Ads by Muslim Ad Network

Muhammad Ali, Legacy of Greatness

WASHINGTON – Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, passed away on Friday at a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona, and has been mourned by the world as one of the world’s greatest sportsmen.

“As a child, the first action figure my parents got me was of Muhammad Ali. For my generation, he was perhaps the largest and most influential pop culture icons for African-Americans and Muslims,” Dawud Walid, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, told Al Jazeera on Saturday, June 4.

“In the civil rights era, he stood against the discrimination we’ve all faced in the US. He crystallized that mind-set of resistance and a feeling among many Muslims not to submit to stereotypes; that being Muslim is just as American as being Christian or Jewish.”

Battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years, his death was confirmed by his family in a statement released, saying also that the family “would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and support” and asked for privacy.

The funeral will take place in Ali’s home town of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ads by Muslim Ad Network

Named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr after his father, the sporting champion, who died aged 74, reverted to Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Mohammad Ali, dubbing his former alias, Cassius Clay, “my slave name”.

“They call it the Black Muslims,” said a 22-year-old Clay at the time.

“This is a press word. It is not a legitimate name. But Islam is a religion, and there are 750 million people all over the world who believe in it, and I am one of them.”

After reverting to Islam, Ali joined the Nation of Islam, whose doctrines of racial separation deviate from orthodox Islam.

Later, he converted to mainstream Sunni Islam in 1975, and then to the Sufi sect in 2005.


The now Muslim Muhammad Ali was an inspiration for many.

Citing religious beliefs, he risked his career and reputation to oppose the Vietnam War.

Subsequently, he was arrested for committing a felony. “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he said.

The conflict was broadly popular in the US at that time, and Ali was stripped of his titles, had his boxing license suspended and was found guilty of an offence at a 1967 trial. The US Supreme Court reversed the conviction four years later.

“He was ahead of the curve in calling the Vietnam War wrong and he doesn’t get enough credit for that,” Michael McPherson, director of the anti-war group, Veterans for Peace, told Al Jazeera.

“He was an African-American Muslim who criticised US foreign policy. It’s hard to do that today; but back then, black people had to prove their allegiance, patriotism and belief in America. I wish we had more people who speak out when something is wrong.”

Ali’s radical choices and daring speeches inspired many.

The New York Times columnist William Rhoden wrote: “Ali’s actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete’s greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough.”

“What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?”