Muhammad Ali’s fight for his religion inspires Muslims.
The past week has seen the world mourn the death of legendary African-American boxing champion known to most as Muhammad Ali. He passed away at 74 on June 3 in a hospital in Phoenix. His death has once again brought the narrative of his amazing life back on the center stage.
Muhammad Ali, in his time went on to win a gold Olympic medal for the U.S. in the light heavyweight category during the Rome Summer Olympics of 1960 in addition to being the heavyweight title by the age of 22 taking the title from reigning champ Sonny Liston back in Miami in February 1964 in just seven rounds.
These victories are however not the sole reasons for his ‘legend’ status. Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in January 17, 1942 to a Baptist family in Louisville. His background was humble taking that his father was a billboard painter and his mother a domestic worker. He was introduced into the world of boxing by age 12 where he won multiple amateur titles which later led him to the gold Olympics medal.
Ali however lived in very racial times with the rise of the civil rights movements and increased segregation and violence directed at black Americans. He is seen in an interview recounting how after winning his gold medal for the U.S., he was still denied service at a downtown café for being black.
The biggest controversy however is when he announced he had converted to Islam in 1964 right after clinching the heavyweight title. Cassius Clay joined the widely controversial Nation of Islam which was under the leadership of Prophet Elijah Muhammad and renowned civil rights activist Malcom X. He also went on to change from his ‘slave name’ Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. and announced he would officially go by the name Muhammad Ali from then on. All these took the world of sports by storm. This conversion would very fast catapult Ali to being a global ambassador for Islamic community in the U.S.
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) June 10, 2016
With his strong stands against the racial discrimination and the Vietnam War at the time, Ali was banned from boxing by The World Boxing Association for almost four years, a move that took his prime boxing years away from him (25-29). When he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War three years later, he declined to go saying he didn’t understand why he would go to kill the poor in other nations who hadn’t wronged him in any way. For that he got a five year jail sentence, but stayed out on bond while appealing. This sentence was finally unanimously overturned in 1970 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Muhammad Ali is held high by Muslims all around the world for standing strong in his faith amidst criticism, losing his career and even facing jail time. Even after his retirement, Ali has always been outspoken on religious issues. Most recently, he spoke out against the move by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who intends to bar Muslims from getting into the U.S. if elected. He stated that all Muslims should not be judged based on the actions of extremists misusing and misinterpreting the religion of Islam.
Jenazah, the prayer service held on Thursday, saw many of his fans attend it. More than 14,000 tickets were sold for the Thursday service which was held in Louisville, Ali’s hometown.