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Turkey foundation to turn Muhammad Ali’s home into summer school

World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in Lewiston, Maine, 25 May 1965 [Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

A Turkish educational foundation that bought the home of legendary American boxer Muhammad Ali has announced plans to turn the property into a summer school for Muslim youth.

The Turken Foundation purchased the 81 acre farm at the edge of the Joseph River in Berrien Springs in Michigan at the beginning of this year for $2.5 million. Complete with a swimming pool, gym and basketball court, the estate is where the former heavyweight champion spent his summers and a portion of his retirement. In 2006, Ali and his wife moved to Arizona, where he died in 2016.

“We immediately thought of purchasing it when we saw it was up for sale. Ali spent the last two decades of his life here,” foundation head Behram Turan said of the deal. “What motivated us in this acquisition is that it was near Chicago where a large Muslim community lives and this was a place where we preserve Ali’s memory,”

Turken was established in 2014 and is dedicated to assisting Turkish students with housing, scholarships and cultural programmes, as well as promoting cross-cultural relationships and understanding between various Muslim students’ traditions and American culture.

The organisation now plans to develop the property into a summer school for Muslims as well as a hub for the local community.

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“Our work will be supported both by the Muhammad Ali Museum and the family of Ali. We want it to serve as a functioning community centre with summer school and conferences,” Turan added.

“This will also be a chance for students to be inspired by Ali’s life philosophy and work for success. It will obviously be beneficial to the Muslim community in the United States to use this property for this specific purpose.”

Ali had long maintained close relations with Turkey, meeting with Turkish politician Necmettin Erekan in 1976, a mentor of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and lauded by all sides of the Turkish political spectrum.

However controversy broke out after Ali’s death in 2016, when Erdogan pulled out of the funeral at the last minute, after reportedly being denied an opportunity to speak at the memorial service.

Some reports also suggested that the trip was cut short out of fear that funeral could have led to a tense meeting between Erdogan and Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for the past 20 years, and who is accused of orchestrating the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey.

Turkish-US relations have also been tense in recent months, first over Ankara’s detention of an American pastor on terrorism charges, as well as Washington’s continued support for Kurdish militia groups in northern Syria, that have been linked to terror groups in Turkey.

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