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The families of two American hikers held in prison in Iran since July 2009 are turning to prominent American Muslims – including Muhammad Ali – to help convince the Iranian government to let their sons go.The mothers of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two US hikers held in Iran for more than 660 days, were joined by the icon of American Islam and three-time World Heavyweight Champion, his wife, and a half-dozen leaders of American Muslim organizations, in appealing Tuesday to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to release the two young men.

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The US Muslim leaders said at a Washington press conference that they sent a letter Tuesday calling on Mr. Khamenei to release the two Americans “in the Islamic spirit of mercy and compassion.”

Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were arrested in July 2009 after wandering across the border between northern Iraq and Iran as they hiked to see a waterfall a hotel clerk had told them about. A third American hiking with them, Sarah Shourd, was also arrested, but she was released in September 2010.

“As the American Muslim community, we appeal to the supreme leader … to release Shane and Josh on the basis of compassion and kindness following the example of the Prophet Mohammed,” said Imam Mohamed Magmagid Ali, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

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Lonnie Ali, wife of the boxing legend, left her husband’s side only long enough to tell the journalists that he immediately identified with the two young men – graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, one interested in peace and conflict resolution, the other in environmental health studies – when he learned of their ordeal.

“He remembered when as a young man like them, he became a citizen of the world,” Mrs. Ali said. “After reading about Shane and Josh, he felt the same about them.”

In their letter, Muhammad Ali and a dozen leaders of American Islamic organizations said it was their duty as Muslims to respond in the spirit of “compassion and mercy” exemplified by the Prophet Mohammed when Ms. Shourd called on them for help in winning the two men’s release.

Hopefully the young men are freed soon.