Is Muhammad Ali in Heaven?

Muhammad Ali is most well-known for his boxing career. He converted to Islam in the 1960’s; he died in 2016 after enduring a long illness (Parkinson’s disease). After retiring from boxing, and more so after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Ali dedicated his life to helping persons in need.

“Ali was known for being a humanitarian and philanthropist. He focused on practicing his Islamic duty of charity and good deeds, donating millions to charity organizations and disadvantaged people of all religious backgrounds. It is estimated that Ali helped to feed more than 22 million people afflicted by hunger across the world.” Wikipedia

On the other hand, his personal life included two divorces, followed by two remarriages, allegations of adultery, and the sexual abuse of a minor (12 years old). Wikipedia. These are objectively grave acts. In particular, regardless of the teachings of one’s religion, it is clear to reason that adultery and child abuse are grave sins.

Is he in Heaven?

We can say, as an article of faith, that certain persons are in Heaven: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Apostles Peter and Paul, other persons whom Sacred Scripture attests lived holy lives. We can say, in accord with the decision of the Church, that all the canonized Saints are in Heaven (though it is an open question whether canonizations are infallible). We can also say, with a certitude which is based solely on the certitude that they were in fact baptized, that baptized infants who die at that young age are in heaven.

For other persons, we cannot say with absolute certitude. However, when a person lives a holy life, exemplifying the teaching of Jesus to love one’s neighbor, we can know, with only human certitude, not absolute certitude, that if what is known about the person is true, and if they had no hidden unrepented mortal sins, then they are likely in Heaven. However, most persons enter Heaven by way of Purgatory.

Did Ali repent of his past grave sins? Did he die in a state of grace, which is the state of loving God and neighbor? We have no information on that repentance. However, repentance from actual mortal sin can occur by implicit perfect contrition, that is, by an act of selfless love of God or neighbor, without explicit reference to the past sins. Such a repentant person would then go forward to live a life of love of God and neighbor, such that his acts of faith and love indicate that past, at least implicit, repentance.

In my opinion, Ali’s great love of God and neighbor, shown in his dedication to Islam and to good works to persons in need, his generosity in donating his wealth to charity, and his perseverance in good works despite the suffering of Parkinson’s all show full cooperation with grace, and love of God and neighbor. Therefore, I think that Ali did go to Heaven, probably by way of Purgatory.

How is it possible for someone who converts to Islam, from a Christian background, to go to Heaven? If their choice of Islam over Christianity is not an actual mortal sin, if it occurs with a sincere but mistaken conscience, then the person can be in a state of grace. And by implicit perfect contrition, they can return to grace after any actual mortal sin.

Muhammad Ali is in Heaven, probably.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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2 Responses to Is Muhammad Ali in Heaven?

  1. Michael says:

    I think the problem when we decide to “canonize” people ourselves is that we then stop praying for them. This happens a lot at funerals when family and friends focus solely on the good of a person to the point of assuming they’re in heaven.

  2. Guest says:

    Appreciate this article!

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