Veteran Durban Journalist Farook Khan recounts his close friendship with Muhammad Ali and how he drove the champ to the home of assassinated ANC leader Chris Hani on the day he landed in SA.
World boxing champion Muhammad Ali’s funeral was the largest Islamic exposition the world has known yet.
For the better part of a week, most international television news channels repeated Allah’s name and that of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) countless times. Two third’s of the world population heard it loud and clear over the radio, in newspapers and television channels from Iceland in the North to Cape Point in the South.
Despite all their hatred churned out in the mass media about Islam, Ali’s death wiped that out and showed what true Islam was all about. And yet, he did not say a single word.
His ultimate point was: ‘We are all one’.
Religions need not divide us and that often quoted verse from the Quran, that Allah has made us different so that we could know and love another, was clearly demonstrated at his memorial gathering in Louisville, Kentucky.
Even the enemies of Islam turned up and watched red faced, embarrassed and shamed as humanity gathered in one single purpose. It was Ali’s funeral all right, but they all acknowledged that we are all Allah’s creation.
All the drones unleashed by Barack Obama, David Cameron, and their counterparts in France and all of Western Europe and the terror wreaked on the people of Syria and the “constitutionalized violence” against the people of Palestine were exposed once and for all as crimes against Islam.
Why would so many people, an estimated one million who lined the streets of Louisville and who turned out in an array of places of worship around the world to pledge their support not for Ali, but Islam?
What is it, that Muhammad Ali, the only man to win the heavyweight boxing title three times, each time over 15 rounds do so special that he earned the respect of the world and showed the true power of Islam ?
For forty years, I followed Muhammad Ali around the world and watched him work from the most horrendous slums from Karachi to Soweto to learn the secrets of leadership.
He told me: “Service to others is the rent we pay for the room we have on this Earth.”
Years later, when I came face to face with the great Ayatollah Khomeini at his home in Qom, he said, “It is our fortune to serve.”
Two great Muslims, in two separate worlds, with the same message.
Both men put Islam on the front pages of most anti-Islam newspapers in the world, captured hours of prime time television and days on end on radio talk programmes.
When the two men met, both confessed that neither was a super being, in fact they bowed and praised the mercies of Allah.
Both men played profound roles in the South African liberation struggle.
Ali went to the capitals of the world from Moscow to Washington and demanded that they dis-invest in South Africa. He confronted oil companies and shamed them for taking the money of people of colour when they could not even go to the toilets in their service stations on the national roads.
Ayatollah Khomeini demanded that Iran sell off Sasol and return the money that the Shah had invested in apartheid South Africa – even at fire sale prices. He also insisted that the shares be sold only to people of colour. It realized a mere R20 million.
In 1993 Ali arrived on the very morning that Chris Hani was murdered. If it were anyone else, they would have got on the next plane out. Ali insisted that I take him to the house of the bereaved family.
Who would forget the day, that Ali drove into what is now Soccer City and stopped at Hani’s coffin and made a dua – for a communist.
That is the kind of Islam Power he carried and he was not scared of anyone in this world.
Like he told the Supreme Court of the United States: “I will only go to war if ordered to by Allah.”
And then told the full bench that they could send him to jail for life and throw away the keys. In fact, he said, “I will die for Islam.”
Muhammad Ali is now in the hereafter, I will never forget that morning when I got up and received this message: “Muhammad Ali has returned to Allah.”
The rest of the world took the cue – his death gave Islam its greatest boost in what is regarded as an Era of Darkness.