Muhammad Ali “the Greatest” is no more. He ultimately lost the fight with Parkinson’s Disease after absorbing its punches for more than three decades. He was surely one of the greatest sportsmen of all times whose fame as three times Heavyweight Boxing champion was enough to make him counted among the greatest sportsmen of all times. But what made him the legendary icon was his fight against racism and his conversion to Islam. His new found religious belief gave him the courage to refuse to join America’s bloody war against Vietnam. The religion, which is today maligned by the rapacious West as an ideology of violence, made Ali refuse to be a party to the killing of the innocents. He had once said; “I’m a Muslim. I’ve been a Muslim for 20 years. . . . You know me. I’m a boxer. I’ve been called the greatest. People recognize me for being a boxer and a man of truth. I wouldn’t be here representing Islam if it were terrorist. . . . I think all people should know the truth, come to recognize the truth. Islam is peace.” And it was no surprise that the person who in his heydays enjoyed calling himself “greatest” later started saying, “No, God is the Greatest”.
The tactics he used in the boxing ring were also freely used outside it when he would deliver wordily punches on his opponents. From “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; the hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.” to unflattering nicknames of his opponents like “the big ugly bear,” (for Sonny Liston) “the washerwoman” (for George Chuvalo), “the Rabbit” (for George Chuvalo) and “the Acorn” (Earnie Shavers), he would also deliver fiery punches on political issues.
The great thing about Muhammad Ali’s Islam was that he used it as a system of social transformation rather than simply as a system of belief, He said that “Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.” His fight against racism had made him a hero in the black population throughout the world. Giving reasons for his joining Vietnam War, he had said :
“Shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They never put dogs on me. They didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. What do I want to shoot them for, for what? Why do I want to go shoot them, poor little people and babies and children and women? How can I shoot them? Just take me to jail.”
These words did not just reflect the reasons for his refusal but also meant to convey the hurt the Blacks had to face throughout the world including America. Once he said that “Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”
And how beautifully he summed up the message of Islam: “Allah’s the Arabic term for God. Stand up for God, fight for God, work for God and do the right thing, and go the right way, things will end up in your corner.”