Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74, it’s a huge loss for the world, not just for Americans. Muhammad Ali transcended borders and boundaries. Born Cassius Clay Jr., he became Muhammad Ali upon his conversion to Islam and left his “slave name” behind. He took his faith seriously and adhered to the tenets of Islam – specifically to its message of peace and justice, which with our recent ‘wars on terror’; we forget that Islam was originally a religion of peace and justice. It still is a religion of peace, justice and tolerance. But we’d hardly know it as virulent Islamophobia is now the foundation for foreign policies in the West. Islamophobia has been used to justify much bloodshed and killings all in the name of national security. How hard it must have been for Ali to watch this and not be able to speak out about it due to his diminished physical health. This was a man who refused to be drafted into an unjust war on the account of his faith.
He was one of the world’s greatest boxers but that is not what he will be remembered for. He will be remembered as a man of integrity, who freed himself by following his conscience and a man who kept to his principles even at great personal and financial loss to himself. He saw himself as more than just a great boxer, that was just a title. He used his fame and achievements to fight for civil rights of the downtrodden all over the world.
Watching his old fights with my father on grainy videos, I didn’t know a left jab from a right hook or any of the maneuvers he did in the ring. I was bored to tears by boxing. I watched to indulge my father and listened to him enthusiastically comment on the fights. I took his word for it that he really was the greatest boxer in the history of boxing. Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing in his prime because he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War based on conscientious objections on the account of his religion:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
And Ali mopped the floor with the establishment when he said ““I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong…no VietCong ever called me N—–.”
With this one sentence, he articulated the racist, hypocritical and genocidal intent of the United States government. The US government was sending black men (and white men) to bomb the Vietnamese Communists, all in the name of freedom, freeing the Vietnamese from the oppression of communism, but black people in America are being “treated like dogs.” After winning his Olympic gold medal, he wanted to grab some food in a ‘whites only’ restaurant, they told him “we don’t serve n—– here.” He tossed his gold medal into the Ohio River.
Muhammad Ali was the worst nightmare for the establishment. While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sought to work with the establishment (white supremacists) and stage nonviolent protests to end segregation and Jim Crow and kept his message based on the Christian religion of forgiveness and compassion. Ali had no such compunction to speak politically correctly when it came to matters of racism or the Vietnam War. The war was unjust, it’s a phony war, fighting a phoney non-existent enemy, the real enemy is at home. The enemy is white supremacy, not Vietnamese people trying to resist Western Imperialism.
Muhammad Ali’s achievements are many, but his boxing championships don’t feature near the top of what he’ll be remembered for. He was the greatest because he chose peace and freedom over fear of the US government, who stripped his titles and banned him from boxing in his prime boxing years. To Ali, freedom meant following his own conscience. He made his religion, controversial then as it is now as the impetus for his activism. He will not “disgrace” himself or Islam.
Despite all his bravado in and out of the ring, declaring himself to be the greatest baddest (and at times best looking) human being ever, he never lost sight of who the real number one is: “God gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not Number One; He is.”
Rest In Peace.