Skip to navigationSkip to content
Mahershala Ali accepts the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for "Moonlight" at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
“My mother is an ordained minister,” he said. “I’m a Muslim.”
COME TOGETHER

The most powerful response to Trump at the SAG awards was Mahershala Ali’s story of converting to Islam

By Marc Bain

The most powerful speeches aren’t always the loudest.

Many of the presenters and winners at last night’s Screen Actors Guild awards used their time on stage to speak out forcefully against US president Donald Trump’s newly enacted ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations—notably, David Harbour of the cast of Netflix’s Stranger Things (video), who promised to “hunt monsters” and “punch some people in the face” in a rousing speech.

The strongest and most moving statement of all, however, didn’t come in a raised voice, or even mention Trump. It came from actor Mahershala Ali, who won for his supporting role in Moonlightabout a young gay man who faces bullying and other hardships.

Visibly holding back emotion, Ali talked about what happens when we persecute people, and he called our differences, particularly those of faith, “minutiae” that should not keep us apart.

“My mother is an ordained minister,” he said. “I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, we put things to the side. I’m able to see her, she’s able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown. That stuff is minutiae. It’s not that important.”

It’s worth watching Ali’s entire speech below.

Ali was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, and he grew up in Oakland, California. His name is a reference to the bible passage Isaiah 8:1-3. He converted to Islam after a visit to a mosque with his now-wife and her mother, while he was in graduate school, he explained in an interview quoted by People magazine.

“I just had this really strong response where this prayer is resonating in my body, and I’m, like, crying,” he said. “I woke up a week later, and I get up and I go, ‘I gotta go to the mosque.’ Long story short, I converted that day.”