You've probably heard all about Alexander Litvinenko.
Former KGB spy. Outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. Supporter of the Chechen independence movement. Victim of polonium poisoning.
You also probably heard what British investigators announced on January 21: the Russian men who murdered Litvinenko at a London restaurant in 2006 were "probably" acting on direct orders from the Kremlin.
This allegation was hardly breaking news, for Litvinenko had said as much from his deathbed ten years ago.
"You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life," Litvinenko said in a statement published before he passed away.
The onetime KGB agent originally broke with the Russian government in 1998, after he said he refused an order to assassinate a critic of the regime. He also held a press conference accusing security officials of corruption.
Litvinenko then sought political asylum in the United Kingdom, where he secretly worked with British intelligence and publicly aired Russia’s dirty laundry.
Over the years, Litvinenko accused the Russian government of collusion with the mafia, war crimes against Chechnya, false flag attacks to justify those war crimes, and the assassination of anti-Putin journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in Moscow on Vlaidimir Putin’s birthday.
Secret service agents in Russia hated Litvinenko so much that they used pictures of their former comrade for target practice.
Again, you probably know all of this.
But what you might not know about Alexander Litvinenko is that he died as a Muslim.
During his years in London, Litvinenko maintained close ties with exiled leaders of the Chechen independence movement, including former Prime Minister Akmed Zakayev. According to Zakayev, Litvinenko had been considering a conversion to Islam for some time before he was poisoned.
During his hospital stay, Zakayev says, Litvinenko said the Islamic statement of faith, asked for a Muslim burial and requested that an imam recite Qur’an over him.
Litvinenko’s family has also confirmed his conversion. A few days before his death, he called his father, Walter, into his hospital room.
"Father, I have to tell you something important," the bald, emaciated Litvinenko reportedly said. "I have become a Muslim."
"That's good son," Walter, a Russian Orthodox Christian, responded. "Now we have another Muslim [in the family]." He added, "As long as you're not a Communist or a Satanist, it's okay with me."
Litvinenko's wife has also discussed his conversion to Islam.
“He came to embrace another religion, Islam,” she said in an interview. “And I don’t want to juxtapose the two beliefs, because they didn’t contradict each other. It was just a second revelation. And it was something that millions, billions, I don’t know how many people believe.”
Litvinenko died on November 23, 2006, after three weeks in the hospital. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery after receiving both Islamic and non-denominational funeral services.
Although Litvinenko was only a Muslim for a few days, his life had the hallmarks of Islam. He abandoned his homeland to escape persecution, much like the first Muslims did when they left Mecca for Medina and Abyssinia. He risked his life by speaking truth to an unjust government, a practice hailed by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Ultimately, Litvinenko died because he spoke out, a martyr for his cause.
“God is one and the same, isn’t He?” Walter Litvinenko said after his son’s death. “That’s why I think it was [Alexander’s] mission on Earth to reconcile the Christians and the Muslims, and to expose this cruel and terrorist regime of Putin and his FSB helpers.”
Edward Ahmed Mitchell is an Atlanta attorney who serves as Copy Editor of AtlantaMuslim.com. He also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Community Center of Atlanta. Edward received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his graduate degree from Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as president of the law school's Muslim Students Association. Follow him on Twitter @edmovie.