By Ismail Omar
Muhammad Ali was not born a Muslim. He did not look like a Muslim. But he truly became one. In the real sense. In so becoming he also became the best ambassador of Islam in the last century. In an age when being a Muslim is also being a pariah, he showed that you could still become a Muslim commanding the adoration of the whole world. He showed to Muslims that it is POSSIBLE.
That is his greatest legacy to Islam.
Historians will record that during the dark age of the Muslim world when Muslims around the world were at one another’s throats in pursuit of thrones of power and domains and reduced Islam to being merely a tool in that quest, a means to ignoble ends, from Muslim social and political institutions to theological sanctuaries, one man arose from the recent shadows of American slavery to become an icon of principle and still endear himself to the entire world, from mullah to muezzin, from pygmy to Pathan, from commoner to king.
It took an unknown boxing athlete from an unknown background bearing the name of a slave master long forgotten, a braggart with a tongue slicker than his punch, not only to live up to his brag but to take the world by storm and to inspire the downtrodden from America to Africa, the Middle east to Asia. One hell of a feat for a small town athlete with little more than an ability to throw a punch in a boxing ring.
He gave new life to a dying sport. More than that, he lent sheer beauty and awe inspiring skill of style to a sport of brute. For a few short years he graced the boxing ring with the elegance of a dance floor. A feat unlikely to be repeated.
Yet the greatest punch the great man threw was not in a boxing ring, but at the imperial gladiator in the world arena when he refused to fight in Vietnam, at a price of sacrificing the magic that was Muhammad Ali. A feat that will long be remembered as the price one man paid for a principle. America has lost a treasure in its bosom whose true worth it has still yet to realize, humanity has seen the passing of one if it’s rare specimens, the Muslim world has lost its greatest iconic role model in modern history.
I shed a tear not for the Muhammad Ali who must be so pleased with his Creator as His Creator with him, I shed a tear for the world which is so much the poorer without the Muhammad Ali who showed millions of young people everywhere that no goal was unachievable, that no title was greater than a principle, that no example of humility as striking as his by acknowledging on becoming “the greatest” that he submitted to One greater than him. This Muhammad did justice to his leader like few in his day and age did. He too came from an unlettered background born into a modern version of jaahilya (ignorance), and taught the world that true nobility comes from humility, real greatness comes from acknowledging True Greatness. The man who in his greatest hour of triumph found contentment not in a world at his feet but in a sajda (prostration) before his Lord. Who placed his safety not in a bodyguard but in Him who watches over all of us.
This towering colossus of our century graced the world barely noticeable. He changed the mindset of a nation not by words or goals but by sheer conduct. A David who shied not from a fight with Goliath, either inside or outside a ring. He showed endurance for punishment to prove that sheer determination can still triumph. He showed that the street of restaurants which would not serve him because of the colour of his skin could be changed to bear his very name and be lined with presidents and dignitaries to lead him on his final journey to his resting place and to history.
He takes with him a part of every Muslim heart, for each time he mounted a podium he restored somewhat a shattered Muslim dignity and pride. He brought honour to the name Muhammad at a time when its detractors took arrogant pride in defiling it. Muhammad Ali the man who refused to allow his name on the pave walks of the famous and the celebrated so as not to allow his revered namesake’s honour to be trampled upon.
He showed us there is a better way to win the hearts and minds of people. Not through a boxing ring but by following the Seerah (Way of the Prophet PBUH). The braggart who became the epitome of humility when he submitted to the Will of his Lord.
We pray Allah reserve for him a place in the shadow of the one whose name and honour he held so high and refused mere mortals to trample and dishonour in a world where others made it a provocative duty to do so. .
May Allah be pleased with this giant of a man.
Hamba Khahle,the Louisville Lip whose lips went on to proclaim the Oneness of Allah for the whole world to hear.
Ismail Omar is an executive member of activist group, House of Ummah, Durban.