Commentary: Muhammad Ali was the greatest in many ways (East Bay Times)
Whether in his life or death, the legendary hero Muhammad Ali has been and will continue to be a role model for his generation and for future generations of the world. He struggled with Parkinson’s disease for 32 years, and maintained his faith that he must overcome its consequences and continuously engaged in the community as well as peace and justice in the world, which represented his formidable spirit and strong character.
In the 1960s, as many people around the world, I was impressed with the way Ali emerged from the burdens of racial discrimination to winning his first world championship. A friend of mine told me that “Muhammad Ali said that Allah (God) was with him during his boxing match.” Then I became more interested in knowing more about this new Muslim champion. Ali converted to the Nation of Islam and adopted his new name in 1964. However, even then he rejected any differences between peoples on the basis of race or color including what was called “Black Muslims,” who were considered as different from other Muslims.
Ali then confirmed that he was a true Muslim by stating that “… Islam is a religion and there are 750 million people (today there are one-and-a-half billion Muslims) all over the world who believe in it, and I am one of them.” He embraced Sunni Islam in 1975. He, as well as the greatest majority of Muslims all over the world, condemned terrorism and hatred. Recently he was quoted saying ” I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino or any where else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of (the extremists) goes against every tenets of our religion.”
Another aspect of his courage and defense of his principles was his rejection of participating in the Vietnam War. He was considered one of the most prominent conscious objectors in the world. He suffered for his principled position against war, however, history will judge him in a very positive way for rejecting war, as well as violence motivated by hatred, domination or racism.
While working in the United Nations Center against Apartheid, I came to know Ali and world boxing champions who contributed tremendously to the struggle of the people of South Africa against apartheid. I recall that when Ali and other world champions used to come to the United Nations to reaffirm their support for the struggle against apartheid, the United Nations building was converted into a festival to affirm the support of the international community against apartheid. On many occasions Ali, other world boxing champions and the leadership of the World Boxing Council attended the meetings of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid. A boxer presented his championship belt to Nelson Mandela while he was in prison. Once I was asked about the connection between boxing and the struggle against apartheid. I affirmed the fact that sports, in general, and boxing, in particular, depend on the individual’s capabilities.
Many African-Americans who were suffering from discrimination and deprivation found in boxing the opportunity to excel. In the meantime, they as well as peoples all around the world condemned the policies of apartheid, which inflicted tremendous humiliation and suffering on the people of the South Africa. African-American athletes and others around the world boycotted apartheid in sports and spearheaded the international campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa.
Ali described his illness and his devotion to his Creator, “God gave me this illness to remind me that I am not number one, He is.”
It is part of Islamic tradition to recite Al-fatiha (the preamble of the Quran) for the soul of the diseased person, I and many Muslims around the world recited it for the soul of Muhammad Ali. I am sure that people around the world will remember him in their prayers.
Amer Araim is an adjunct professor of political science at Diablo Valley College. He is a former U.N. diplomat and a resident of Walnut Creek.