Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died on Saturday at the age of 74, after battling with Parkinson’s disease for over 32 years. Nicknamed “the greatest”, the three-time heavyweight champion led a life fighting ferociously both inside and outside the ring.
One of his first moves as a champion of minority rights in the United States came in 1964 when he announced his decision to convert to Islam. Known as Cassius Clay back then, he took up the name of Muhammad Ali while embracing Islam. Ali’s conversion gave a fresh lease of life to Islam in America. He was a hero to Muslims, both in America and in the post-colonial world.
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However, his strongest attack against violation of human rights was when he vehemently refused being conscripted in the US army to fight in the Vietnam war. Despite knowing the prospect of being put behind bars for his refusal, Ali stood firm on his decision.
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“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? …How can I shoot them poor people, Just take me to jail,” argued Ali as he was being pressurized from both the US government and the boxing associations he was part of, to agree to army conscription.
Soon after his refusal, the New York Boxing Commission, the World Boxing Association and the Texas Boxing Commission withdrew their recognition of him as champion.
Further, he was sentenced to five years in prison and was fined $10,000. While he stayed out on bail, his passport was taken away from him and he was not allowed to fight within the US till 1970.
The Vietnam war episode was a huge setback to Ali’s boxing career. He lost out on three precious years of his professional life and even when he returned, he was not in the best of shape. However, he continued to inspire people with his zealous spirit and resolution to fight against all odds.
In 1981 Ali made news when he saved an unknown man in Los Angeles from committing suicide.
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In recent times, he once again made his political stance on minority rights clear, when he criticized Donald Trump for his remarks on the Muslim community.
Ali’s compassionate nature and fiery disposition is most evident in his personally penned-down epilogue that stands tall at London’s O2 centre.
I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times. Who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him. And who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all of humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much then I guess I’d settle for being remembered as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.