Muhammad Ali is a name that is often associated with greatness. His recent passing is a true loss to the world. Ali is a personal hero of mine. I feel that he is the closest to a superhero in our modern history.
But how was it that this black man from Louisville, Kentucky managed to capture the hearts of millions? Was he not just a boxer? Why do so many people think of him as a hero?
Let’s look at his life as a boxer first. All of us can attest to the fact that we all wish to excel in our unique endeavors. By looking at others excelling in what they do can only uplift others to shine their own light.
Ali truly excelled in the boxing ring. In 1964, at the age of 22, Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston which earned him the world’s heavyweight championship. For a black man born into a working class family, this was no trivial victory.
How did Ali manage to achieve so much with such limited resources? In his own words:
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Our will needs to be stronger than our skill to achieve the kind of greatness Ali achieved in the boxing ring.
But was his fighting spirit limited to just the boxing ring and the gyms?
What Ali fought for outside the boxing ring was what made him a true warrior. To him, boxing was always just a vehicle to speak out for bigger things.
His stance for social justice and equality is what attracted so many people to this man. Ali’s courage to speak out against the discrimination towards black people had paved the way for many other black athletes to have the opportunities that they have today.
Most people forget that Ali was born at a time when black people were told they can’t do much to progress in society. A lot of sports and professions were off limits if you were black. Ali lived at a time where he would be denied service at a restaurant for being black, and his late friend Malcolm X was told by teachers that a black man should not have lofty dreams to be lawyers.
For him to speak out against this flawed system took a lot of courage. He shook the very foundation of a corrupt system that is still in need of work up till today.
To me, his most courageous act was when he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. When he refused to be inducted into the army his heavyweight title was stripped off him and his passport was revoked so he could not be able to fight overseas. He lost everything by refusing to go to war.
His reasoning was simple. In his own words.
“You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me at home”
Ali was accused of being unpatriotic but he stood for freedom, peace, and democracy. All the principles America advocates.
How could any nation proclaim to stand for these principles when they deny them to their own citizens?
Ali’s refusal to go to war reflects the spirit and practice of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The Prophet in his lifetime was promised by the Quraysh all the worldly gains men desire. He was offered money, women, and power if he would stop preaching his message of peace. The Prophet responded to this offer by stating that even if they put the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left he would not stop preaching the message.
This was the spirit Ali stood for when he said no to Vietnam. In many interviews, Ali said time and time again it was his religion that forbids him to go out killing innocent people. The number one greeting in Islam is peace.
This spirit is what led him to be one of my favorite poets and writers of our time. Muhammad Ali, the poet and writer is not as popular as Muhammad Ali, the boxer, but if you give any of his books a read, you will know that this man truly stood for peace, justice, equality, and truth. That is what made him an amazing writer. His writings showed the content of his character.
Ali may not have been a literary genius but he was genuine through and through in everything that he did. This is evident in this poem:
“I hope that one day all nations great and small will be able to stand up and say we live in pursuit of peace for all. Maybe that there will come a day when instead of saying, “God bless America,” or “God bless some other country”, everyone everywhere will say, “God bless the world” -Muhammad Ali, The Soul of a Butterfly.-
Most people are sad that such a great man has left us. I felt the loss when I heard the news too, but I was also happy for him that he is now with his Lord. He has left us with such a great legacy that I feel if we were to carry the torch forward then he wouldn’t really be gone. The greatest is yet to come if we can take small lessons from the life of Muhammad Ali, a true poet warrior of our time.