Oprah: Do you see yourself as a brother to all the other Muslims around the world? I read that you said "Black Muslim"> is a media term, because there's no such thing. If you go to Mecca, you're praying next to a blond.
Muhammad: Right. Christians are my brothers, Hindus are my brothers, all of them are my brothers. We just think different and believe different.
Oprah: Because your religion is associated with Elijah Muhammad, a lot of people believe it's radical, antiwhite, and anti other religions. But my understanding is that Islam is a peaceful religion.
Muhammad: The word "Islam" means "peace." The word "Muslim" means "one who surrenders to God." But the press makes us seem like haters.
Oprah: But if a leader comes out and says that any particular race is the devil, then he or she is seen as a hatemonger. True?
Muhammad: But the people who were keeping blacks out of restaurants and choosing to fight us were really the hatemongers.
Oprah: Part of your notoriety comes from your willingness to stand up for yourself—like when you decided that no one could make you go to Vietnam. You even said you were willing to face gunfire rather than go into the army or denounce the honorable Elijah Muhammad. Did you mean that?
Muhammad: Did I mean it? I'm not going to come out now and say, "I was just joking!"
Oprah: So you just got your draft notice and said to yourself, "I'm not going"?
Muhammad: I said more than that! I said, "No Vietcong ever called me a nigger." Black men would go over there and fight, but when they came home, they couldn't even be served a hamburger.
Oprah: Your brother said that when you came home after winning the Olympic gold in 1960, you were refused service at a restaurant in Louisville.
Muhammad: I walked in and tried to order two hamburgers, and I was told, "We don't serve Negroes." I said, "Good—because I don't eat them either." They said, "You're a smart nigger—get out of here!" So I left and drove to the bridge and threw my gold medal in the river. A black man in America can win an Olympic gold medal, but he can't even come home and be served a hamburger.
Oprah: Do you regret throwing your medal in the river?
Muhammad: Now I do!
Oprah: Ever since you began boxing, others have seen potential in you. When did you know that boxing was your gift?
Muhammad: When I won the Golden Gloves in 1960, that made me realize I had a chance. And when I won at the Olympics, that sealed it: I was the champ.
We Hear You!