest in Saudi Arabia. He mentioned that he is a Muslim, and Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country. He has always wanted to live there because it feels different from Europe. Benzema has visited Saudi Arabia before and had a positive experience. He finds it beautiful and holds a special place in his heart as a beloved Muslim country. This is why he has a desire to be in Saudi Arabia.
Benzema revealed that his family was also happy with his decision to move to Saudi Arabia. They were supportive, and he felt it was the right place for him.
As he joins the current Saudi League champions, Benzema expressed his ambition to win more trophies with his new club. He sees it as a new chapter in his career and wants to contribute to the club’s success, emphasizing the passion within the team.
Benzema highlighted the significance of Cristiano Ronaldo’s presence in Saudi Arabia, stating that it is important to have such a renowned player in the country. He believes that Ronaldo’s involvement will raise the level of football in Saudi Arabia and demonstrate the country’s ability to make a global impact.
7. Shaquille O’Neal
Many people may not be aware, but one of the greatest basketball players, Shaquille O’Neal, follows the Islamic faith. Shaq, as he is commonly known, was born as Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal on March 6, 1972, in Newark, New Jersey.
Shaquille and Rashaun, his first and middle names, have Arabic origins and mean “little one” and “warrior.” He has expressed his desire to participate in the important Islamic pilgrimage called Hajj, where Muslims travel to the holy city of Makah.
Shaq’s basketball journey began in high school. He was selected as the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. Standing at a height of 7 feet 1 inch, his towering stature gave him a significant advantage in the game.
In the 1992-93 season, Shaq earned the Rookie of the Year award and quickly established himself as one of the premier centers in the league. He led his team to the NBA Finals in 1995.
After starting his NBA career with the Orlando Magic, Shaq played for other teams including the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Phoenix Suns. He also had stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
Some notable highlights of O’Neal’s career include winning four NBA championships, being named three-time NBA Finals MVP, and receiving the NBA Most Valuable Player award. He was a regular NBA All-Star, made the All-NBA First Team eight times, and was a three-time NBA All-Star Game MVP.
Shaq retired from professional basketball in 2011. He was honored with induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 and was elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2017.
5. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Our number 5 on the list of famous Muslim athletes is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former professional basketball player. He was born as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York.
In 1968, while attending UCLA, Alcindor converted to Islam during the summer. He chose the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means “noble servant of the Almighty” in Arabic. His faith became clearer and stronger as he studied the Qur’an.
Kareem had a successful basketball career, starting from high school and continuing through college. After college, he was selected as the first overall pick in the 1969 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He received the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 1970 and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers during his professional career. Some of his notable achievements include being a six-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and six-time NBA Most Valuable Player.
After retiring from playing, Kareem transitioned to coaching. He worked as an assistant coach for Alchesay HS, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. He also served as the head coach for the Oklahoma Storm.
Even after retirement, Kareem still holds records for the most points scored, field goals made, and career wins. In 1995, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, recognizing his exceptional career.
4. Imran Khan
Next on our list is Imran Khan, who is currently 70 years old. He is a former cricketer and the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Imran Khan was born as Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi and had a successful career as an international cricketer, serving as the captain of the Pakistan national cricket team.
Khan belongs to the Pashtun ethnicity and the Niazi tribe, which makes him a born Muslim. He made his international cricket debut in the 1971 Test series against England, but he had already started playing first-class cricket at the age of 16.
During his time as a cricketer, Khan captained the national team from 1982 to 1992. Under his leadership, Pakistan won the 1992 Cricket World Cup, their first and only victory in the tournament.
Khan is widely regarded as one of the greatest cricket all-rounders in history, having scored 3,807 runs and taken 362 wickets in Test cricket before his retirement. After the 1987 Cricket World Cup, he retired from international cricket.
Following his retirement from cricket, Khan transitioned into politics. Although he had been offered political positions during his cricket career, he is commonly recognized as a nationalist and populist.
Khan founded a political party in 1996 and ran for a seat in the Pakistani National Assembly during the 1997 Pakistani general election.
In 2010, Imran Khan was honored by being inducted into the International Cricket Council Hall of Fame for his exceptional contributions to the sport.
3. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is widely recognized as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in the history of the sport. He was born as “Michael Gerard Tyson” and gained nicknames such as “Iron Mike,” “Kid Dynamite,” and eventually “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”
Tyson had a difficult upbringing, growing up in neighborhoods with high levels of crime. By the age of 13, he had been arrested 38 times, leading to his placement in the Tryon School for Boys.
It was during his time in a juvenile detention center that Bobby Stewart noticed Tyson’s boxing talent. Tyson proved Stewart right by winning two gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympics.
Although Tyson was initially raised as a Christian, he later converted to Islam, inspired by his idol Muhammad Ali. There is speculation that he embraced Islam while in prison.
Reports suggest that Tyson’s Muslim name is either Malik Abdul Aziz or Malik Shabazz.
Tyson is renowned for his aggressive and intimidating boxing style. While his public image has been marred by controversies, Sky Sports has hailed him as the fiercest fighter to ever enter a professional boxing ring.
Furthermore, Tyson became the first heavyweight boxer to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles simultaneously. He is also the only heavyweight boxer to unify these titles consecutively.
ESPN ranked Tyson as the number one hardest hitter in heavyweight history. Moreover, he is an inductee of both the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
2. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane, who is currently 50 years old, is a former professional soccer player from France. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and has also achieved great success as a coach.
Zidane is a Muslim and comes from an Algerian Kabyle background. Although he considers himself a “non-practicing Muslim,” he still engages in prayer before his games.
Zidane tends to keep his religious beliefs private, possibly due to past experiences of racial discrimination that have targeted his racial heritage. Prior to a game against Algeria in 2004, he even received death threats.
In an interview with Esquire magazine, Zidane expressed his connection to the Arab world and his pride in his French identity while also valuing his diverse roots inherited from his parents.
After retiring from his playing career, Zidane transitioned into coaching. He first joined Real Madrid as a special adviser to the first team in 2010. He remained with the club but eventually resigned in 2021.
Zidane was honored as one of the greatest living players by the FIFA 100 in 2004. He is also one of only eight players to have achieved the remarkable feat of winning the World Cup, Champions League, and Ballon d’Or.
1. Muhammad Ali
At the top of our list of famous Muslim athletes is the boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He was an incredibly important and well-known athlete in the 20th century.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky. He started his boxing career as an amateur in 1954 and 1960 and then became a professional boxer.
One day, Ali came across an article with a cartoon that talked about how Christianity was being forced upon slaves by the white people in power. This made him think about his own religious beliefs. At that time, racism was widespread in America, and the cartoon made him realize that he hadn’t chosen Christianity freely.
In 1961, Ali made a decision to change his religion and become a Muslim. This change had a significant effect on his career and how people remember him today. When he became the heavyweight champion, he publicly shared his conversion and wrote a personal statement called the Declaration of Independence.
In the years that followed, Ali dedicated himself to learning more about Islam. He became an important figure for American Muslims and inspired many people.
Ali fought in many important matches throughout his career. One of the most famous was the fight against George Foreman in a match called “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Apart from boxing, Ali was also talented in other areas. He was a skilled spoken word artist and even received two Grammy nominations for his performances.
Ali was not just an athlete; he was also an actor and writer. He wrote two autobiographies that shared his life story. After retiring from boxing, he focused on philanthropy and activism, working to make a positive difference in the world.
Unfortunately, this legendary and iconic figure of the 20th century passed away on June 3rd, 2016, at the age of 74. His legacy and impact continue to be remembered and celebrated.