It was a surprise for many in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1978, when Communist authorities decided to roll out a red carpet for a celebrated and self-avowed Muslim.
That year, legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, who died on June 3, was invited to visit the Soviet Union. With two years to go before the Moscow Olympics, the Communist Party Central Committee apparently wanted to reap some good PR from the living legend’s trip.
Ali flew into Moscow with his retinue, which included training staff, lawyers and his then-wife Veronica Porsche. The morning after his arrival, the boxer caused something of a minor diplomatic incident by taking advantage of a clear early summer dawn to go on a jog through the middle of the city and into Red Square. The sight of an Ali in shorts trying to do a circuit around Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum startled Soviet authorities.
On June 15, after a three-day stint in Moscow, Ali traveled onward to Uzbekistan. The republic was of particular interest to the boxer as an important site of Islamic history and culture.
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