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Mahershala Ali becomes first Muslim to win an acting Oscar – but not everyone’s happy

Ali, who converted to Islam 17 years ago, won best supporting actor for Moonlight
Mahershala Ali receives his Oscar in Hollywood on 26 February 2017 (Reuters)

Mahershala Ali made history at the 89th Academy Awards, becoming the first Muslim to win any acting Oscar.

Ali, who converted to Islam 17 years ago, won the historic best supporting actor accolade for his role in the drama Moonlight, in which he plays a Miami-based drug dealer who takes the story's gay protagonist under his wing.

In recent years, the Oscars has attracted heat for the lack of diversity among nominations, none more so than within acting, sparking the hashtag #oscarssowhite - which was started by April Reign - to trend. 

Ali is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, a branch of Islam founded in Punjab during the 19th century and based on the teaching of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. But some Muslims see its beliefs as heresy because followers do not believe that Muhammad was the final prophet.

In his speech Ali gave thanks first not to his family, agent or friends but to his teachers.

“Wow," he said. "I wanna thank my teachers, my professors. I had so many wonderful teachers.” And as someone observed on Twitter...

Ali said that the film was not about the actor: "It's about these characters. You're in service to these stories, to these characters. I'm so blessed to have had an opportunity."

And he also thanked his wife, Amatus Sami-Karim, who gave birth to their first child three days before the Oscars. "We just had a daughter four days ago," he told the star-packed audience as well as millions of TV viewers worldwide. "I just wanna thank her for being such a soldier through this process... and really carrying me through it all. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Peace and blessings."

But his tribute subsequently drew a joke from Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel, about how Ali and his wife "can’t name her Amy". That didn't go down well.

Ali also won the Screen Actors Guild award for best supporting actor in January, when he spoke of his conversion to Islam. “My mother is an ordained minister. She didn't do backflips when I called her and told her I converted 17 years ago. But we put things to the side and I was able to see her. She is able to see me. We love each other. The love has grown, and that stuff's minutiae. It's not that important.”

The Oscar rounds off a remarkable year for Ali.

Some fans who offered congratulations referred to a scene from the Oscar winning drama.

...with praise also coming from previous Oscar winners...

Other fans simply celebrated...

...or else hoped that the win would bring more respect to Ali's faith.

But inevitably, with such a historic win, there were also the naysayers...

And in Pakistan a different storm erupted, amid claims that Maleeha Lodhi, the country's representative to the United Nations, tweeted in support of Ali's success before deleting the message. 

The country is home to the largest Ahmadiyya population in the world, members of which are regarded as non-Muslim under the Pakistani constitution.

And while the night may be remembered more for the who-actually-won-best-picture fiasco between Moonlight and La La Land...
...Ali was gracious enough to pay tribute to his rivals...

...with an attitude perhaps best summed up by this cartoon.

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