From every king luxuriating in a marble palace, to every pauper surviving in an inner city ghetto, everybody knows the name of Muhammad Ali. Everybody knows he floated like a butterfly and he stung like a bee. Everybody knows he rumbled in the jungle and he thrilled in Manilla. And everybody, it seems, is saddened to hear of the passing of the Champ. One of his best qualities was his ability to speak to all, from the classes down to the masses, partly because he stuck to his religious principles. This is just one of the reasons why he will remain an ever present inspiration in the lives of all those he touched.
Ali’s death was a sad, sombre start to the holy month of Ramadhaan, but it united Muslims and non-Muslims alike all over the globe. It also generated a great deal of sympathy for Islam and Muslims. His death was his last moment of defiance. But then, during this blessed Islamic month, all that pro-Muslim goodwill generated by Ali’s death died alongside 49 innocent victims in Orlando, Florida. For it was a Muslim who committed the biggest mass shooting in modern American history at the now infamous Pulse nightclub.
As all the afore mentioned sympathy disappeared, Donald Trump continued to reiterated his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Add to this the constant misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims that seem to exist throughout the populist media, and it is clear we Muslims need an alternative narrative, a narrative that is more reflective of the reality of the vast majority of Muslims living today. That is what Ali provided throughout his life.
For me personally, my heartfelt thanks go out to the Champ for what I consider to be his greatest achievement. Ali managed to demystify the faith of Islam by showing its truly peaceful nature, a view echoed in some of the quotes below.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and others leading Muhammad Ali’s casket to his janazah (funeral) service (AP Photo / David Goldman)
All of the eleven quotes below are taken from the janazah (funeral) service for Ali which took place on Thursday 9th June 2016, at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky (the site of Ali’s first professional fight in his home town). The entire service is worth a watch, especially if you wish to know what happens during a Muslim funeral service. The talks from which the quotes are taken begin at 20m 32s. As much as one can in such a scenario, enjoy…
Something solid, something big, something beautiful and life affirming, has left this world. And it is beyond the capacity of any of us to know if God will ever grace us again with anything that even comes close to the majesty that was Muhammad Ali. – Dr Sherman Jackson
His passing has bought a certain emptiness to the lives of millions of people who never knew him personally. – Dr Sherman Jackson
He taught us that we were beautiful and that what we thought was right or wrong was just as worthy of consideration as what others thought was right or wrong. – Dr Sherman Jackson
There can be no doubt that at the very centre of Ali’s being was Islam. Islam was both a source of his strength and the sustainer of his sense of mission. About this there simply can be no doubt. But beyond what Islam did for Ali, Ali did something for Islam, especially in America. Ali did more to normalise Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States. Of course, Ali was not a theologian, a shaykh, or an imam and because of this some might think that I am overstating my case here. But here is a news flash: most people do not live in the world of the theologians or the scholars, most people live in the world of culture. And while religious scholars play a critical role in preserving the proper understanding of religion, if the prevailing culture does not reinforce and give practical meaning to their teachings, those teachings will find limited application among the masses. It is one thing to teach that God wants people to be charitable to the poor, or that He does not want them to eat pork. It is quite another thing, however, to produce a cultural orthodoxy that makes generosity cool and eating pork uncool. The same applies to standing up for what is right and standing against what is wrong. As a cultural icon Ali made being Muslim cool, Ali made being a Muslim dignified, Ali made being a Muslim relevant. In all of this, he did in a way that no one could challenge his belongingness to or in this country. Ali put the question of whether a person can be a Muslim and American to rest. Indeed he KO’d that question. With his passing let us hope that that question will now be interred with his precious remains. – Dr Sherman Jackson
If you are an American, Ali is part of your history, part of what makes you who you are. Thus as an American Ali belongs to you and you too should be proud of this precious piece of your American heritage. And you should never allow anyone to deny you or disabuse you of your rightful claim to Ali’s legacy. As for the world, who has filled the world with more hope, more inspiration, more empathy, more humility, and more good will than Muhammad Ali? – Dr Sherman Jackson
He put his principles above popularity, his conscience before conformity. And he was willing to pay any price for this belief. He taught us to be free by showing us what it meant to own fortune and glory as a means to serve God but never to let fortune and glory own him. They were in his hands not in his heart. – Dalia Mogahed
He couldn’t be bought or guilted into violating his conscience. – Dalia Mogahed
Ali’s understanding of the Oneness of God, that he would answer only to God, submit only to God, made him see the oneness of humanity. – Dalia Mogahed
So let this day, as we stand here in every colour and creed, let this day help us remember God’s promise: when you seek the pleasure of the people against God, God will make the people displeased with you. But when you seek God’s pleasure in spite of the people, God will make the people pleased with you. – Dalia Mogahed
His confidence and audacity in his early years were equally matched by his humility and compassion in his later life. – Sister Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard
He taught me to understand and accept that God is always in charge, but most importantly he taught me that God Almighty is the Greatest. – Sister Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard
Muhammad Ali was a living example of the greatness of God, of what God can do to a humble servant of His. And if we humble ourselves, if we humble ourselves, and if we can take one thing from the life of Muhammad Ali, if we can humble ourselves, then God is well capable of elevating us. – Imam Zaid Shakir
NB I found it interesting that Dalia Mogahed used the phrase “fortune and glory”. The first time I heard that phrase was as a kid watching the movie Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984). The character Indiana Jones (played, of course, by Harrison Ford) says these exact words in a now famous movie quote. I am not sure if Dalia knew of this when she wrote her eulogy! Interesting nonetheless.