Has Will Smith Converted to Islam?

In July and August 2003, Answering Islam received several emails with the question, "Is it true that Hollywood star Will Smith has converted to Islam?" The inquirers pointed mainly to a story in the Muslim magazin, The Milli Gazette, Vol. 2 No. 23, where it is stated:

Hollywood superstar embraces Islam

Hollywood top actor Will Smith has embraced Islam after completing the Muhammad Ali biopic. Smith was introduced to Islam while learning about the legendary boxer's life - Islam is Ali's religion of choice. Director of the American Muslim Association of North America, Sofian Zakkout says, "Muhammad Ali is one of the best examples of Muslims in this country. He's been a wonderful spokesperson for the religion and if Will Smith can continue Muhammad Ali's work that would be wonderful." He continues, "Islam is a peaceful religion and if good people such as Muhammad and Will can carry that message then it would be wonderful. It would be a positive message for peaceful Muslims all over the world." Smith appeared at the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon in September alongside Ali, defending Islam in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Smith started his life as the main character in NBC’s 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' series. Later he ventured into movies where the critics took note of him in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Bad Boys (1995) and Independence Day (1996). (Online Source)

The above is a claim, but does not quote an actually statement of Will Smith himself. So there was reason to be suspicious as there have been many similar claims about conversions of celebrities and which turned out to be HOAXES. Since I had never heard about it either way, I did an extensive websearch on the question. I found dozens of Muslim websites carrying this story in more or less the same words as quoted above, but still, none reported any direct statement by the claimed convert himself. I went to the alleged source of the claim, The American Muslim Association of North America, but their website does not mention Will Smith with one word. Neither a confirmation nor a denial of this news. One of the most elaborate Muslim versions can be found, for example, in the Islamic Voice of January 2002.

A direct public statement by Will Smith on this issue is found in an interview with the Arizona Reporter, January 03, 2002. One of the questions was:

How did you relate to the religious issues in the movie?

WILL SMITH: The one thing that stands out for me from doing this film and diving into Ali's understanding of the Nation of Islam, and then his understanding of his God, is that my relationship has to be directly with God. I can't have a relationship with God that is dependent upon another person's behavior.

And in working on this film, I began to understand that Ali is a Muslim, but he is also a man of God. He is one of the few people who specifically stands out and says, I am a Muslim. He is welcome on that basis everywhere. And that's how I want to be, I want to be welcome everywhere.

Will Smith did not say "I am a Muslim", nor did he say "I want to be a Muslim". He said "I want to be welcome everywhere". Hardly a public confession of conversion to Islam.

A few more snippets of direct statements are found in this background info about the movie:

To help further his transformation into Ali, Smith also studied Orthodox Islam with a Muslim cleric named Munir, and later learned more about the division between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X (played in the film by Mario Van Peebles).

Smith, however is no stranger to Islam. While he was raised as a Baptist, seven out of ten of his closest childhood friends are Muslim. And although he admittedly is no fan of organized religion because of what he calls it’s “exclusionary nature”, he keeps a Qu’ran and prayer rug in his home. “I believe in God the way that Christians, Muslims, Jews and holy people of the world believe in God”, he said in a recent interview in GQ magazine. Remarking on his recent appearance alongside Ali at the Sept. 11 tribute and telethon, “America: A Tribute to Hereos”, Smith said it was “the first time in my life I actually felt I did something important.”
Side by side with the former champ, the two condemned recent hate attacks and bias against Muslims, stressing that Islam is peace, not terrorism. “This man might be the most famous person in the world. He's one of the greatest heroes of our time: and he is a Muslim,” said Smith at the tribute. “It was hate, not religion that motivated the horrible acts of September 11th, and in the wake of these events, nothing could be more un-American than to respond to mindless hatred with blind vengeance. My friend and I want you to remember that.” (Source)

Again, Will Smith is clearly sympathetic to Islam, but he mentions Islam in one breath with other religions without giving it a higher value or priority for his own life. He only owns a prayer rug (perhaps a gift of one of his Muslim friends, or a leftover from making the movie) but it is not said that he actually uses it to pray. Again, no evidence that he converted to Islam.

Moreover, I found two Muslim webpages which DENY that Will Smith embraced Islam. The first is a longer article about and tribute to Muhammad Ali, stating:

A legend in every sense of the word, boxing's darling, former World Heavyweight Champion and legend to this day, Muhammad Ali, is acted by Hollywood megastar Will Smith in a film called 'ALI' which hits the 'silver screen' in February.

... An internet rumour stating that Will Smith converted to Islam, after the making of 'ALI' the film, was dismissed to his publicist saying he is not a Muslim but was sympathetic towards Muslims after the making of the film. Well, sympathy towards Muslims is still good isn't it ?!! ... (Source: www.empiremuslim.com/ali.html; even though this website is now defunct, I found the page in the cache of Google.com, 26 August 2003)

This is pretty decisive and should settle the issue. One more Muslim statement confirming that this was a hoax, is a posting on a web discussion forum:

Pro-Islam Lies

From: Wagih Zayan
Date: 22 Jan 2002
Time: 21:23:33
Remote Name:

Lately I recieved several e-mails from Ahbash (i.e Houda & Amr Farouk) with a new secret FACT that Will Smith converted to Islam. After long search I found out that it was just a rumour or a speculation. Just another Pro-Islam Lie which actually Islam does NOT need. And just shows how simple minded we are. So Fact is: 1: Anthony Quinn did Not convert to Islam while acting the "Message" 2: Michel Jackson did not convert to Islam after visiting the Gulf 3: Nike never did an AD which shows Muslims praying to a sexy woman 4: The verse 2001 in Surrah "Al Tawba" does not reffer to Sept 11th, as if God wanted to refer to something, at least it would be in Hijri years not 2001 AD 5: The Font WingDing in Windows does not convert to a picture of the Twins if u type the Flight Number.. The number mentioned in this rumour is Not any of the 4 flights involved. 6: The picture of the assumed Landing spot of the Prophet Noah (PBUH)ship (arch) in Turkey was not proven to be named Al-Joudy to conform with the name mentioned in the Holy Quraan 7: And Will Smith did Not convert to Islam during doing the M Ali film. I believe that Muslims should be aware and respond to good & bad news. But at least make sure they are true before spreading any rumour which will act in reverse if proved wrong. wagih zayan (Source: http://www.geocities.com/habashyahbash/Talk/0000006e.htm)

I hope the information in these search results will help to clarify the question.

Jochen Katz

P.S.: One sad observation is, that the alleged source of the rumor, The American Muslim Association of North America, which is without doubt aware of this widely spread rumor, has not published a disclaimer about it. Why is there no interest by this Muslim organization to clarify the truth in this matter?

Further reading: A critical movie review, and a short Muhammad Ali biography.

Rumors and Hoaxes
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