Boxing legend Muhammad Ali stands with his wife Yolanda as he is introduced before the welterweight fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada in this May 1, 2010 file photo. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Steve Marcus

US Muslims recall Muhammad Ali as hero for their faith

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali stands with his wife Yolanda as he is introduced before the welterweight fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada in this May 1, 2010 file photo. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Steve Marcus

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali stands with his wife, Yolanda, as he is introduced before the welterweight fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, in this May 1, 2010, file photo. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Steve Marcus


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NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) The death of boxing great Muhammad Ali cost American Muslims perhaps their greatest hero, a goodwill ambassador for Islam in a country where their minority faith is widely misunderstand and mistrusted.

"We thank God for him," Talib Shareef, president and imam of the Masjid Muhammad mosque in Washington, told a gathering of Muslim leaders who honored Ali in the capital on Saturday (June 4), a day after he died in a Phoenix hospital at age 74. "America should thank God for him. He was an American hero."

From the turmoil of civil rights and black Muslim movements of the 1960s to the darkest days after Sept. 11, 2001, Ali was a hero that U.S. Muslims could share with part of the American mainstream.

Muslims remembered Ali for many familiar reasons, hailing him as a champion of social justice, a lifelong supporter of charitable works and an opponent of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Moreover, they said, he was a Muslim that a largely Christian country came to admire, even if Ali shocked and scared much of U.S. society after he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay in 1964.

"When we look at the history of the African-American community, one important factor in popularizing Islam in America is Muhammad Ali," Warith Deen Mohammed II, son of the former Nation of Islam leader, said in a statement.


RELATED STORY: Muhammad Ali: Boxing legend, pop icon, Muslim pathbreaker, dead at 74


With some 3.3 million adherents in the United States, Muslims make up about 1 percent of the population, largely immigrants and African-Americans who have embraced the religion.

Although they have integrated into society better than some of their brethren in Europe, American Muslims face hardships even as the United State grows demographically less white and less Christian.

Since 2001, they have suffered backlash from those Americans who equate all Muslims with those who have attacked civilians out of some jihadist cause.

Decades before, black Muslim leaders such as Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X rattled the white establishment as religious and ethnic minorities who demanded equality for their people. Elijah Mohammad preached a version that denounced white oppression and opposed integration of the races.

Ali came to be widely revered, but there was a time when he was rejected, mostly by whites by also by some black leaders for his bold statements against white supremacy and for his refusal to embrace the model epitomized by Martin Luther King, a Christian.

"The sanitizing of Ali's image in recent years has led many to forget that he was reviled by many during the 1960s for his conversion to Islam and for his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. armed forces," said Frank Guridy, a visiting associate professor of history at Columbia University.

"He was seen as a traitor to the United States of America."

In the 1970s, Ali converted to Sunni Islam, the largest denomination among Muslims worldwide, and embraced Sufism, a mystical school of the faith.

At the gathering of Muslim-American leaders in Washington, speaker after speaker remembered him fondly as the Muslim who Americans came to love.

Ali defended Muslims last December, after Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump proposed temporarily stopping Muslims from entering the country in the wake of Islamist militant attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

"Our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam, and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is," Ali said in a statement.

He also used his influence to advocate the release of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who spent 18 months in a Iranian prison, and for Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was captured by Islamic extremists in Pakistan and later beheaded in 2002.

"Muhammad Ali was a gift from God," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, "not only to Muslims but to the world."

Comments

  1. When I ran for public office in 2015, my statement in the Voters Pamphlet began with one of Ali’s most famous quips: “The Viet Cong never called me nigger.” Except the King County (Seattle) authorities censored it, changing the N-word to “nig—.”

    This year I’m running for office again, for Washington State Governor. I had a copy of last year’s Voters Pamphlet statement (uncensored), along with a photo of Ali on the home page of my campaign website @ http://www.governor5.com when I learned of his passing.

    As a political activist, I have tremendous admiration and respect for Ali. I’m just disgusted by all the Democratic warhawks who are giving him false praise. I’d love to see Muhammad Ali, the boxer, give Obama and Hillary what they deserve – a bone-crunching punch in the face.

  2. It amazes me how these Muslim leaders extolling Muhammed Ali today, can so easily forget that Ali belonged to the Black Musllim faction who opposed Malcolm X, and were widely believed to be responsible for his death. “Refusal to embrace the Martin Luther King, Jr. model,” indeed! It’s a stubborn FACT that Ali was an early-on popularizer of a violent religion that’s currently at the center of all the bloody Sunni Muslim-on-Shia-Muslim conflicts in the Mideast.

  3. I think mostly because Ali transcended the vile pettiness of that sect with his actions.

    His appeal for the life of the reporters in 2002 went without any support of the Nation of Islam. It was simply a Muslim man pleading for humanity from fellow Muslims. A decent man doing a decent thing on his own. He literally talked a man down from suicide in Los Angeles many years ago. He took a public stand for his principles and suffered for it. Real principles concerning his life, not whining how others should live. (As opposed to the phony baloneys invoking “deeply held beliefs” these days)

    Ali was a far better person than Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan ever were. It is their shame that they could not live to Ali’s standard.

    Living proof you judge a person by their actions, not stereotypes about their faith, color or background.

  4. Trying to decide how crazy you are before deciding if it’s worth it to report you to the Secret Service.

  5. You want to report me to the Secret Service, and you’re wondering if I’M crazy??? Dude, please report me. I dare you.

  6. Why shouldn’t I? You threatened two protectees with physical violence.

  7. I wrote, “I’d love to see Muhammad Ali, the boxer, give Obama and Hillary what they deserve – a bone-crunching punch in the face.”

    If you’ve been following current events, you ought to know Muhammad Ali is DEAD.

    Now hurry up and place that call. I’m dying to see the Secret Service’s reaction. 😉

  8. “what they deserve” is the critical part of your phrasing.

  9. I’m getting awfully bored waiting for the Secret Service to show up.

  10. I never said I was contacting them, I said I was thinking about it.

  11. I didn’t much care for the early Cassius Clay. I thought he was an arrogant, loudmouth and braggart. In fact, he was. But he grew up.

    After he became Muhammed Ali he continued to use his mouth as a tool like he used the rest of his body in the ring. I respected his draft denying. He certainly carried that out with much more honesty, grace and dignity than the GWB administration’s load of neocon chickenhawks.

    Ali’s conversion to the Nation of Islam made sense to me in those times, as did his later switch to Sunnism when the Nation of Islam went completely off the rails, becoming ever more hateful under Farrakhan.

    I have a great deal of respect for the legacy Muhammed Ali created and left for us. He was a good man.

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