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Muhammad Ali Jr. Detained at Airport, Asked About Being Muslim: Lawyer

The boxing legend's son was detained for about two hours on arrival at a Florida airport and questioned about his religion, his lawyer says.
Image: U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses at the World Economic Forum in Davos
U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 28, 2006.Andreas Meier / Reuters

The son of global boxing legend Muhammad Ali was detained for about two hours on arrival at a Florida airport and questioned about his religion, his lawyer said.

Muhammad Ali Jr. was returning from Montego Bay, Jamaica, with his mother — Ali's first wife, Khalilah — on Feb. 7 when immigration officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport held him, said Chris Mancini, a former federal prosecutor and a friend of the family.

Like his father, Ali Jr. is Muslim.

Khalilah showed officers a picture of herself with her ex-husband, who died June 3, and she was not detained, Mancini said. But Ali Jr. had no such photo.

"It is a very interesting twist in history," Mancini told NBC News. "His father fought for his religious rights, and now that [Donald] Trump is president, he has to fight."

Image: Muhammad Ali walks through New York with members of the Black Panther Party in 1970.
Muhammad Ali walks through New York with members of the Black Panther Party in 1970.David Fenton / Getty Images

The lawyer said that both Ali Jr. and his mother were asked whether they were Muslims.

"This whole thing was triggered by his beliefs, the CBP is profiling," Mancini said, referring to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "He was only released about two hours later. This is a U.S. citizen, born in Philadelphia. They have no right to inquire into his religion. This is outrageous; what’s going on in this country?"

He continued: "I don't know what is going on with Mr. Trump's claim that his ban is not religion-based. We do not discriminate in this country based on religion."

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A CBP spokesman declined comment on the case.

"Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers," the spokesman said. "However, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection.”

Ali Jr., who is 44, has no criminal record and carries a U.S. passport, Mancini said. He recently moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, to live with his mother. Last year, Ali Jr. received a large share of his father's multimillion-dollar fortune.

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Khalilah Ali married the boxer, then named Cassius Clay, in 1967 at the age of 17. They divorced 10 years later. She had traveled to Jamaica to give a speech about black history.

Mancini claimed the detention showed that the travel ban initially instituted by the Trump administration affecting people from seven Muslim-majority nations and halted by the courts is nevertheless being enforced.

Mancini, the former prosecutor, said immigration officers asked Ali Jr. for his full name, date of birth and religion. They held him for 30 minutes, then separated him from his mother and took him to a small room. An officer returned a half-hour later and again asked him his religion, Mancini said. He was held for about one more hour before being released.

"This is an instance where the ban has been enforced even though it has been thrown out," Mancini said. "The government is still trying to find grounds to keep Muslims out."

By happenstance, the late Muhammad Ali came up during Trump's weekly address released Saturday to the American people. The president spoke about his visit this week to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“There’s a great quote by Muhammed Ali in the museum," Trump said. "‘I shook up the world,’ [Ali] said, and that is what he did.”

Trump then named a number of civil rights leaders who, like Ali, also "shook up the world" and "inspired our nation to march towards justice and freedom for all."