The recent merciless events in Paris clearly demonstrate once more how some Muslims have no regard for humanity. As my still-believing heart breaks yet again I am reminded of a Muslim who is the opposite of those killers who stalked the Parisian streets, someone who is a defender and lover of all humanity.
Muhammad Ali is someone I have blogged about before (here and here) and will no doubt blog about again. I came across this amazing fact about Ali: by 1980, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Muhammad Ali had surpassed Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, and Napoleon as the most written-about person in history, a point repeated by Oprah Winfrey in one of her TV shows.
Below are three videos, all transcribed as usual, about Muhammad Ali. The first is my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf speaking about the Islamic character of Ali. The second is another Muslim scholar, the brilliant Dr Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson, himself a black American man, who reflects on the impact of Muhammad Ali and the value of sincere, principled service. The third clip is the man himself talking about his ‘bodyguard’.
I’ve also added two bonus clips, one where Ali, way back in the 1970’s, speaks about a black man being president. The other is Ali trying to explain the basics of creation and a Creator. Enjoy!
Muhammad Ali Following The Sunnah – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
I have done my own poll of asking people of different nationalities and different countries: who is the most beloved athlete of the 20th century? Almost invariably every person that I have asked, without thinking, has said Muhammad Ali. And I say, “Isn’t it interesting that a black man who is a Muslim and has the name ‘Muhammad’ is the most beloved athlete in the world? Why is that?”
The reason I believe is very simple: he embodies, in his own way, certain aspects of the sunnah of his Prophet. Even those who fought the Prophet Muhammad, secretly admired him. They secretly admired him.
Because Muhammad Ali was beautiful, he was beautiful to look at. When he smiled, that smile penetrated the hearts of even people that didn’t like him. He had absolute self-confidence. When he spoke, he spoke with complete certainty. He had no self-doubts.
When the microphone was stuck in his face after fighting a very intense fight with Sonny Liston at the age of 22, when most boxers would have had eyes so swollen you could not see them, and they would be so dumbed and dazed by being pulverised by the heavyweight champion of the world. When Cassius Clay had that microphone put in front of his face, what did he tell the world? And the world was listening. He said: “I’m 22 years old, I don’t have a scratch on my face, and I’m beautiful. I talk to God every day, I must be the greatest! I just beat Sonny Liston.”
Because all the odds were against him. Muhammad Ali was a winner. He was a winner. Even when he lost, he was a winner. Because we forget that losers can be winners, and the Prophet was always winning. When he went to [the village of] Ta’if and they mocked him, they threw stones at him, they caused his feet to bleed. What did he say in his dua [prayer]? “O Lord of the oppressed, who will You leave me with? To an enemy that will treat me like that? To some distant person who knows nothing of me? If You are not angry with me, I have no concerns.”
That is the dua of the Prophet, in what appeared to be the lowest point of his mission. His point was: this is all from You and I recognise that, because this is the nature of the struggle.
Muhammad Ali: Courage & Principled Service
I want to start by just pointing out that service, if it’s to be meaningful, it has to be principled. People who are not sincere, they will often try to fool society, they will try to manipulate society, even exploit society, all in the name of service. They want to bring society to a point where society feels a debt to them for the service that they have allegedly offered, where in point of fact what they’re really doing is making a down payment on the pursuit of their own interests.
And what we have to understand is that as a Muslim community, for our service to be meaningful, for it to have a long term effect, for it to be transformative of the society in which we live, it must be principled. And that means that in our offering of service we have to be people of character, not just people of interests, and we cannot fall into the service discourse just in order to buy a little positive press or to deflect a little bit of negative attention. We have to truly be like those people about whom Allah says in the Qur’an…“We feed you for the sake of God, we do not want from you either any reward or any remunerative thanks. We do this for the pleasure of God.”
And I think that as Brother Dawud said, one of the things that we have to understand about non-Muslim Americans: they’re not stupid. And if we want to talk about building alliances, being able to enlist the goodwill of non-Muslims in society, we have to be people that demonstrate courage and principled commitment. That is what will bring the best out of non-Muslims in America.
I remember a story written by a sports writer and he was talking about Muhammad Ali, who I hope we will all keep in our dua, and Muhammad Ali at the time had been stripped of his title…you have got to remember this is a man in his 20’s, his 20’s, forfeiting millions. I remember every time I see it on television I get tears in my eyes. Muhammad Ali is sitting on television, he has this big FOI hat on, and they say “Well, you know, you’re going to be stripped of your title and you may go to prison.” And he said the following: “Well, whatever the consequences maybe, I will not renounce the religion of Islam. I’m ready to die. If they put me before a firing squad tomorrow, I’m ready to die.”
That’s what he said. This sports writer said this, he said: “My father was not a man who was all that given to all this civil rights jazz. And in fact my father in the last election voted for George Wallace.”
The man who said what? “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
He voted for George Wallace! When he saw Muhammad Ali make that statement, you know what he said? He said: “You know, I don’t really know a lot about this young man, but a man gets very few opportunities to stand up in life and be a man, and this man is standing up and being a man.”
And you know who his father voted for in the next election? George McGovern, the most liberal candidate perhaps, I won’t say most, but a very, very liberal candidate. He was transformed by the sincerity that he saw in Muhammad Ali, being willing to stand up and sacrifice for his own values.
This is the model that we as a Muslim community must follow in America. So when it comes to service we must be sincere in our service. We must be people of character, we cannot be simply people of interest and we should not be misled by the seemingly short term gains that will ultimately undermine us in the long term. And we should not be misled by this.
Non-Muslim Americans are a lot like Nietzsche, the German philosopher. Nietzsche once said: “My genius is in my nostrils, I can smell them a mile away.” And non-Muslim Americans, especially when it comes to religious people, they can smell insincerity a mile away.
And let us not be like the man who goes down into the manhole and spends all day there and his clothing absorbs all the stench of the manhole, but when he comes out he can’t smell it, and therefore he thinks other people can’t smell it. We should not be that kind of a community, we have to be a community of a principal.
Who’s Your Bodyguard? – Muhammad Ali
Michael Parkinson: Do you have a bodyguard?
Muhammad Ali: No, I have One bodyguard. He has no eyes though He sees. He has no ears though He hears. He remembers everything with the aid of mind and memory. When He wishes to create a thing, He just orders it to be and it comes into existence, but this order does not convey the words which takes the tongue to form like our sound carries ears. He hears the secrets of those on the quite thoughts. He stops those whom…who’s that? That’s God, Allah. He’s my bodyguard. He’s your bodyguard. He’s the Supreme, The Wise.
Muhammad Ali Predicts Obama Presidency in 1971
Muhammad Ali giving an amazing speech