Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali – In Memoriam

"I am the greatest! I shook up the world! I'm the prettiest thing that ever lived!" 

- Cassius Clay, 1964

"I Ain't Got No Quarrel With The VietCong... No VietCong Ever Called Me Nigger" 

- Muhammad Ali, 1966

It is refreshing and downright encouraging to see the outpouring of love and respect, by the American press and the American public... toward a Muslim. As we have seen in the political arena, such has not been the case... as of late. Clearly, Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 - June 3, 2016) is America’s favorite Muslim… even before his passing. He is perhaps best remembered and beloved for transcending his fame as a boxer to become a champion of Civil Rights. Indeed, his transcendence went beyond race and religion as Ali is today best loved as a humanitarian, worldwide.

Muhammad Ali was beautiful and flamboyant. He hit the world stage in the early 60’s with a never-before-seen bravado. In his pre and post fight antics, he both foreshadowed and pioneered Rap and hip-hop culture, with unrivaled media savvy… To Wit: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.” And… “I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail, I'm bad man....Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick.”

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in an upset in 1964. Shortly after that, Clay converted to Islam, changed his "slave" name to Ali, and gave a message of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

In 1962, Clay met Malcolm X, who soon became his spiritual and political mentor. By the time of the first Liston fight Nation of Islam members, including Malcolm X, were visible in his entourage. This led to a story in The Miami Herald just before the fight disclosing that Clay had joined the Nation of Islam, which nearly caused the bout to be canceled.

In 1966, two years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali further antagonized the white establishment by refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed in the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971.

“I ain’t draft dodging... I ain’t burning no flag... I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die.
You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese...

You my opposer when I want freedom.
You my opposer when I want justice.
You my opposer when I want equality.

Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home.”

- Muhammad Ali, 1966

Muhammad Ali rose to fame as a fighter... but it was his humanitarianism that truly made him great. This blogger will leave his phrase for those more eloquent than I. In his passing, I will say this... the marking of Ali's death serves as a reminder for us all… to put aside hate and fear… to embrace the goodness and justice that, I believe, is inherent in all of humanity. In this day and age of ethnic fear-mongering and outright xenophobia… we can all take a lesson from “The Greatest” in remembering that we are all one. At this most critical, consequential time in this tattered old planet's evolution... we are all in this together.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room, here on Earth.”

- Muhammad Ali

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