Remembering Muhammad Ali – Boxing Legend, Proud American Muslim

Remembering Muhammad Ali – Boxing Legend, Proud American Muslim June 4, 2016
By Zarateman - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18668800
By Zarateman – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18668800

By Altmuslim Editors

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

**********

The day I met Islam, I found a power within myself that no man could destroy or take away. When I first walked into the mosque, I didn’t find Islam; it found me. — Muhammad Ali, January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016

**********

Pick your favorite quote. Pick your favorite story, favorite recollection, favorite mental image. Maybe you don’t have a favorite. Maybe all of him was too good to boil down to one or a few wonderful attributes.

The world lost another giant – boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died at the age of 74 after battling Parkinson’s disease for several years. Wrote Robert Lipsyte in The New York Times:

Ali was the most thrilling if not the best heavyweight ever, carrying into the ring a physically lyrical, unorthodox boxing style that fused speed, agility and power more seamlessly than that of any fighter before him.

But he was more than the sum of his athletic gifts. An agile mind, a buoyant personality, a brash self-confidence and an evolving set of personal convictions fostered a magnetism that the ring alone could not contain. He entertained as much with his mouth as with his fists, narrating his life with a patter of inventive doggerel. …

Ali was as polarizing a superstar as the sports world has ever produced — both admired and vilified in the 1960s and ’70s for his religious, political and social stances. His refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War, his rejection of racial integration at the height of the civil rights movement, his conversion from Christianity to Islam and the changing of his “slave” name, Cassius Clay, to one bestowed by the separatist black sect he joined, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, were perceived as serious threats by the conservative establishment and noble acts of defiance by the liberal opposition.

Loved or hated, he remained for 50 years one of the most recognizable people on the planet.

Among Muslims, oh was he loved. So loved. Wrote Kameelah Mu-Min Rashad of the Muslim Wellness Foundation:

As descendants of enslaved Africans, we often silently mourn the loss of our native tongue, our heritage, our very identities due to enslavement and centuries of brutality. Yet, great individuals like Muhammad Ali remind us of the enduring resilience, faith and joy of our ancestors. He embodies their amazingly timeless spirit of truth, confidence and spiritual conviction in the face of bigotry and hate. He remains for me, a symbol of what it means to be unapologetically Black and Muslim in America.

Shahed Amanullah, founder of Altmuslim and co-founder and director of Affinis Labs, remembered Ali and wrote this:

I had the opportunity a few years ago to tell Muhammad Ali a story from my childhood. He had entered my mosque in Los Angeles accompanied by several adults who were vying for his attention. He saw a bunch of us by the side, stopped his delegation, came up to us and engaged with us in conversation, doing magic tricks and making sure we all had some face time with him before moving on to his meeting.

This is the essence of the man we just lost today. He had many worldly achievements, but he never lost sight of who he was and what his relationship was with humanity. He’s quoted as saying “the service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”, and he lived this to his last, most recently through the work of the Muhammad Ali Center, which teaches children of all backgrounds the values that made him who he was.

He never forgot where he came from – a proud Black man who lived through (and helped shape) one of the most turbulent episodes in America’s racial history. But he also reached out to others in the spirit of brotherhood, sometimes as a Muslim but always as a fellow human being. He helped define sportsmanship, urban culture, political dissent, faithfulness, and charity.

And now the most beloved American in the world, and the most beloved Muslim in America, has left us. In an age where too many Americans do not see the value of their Muslim neighbors, I hope his passing gives them pause. May we all, from whatever background, achieve the heights that this great man has reached.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (We surely belong to God and to Him we shall return).

Ali was no saint and courted loads of controversy throughout his boxing career. Somehow that made him more human and relatable, a man fighting his own demons and reaching out to God for ultimate guidance. Wrote fomer Altmuslim editor and now Affinis Lab Creative Director Wajahat Ali:

… He could float, sting like a bee, dance in the ring, rap and rhyme like an Original MC, drop his hands and leap forward with a devastating left hook, rope a dope in The Jungle, thrill in Manilla and continue shocking the world like he did in ’65 after knocking out [Sonny] Liston.

Was he the greatest boxer of all time? That’s debatable. Most give it up to Sugar Ray Robinson. Ali definitely wasn’t the strongest. The meanest, hardest most powerful punches belonged to Tyson Shavers Lewis and Foreman.

But Muhammad Ali became something more than a gifted boxer, an Olympic Gold winner, a Heavyweight champion: he became a legend and an icon.

He wasn’t perfect, in fact he was deeply flawed Most icons, when you look closely and rub off the shine, reveal the cracks we often gloss over with nostalgia and hagiography. He was a womanizer, an adulterer, a man whose talents for verbal sparring sometimes veered on abuse and ridicule. He abandoned his friend Malcolm in his time of need but later in life admitted and regretted his mistake. … Later in life he could only show up to public events to offer a smile and a faint wave, a shell of the physical specimen due to the ravages of Parkisons. …

We remember his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, which cost him his boxing license and three prime years of his career.

We remember how he was loathed and feared for converting to the Nation of Islam and changing his name from Clay to Muhammad. But he persevered and never apologized for his faith and community.

The man, Muhammad Ali, was indeed flawed.

But we remember and celebrate Muhamad Ali as The G.O.A.T: The greatest of all time.

Why?

… Because he represented what America is and should be.

The fact that a black man with the most Muslim name ever – Muhammad Ali – has emerged as the most beloved and revered athlete of all time never fails to inspire and move me.

May Muhammad Ali continue inspiring generations to come.

The tributes and remembrances go on and on and on. As one fan noted on Facebook – those in heaven better put on their boxing gloves.


Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Muslim
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment