Muhammad Ali joins US Muslim appeal to Iran to release US hikers

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali lends his name to the US Muslim leaders' appeal at the request of the families of the two US hikers, who have been held in Iran nearly two years.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is seen during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, on Tuesday, May 24, with other prominent American Muslim and clergy, as they joined the families of the two US hikers detained in Iran to appeal for their release.

The families of two American hikers held in prison in Iran since July 2009 are turning to prominent American Muslims – including Muhammad Ali – to help convince the Iranian government to let their sons go.

The mothers of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two US hikers held in Iran for more than 660 days, were joined by the icon of American Islam and three-time World Heavyweight Champion, his wife, and a half-dozen leaders of American Muslim organizations, in appealing Tuesday to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to release the two young men.

The US Muslim leaders said at a Washington press conference that they sent a letter Tuesday calling on Mr. Khamenei to release the two Americans “in the Islamic spirit of mercy and compassion.”

Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were arrested in July 2009 after wandering across the border between northern Iraq and Iran as they hiked to see a waterfall a hotel clerk had told them about. A third American hiking with them, Sarah Shourd, was also arrested, but she was released in September 2010.

“As the American Muslim community, we appeal to the supreme leader … to release Shane and Josh on the basis of compassion and kindness following the example of the Prophet Mohammed,” said Imam Mohamed Magmagid Ali, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

Lonnie Ali, wife of the boxing legend, left her husband’s side only long enough to tell the journalists that he immediately identified with the two young men – graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, one interested in peace and conflict resolution, the other in environmental health studies – when he learned of their ordeal.

“He remembered when as a young man like them, he became a citizen of the world,” Mrs. Ali said. “After reading about Shane and Josh, he felt the same about them.”

In their letter, Muhammad Ali and a dozen leaders of American Islamic organizations said it was their duty as Muslims to respond in the spirit of “compassion and mercy” exemplified by the Prophet Mohammed when Ms. Shourd called on them for help in winning the two men’s release.

Shourd, who is Bauer’s fiancee, said at the press conference that she was prompted to seek the help of the American Muslim community when she recalled the call to daily prayers she heard during her year-plus imprisonment in Iran.

The hikers were arrested amid heightening tensions between the US and Iran, and is one of several cases of Americans being detained by Iranian authorities. Even as Tuesday’s press conference proceeded, the US was announcing new sanctions against Iran over a nuclear program that the US and other Western powers say is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.

But both the Muslim leaders and the hikers’ family members sought to steer clear of politics, saying the young men had meant no harm to Iran in mistakenly crossing an international border.

“We are not politicians,” said Alex Fattal, Josh Fattal’s brother. “This is a humanitarian issue, and we want our loved ones home.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.