A year ago, on June 3 2016, the world bid adieu to one of the biggest names in not just boxing, but world sport. Muhammad Ali breathed his last, leaving his legions of fans with memories of a lifetime nonetheless.
Ali’s prowess as a boxer was unmatched for his time. He brought grace and style to a sport considered violent and ugly. His bouts with Joe Frazier would forever be etched in the annals of history. His sheer skill and exuberance put him on a level above everybody else, and made him not just a boxing icon but a global sporting icon.
Ali’s sheer brilliance as a boxer was unmatched, but what made him more than just a sportsman was the human that Ali was. It is amazing that Ali, who was as dangerous as they come inside the ring, would go on to become the greatest anti-War pacifist the US would ever see. His legendary quote on his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War is a thorough condemnation of racism, war and imperialism, whilst also being a prolific assertion of individual rights. He could have taken the conventional stance, but he chose uncomfortable positions that did not sit easy with the consensus. It is in taking positions on sensitive issues he transcended from celebrated athlete to great public figure.
Ali must also be remembered as the world’s most famous convert to Islam. Soon after winning the Heavyweight title in 1964, the 22-year-old Cassius Clay would drop what he called his “slave name” and be known as Muhammad Ali. All of this coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and the Nation of Islam sect, which should be considered with regards to the backdrop in which he converted
The conversion to Islam was not just a moment of attention seeking or some publicity stunt. He stayed with the faith whose most pronounced message is egalitarianism. After 9/11 Ali would say that “it were racist fanatics” and not “real Muslims” behind those appalling attacks. He had responded to Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US by stating “True Muslims know that the jihadists go against the very tenets of our religion”.
What also must be noted is how Ali was flexible in his understanding and interpretation of his adopted faith. He was open to accommodate change and in picking and choosing his understanding of Islam, as times (and mindsets) progressed.
If America wants to look at Muslims, let them look at Ali. If the world wants to look at Americans, let them also look at Ali. He represented the best amongst any race, any religion, any creed and any country. That is why he was and will always be one of the greatest humans to have lived on the planet.