By Michael Saahir
June 6, 2016
An-Najm (The Star) 53:39-42: That man can have nothing but what he strives for; That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight:- Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete; That to thy Lord is the final Goal; (Y. Ali)
On January 17, 1942 Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. emerged on the world scene as the son of Cassius and Odessa “Birdie” Clay. Over the next 74 years and 5 months this new born babe would grow to be known as “The Greatest of All Time.” Allah has revealed that human beings are created to grow stage by stage. However, with the life of Cassius Marcellus Clay, who evolved to become Muhammad Ali, his stages of challenging developments were witnessed by humanity around the globe. Muhammad Ali’s ability to time and again to champion life’s many challenges made him a model of success for down-trodden people around the world.
The measure of a man or woman’s greatness is not best measured by their personal achievements but more so by how their personal achievements improve the lives of other people. Muhammad Ali’s personal achievements made him “great” only because his personal successes always extended to become achievements in the heart and souls of others. His achievements transcended racial, gender, ethnic and nationalistic lines and barriers. His greatness was always shared with others. That is why Muhammad Ali is the quintessential champion – the people’s champion; therefore, he is the champion of champions.
After winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics the then Cassius Clay became the world’s Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1964 by defeating the seemingly unbeatable Charles “Sonny” Liston. A young 22 year old Ali exclaimed to the astonishment of the boxing world, “I shook up the world!”
The Holy Qur’an teaches, “When you are free from one task, immediately seek another.” For the rest of Ali’s life it seems that a succession of struggles came his way; struggles that were played out in the public arena for the entire world to witness.
The next challenge Ali had to champion was his battle for his religious belief and stance. Many white Americans did not like him associating with Minister Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. This disdain for his religion was compounded as many Americans rejected Clay denouncing his birth names as a “slave name” in exchange for the Islamic “holy name” of Muhammad Ali.
Ali championed his fights in the boxing ring; however, it is his fights outside the ring that manifested the true greatness of Muhammad Ali as witnessed with his stand for his religious convictions and him accepting his new name from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Not enough is said about the positive and immeasurable contributions of Mr. Elijah Muhammad upon the life of Muhammad Ali. In a December 2001 Reader’s Digest interview conducted by Howard Bingham, Ali readily revealed his continued admiration for Elijah Muhammad. Bingham asked Ali, “Now, after you were older, who influenced your life and the beliefs that you have?” Ali replied, “After I started boxing, Sugar Ray Robinson. And my idol was a man named Elijah Muhammad. [His] Islamic teaching is what made me so confident.”
Ali remained faithful to the Nation of Islam until 1975 when Elijah Muhammad died. Ali then followed Elijah Muhammad’s son, Wallace Deen into a universal practice of Islam.
Rather if he was fighting in the boxing ring or in the public arena Ali continued to strive against great odds, speaking boldly as he championed his life challenges. Even his enemies – after observing that Ali was much more than a braggadocios young fighter began to admire him.
The young folks loved Muhammad Ali. Those who were down-trodden loved Ali, but in some sectors of society Ali’s list of enemies grew especially when he refused to be drafted into the Viet Nam war declaring that he was a conscientious objector. The non-stop life challenges did not deter Ali from his faith in Islam and for his leader Elijah Muhammad. Ali continued to strive.
When Ali refused to be drafted he was stripped of his heavyweight boxing titled and faced the possibility of prison time for refusing to be drafted into the Viet Nam war. Nonetheless Ali stood strong as a man of faith and principle who disbelieved in killing. In 1970, after struggling for three years he finally regained his boxing license. Eventually his claim to be a conscientious objector was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. Another major challenge championed by Ali, all to the admiration of down-trodden people around the world.
From 1970 through 1975 Muhammad Ali is front and center of some of the world’s best boxing battles in history. His fights with Ken Norton, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and the big, bad seemingly unbeatable George Foreman will be mentioned by boxing enthusiasts for decades, maybe even for centuries. Many people will agree that Ali stands head and shoulder over these noble boxers as the GOAT, the “Greatest of All Times”. However, Ali’s next foe would prove to be an even bigger challenge; Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosed in 1984 Ali was entering into what would be a 32 year battle with Parkinson’s before his passing on June 3, 2016. Parkinson’s disease effects the motor skills, still Ali refused to give in to this formidable challenged as witnessed on July 19, 1996 when he lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali maintained a vigorous schedule traveling and lending his name and face to many charitable causes around the world, and speaking against terrorism. It is reported that his wife Lonnie said, "Even though Muhammad has Parkinson's and his speech isn't what it used to be, he can speak to people with his eyes. He can speak to people with his heart, and they connect with him."
Again the world rejoiced as Ali lit the Olympic torch. With tears of admiration flowing from the eyes of millions of fans, the world once again witness this quintessential champion bringing pride and confidence to people around the world. His lighting of the Olympic torch also lit the heart and soul of humanity.
Ali’s greatness may have begun in the boxing ring, but that was only his place of preparation for world greatness. Throughout his life Ali continued to receive numerous awards including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2005.
Ali was a man who lived his faith for all to see on a world stage. He publicly lived the words of the Qur’an his holy book that reads, That man can have nothing but what he strives for; That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight:- Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete; That to thy Lord is the final Goal.