Muhammad Ali’s first visit to Africa came in 1964, which was also his first major trip outside of America. The charismatic 22-year-old had just been crowned heavyweight Champion of the World, after defeating Sonny Liston. He had also experienced an epiphany that was the beginning of a spiritual journey that continued throughout his life.
Ghana, 1964 (May 18)
Ali spent two straight weeks in Ghana, when he visited in 1964. He was welcomed on his arrival at the national airport in Accra by an unbelievably large crowd of admirers who were all too eager to meet the reigning king of boxing. Ali was accompanied on his trip/pilgrimage by Herbert Muhammad, the son of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.
Ali meets the Asantehene, paramount chief of the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. Photo credit: Myjoyonline.com
During his stay, Ali also found the time to treat some 40,000 Ghanaian spectators to an exhibition bout against his younger brother, Rahman. By the end of his visit to Ghana, Ali had endeared himself to many and even acquired a taste for tropical coconuts.
Ali arrived Lagos in June 1964, after spending 14 days in nearby Ghana. Hundreds of people awaited his arrival at the airport, and many more filled the streets to welcome the champion. Even the announcement of a decision to cut short the length of his visit from the initial full week to three days did not dampen the spirits of crowds that greeted him everywhere he went.
Ali would visit Nigeria again in 1980 to call for an African-wide boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Muhammad Ali, in Nigerian attire, spends some time with elementary school kids.
Ali offers prayers at the Al-Hussein mosque in Egypt.
As a world champion heavyweight boxer, Ali’s fame preceded his highly anticipated arrival to Cairo, Egypt, in June 1964. As if his sports notoriety was not enough, at the time, Ali was a recent convert to Islam, so many Egyptians felt an instant connection with him.
While in Egypt, Ali visited the Aswan Dam, met with the Supreme Islamic Council, and prayed at the Al-Hussein mosque. He was also a guest of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ali went on to spend a total of 20 days in Egypt before returning to America.
Mohammad Ali enjoys the wonders of Egypt. Photo credit: ahram.org.