In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, former heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali paid a visit to New York City on
“What’s really hurting me, the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence,” Ali said during a rare, impromptu speech at the World Trade Center attack command center.
“Islam is not a killer religion,” said Ali, who has suffered with Parkinson’s disease since 1984 and hasn’t spoken at length in public in years. “Islam means peace,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem.”
But Ali said he would back “100%” whatever action the United States takes against the perpetrators of last week’s terrorist attack.
Although during that visit Ali was indeed asked by a reporter how he felt about “the [terrorist] suspects sharing his Islamic faith,” he didn’t respond by invoking the name of Adolf Hitler, as suggested in the example text above. Instead, he just offered a general comment about religion and “people believing different things”:
Former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali visited the ruins of the World Trade Center on Thursday. When reporters asked how he felt about the suspects sharing his Islamic faith, Ali said, “Religions all have different names, but they all contain the same truths,” adding, “I think the people of our religion should be tolerant and understand people believe different things.”
The quip about Hitler and religion sounds like something the public would expect the pithy and pugnacious Ali (a long-time adherent and defender of Islam) to make, but although the boxer supposedly uttered it in the presence of multiple reporters, no one wrote about it at the time he allegedly said it. Only weeks later, long after the quote had been circulating online, did newspapers start mentioning it — and even then not as something one of their reporters (or anyone else’s) had actually heard Ali say, but as something they had been told he said:
A friend sent an e-mail which related an unsubstantiated story about former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali visiting the ruins of the World Trade Center just days after the attack.
When reporters asked how he felt about the suspects sharing his Islamic faith, Ali responded pleasantly:
“How do you feel about Hitler sharing yours?”
Another case of someone’s attributing a memorable but anonymous quote to the mouth deemed most likely to have uttered it.
As a footnote, we should point out that the issue of whether or not Hitler was a believing Christian is still a subject of much debate.