By Dr. M Qutubuddin, Chicago
I had the privilege of being friend to the legendary Muhammad Ali, widely regarded as the greatest boxer of all time, for nearly three decades, spanning from the 1980s until his passing. I reside in South Bend, 30 miles away from his residence. Our friendship was one deeply rooted in shared values, particularly our devotion to Islam.
Fridays held a special significance in our friendship. Muhammad Ali would often visit my home to perform the Friday prayers at our mosque. Following the prayers, we would gather at our house for a meal, and this tradition continued for many years. It was during these moments that we engaged in heartfelt conversations about Islam, the Islamic world, and various other topics. His connection to Islam was profound and unmistakable. His thoughts, his demeanour, and everything about him reflected his deep faith.
Muhammad Ali possessed a remarkable ability to connect with people of all ages. He approached interactions with love and humour, making even young children feel like cherished family members. His warmth and kindness left an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to meet him. He had a particular fondness for Indian cuisine, fragrances, and culture. He was especially moved by the naats (poems praising the Prophet Muhammad) and Hamd (hymns praising Allah) that are intrinsic to Islamic traditions. His attentiveness extended to gatherings and processions commemorating Sirat-ul-Nabi and Maulid Nabi, and he took great pleasure in the poetry of Allama Iqbal.
His love for Islam and the Prophet Muhammad was unwavering. Whenever conversations turned to Allah and His messenger, Muhammad Ali’s eyes would glisten with emotion. He held the utmost reverence for the Prophet Muhammad and spoke of him with the deepest respect.
Beyond our personal interactions, Muhammad Ali extended his passion for Islam to the wider community. He would visit the United States Fair, where he tirelessly distributed brochures titled “Know Islam, Know Muhammad” to fellow Americans.
His warm greetings and friendly demeanour touched the hearts of those he encountered. People found it hard to believe that a man of such stature and fame could be so humble and approachable. His message of love resonated with everyone he met. He embodied the spirit of mercy, following in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Muhammad Ali often remarked that he would be remembered as a man who knew no fear, and his prediction proved true. On June 9, 2016, this fearless man, with a “never give up” attitude, departed from this world.
His legacy as a great Muslim and his contributions to Islam in America will be remembered for generations to come. In this part of the world, people will forever cherish the memory of the extraordinary man who left a legacy of goodness and love.