With his win for portraying a drug dealer with a father’s heart in the film Moonlight, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to take home an acting Oscar.
Ali, 43, won in the Best Supporting Actor category on Feb. 26, topping much bigger names, including Jeff Bridges, nominated for Hell or High Water, and Dev Patel, nominated for Lion.
Ali discussed his 1999 conversion to Islam earlier this year on the radio show Fresh Air, describing to host Terry Gross his visit to a Philadelphia mosque with his future wife.
“And I just had such a strong reaction to the prayer. I felt really grounded at that time, and so to be in this prayer, and the imam is doing the prayer in Arabic, and I don’t understand a word of Arabic, but I just remember these tears just coming down my face, and it just really connecting to my spirit in a way that felt like I needed to pay attention to that.”
Four days before receiving this award, Ali and his wife, Amatus Sami-Karim, had their first child, a daughter.
Also at the Oscars, The White Helmets, a documentary on the Syrian civil war, won the Best Documentary Short category. Director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara read a statement from Raed Saleh, the leader of the civil defense group the documentary is named after.
“We’re so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Quran: 'To save one life, is to save all of humanity.'"
Saleh reportedly didn’t attend the ceremony because of “intense air strikes across the country” in Syria.
And Asghar Farhadi, Iranian director of The Salesman, which took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, boycotted the ceremony to protest President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.