As a child, I remember sitting with my grandfather watching old tapes of Muhammad Ali’s greatest fights. He would lean forward with enthusiasm and meticulously watch this charismatic athlete float around the ring laying his stings into his opponent. “Did you see that? Blink and you’ll miss it!”
Muhammad Ali violated boxing norms and everything aligned with the sporting world. Light on his feet and quick with fists, he bedazzled his opponents with his shuffle. Even when faced with one of the most impossible bouts of his time, Ali showed the world a total eclipse of the Sonny.
His real power though, was not in his fists but in his conscience. As the world mourns the loss of a historical hero, I wonder how an unapologetically black American named ‘Muhammad’ could be immensely loved and praised by millions the world over. In some ways, Ali mirrors qualities of the last Prophet of Islam; Muhammad peace be upon him. Although centuries spanned between the two, parallels exist between their struggles. Their patient stoicism through trials gave their people hope and strength. Both countercultural revolutionaries brought about proactive change to societal ills. Both faced the inevitable hostility of their society’s entrenched powers. They were admired even by their enemies.
Since the 1960s, Ali became the unofficial spokesman for millions of oppressed black people, he showed us how to use success to better humanity. He wasn’t just a fighter but a truth seeker who changed the status quo. Ali motivated me to chase my dreams, achieve my goals and at times to go against norms as a Muslim girl growing up in the West.
In 1966 Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam war. Consequently, he was exiled from boxing and stripped of his title. He willingly sacrificed three years of his life for socio-political principles, at the height of his competitive, money making prowess. He was a living example of sacrifice and this courageous act taught me to be firm in my beliefs and not allow worldly distractions to deviate my convictions.
The salient quality of both Prophet Muhammad and Ali was their faith and reliance in God. I’ll never forget a striking photograph of Ali in my hometown of London. He was introduced as the heavyweight champion of the world, yet in the corner of the ring stood the humble mountain with hands raised in prayer. In the midst of his glorious title, remembering God. The most important life lesson gained from Muhammad Ali, is to attribute success to God and seek His guidance. Not just in times of distress, but in times of victory.
Despite his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Ali continued to help charities and dispel erroneous stereotypes in a world filled with trumpery and personal agendas. We should never let limitations hinder our ability to seek truth and unite humankind, Ali sure didn’t.
The world’s heart is heavy as we bid farewell to the greatest boxer of all time, the Thriller in Manilla, the Rumble in the Jungle, the People’s Champ. His legacy changed my life and will continue to inspire generations to be better.