America just lost a true hero in Muhammad Ali. Although he wasn’t lacking for ego, he definitely made up for it with his many acts of charity and his humanitarian missions. Ali was born Cassius Clay and then after he decided to convert to Islam, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The question remains: was Muhammad Ali a true Muslim? In other words, did he embody what Muslims really are called to be? We hear over and over again about the radical elements of Islam and we obviously were attacked on 9/11 by radical Jihadists. Is that the way Islam is supposed to be? Or is the actions of Muhammad Ali more how it should be?
I would submit that Muhammad Ali was a true Muslim who truly lived out his faith. He wasn’t one of the fake Muslims who think their way to glory is to bomb a building or commit a terrorist attack. Instead, Ali was committed to solving problems in his world, and he went out of his way to promote peace in his world. Ali may have been almost impossible to beat in the ring but outside of it, he was definitely known as a loving man and more of a gentle giant.
So, what did Muhammad Ali do outside of the ring that was so great? Well, a number of things. First of all, the man was every bit as great of a humanitarian as he was a boxer. When Ali said, “I am the greatest!” he could just as easily meant that for his peacekeeping efforts as well. The number of charities Muhammad Ali was involved in was simply astonishing. Interestingly enough, Ali’s charitable efforts weren’t even just limited to a retirement endeavor. His highly publicized boxing matches in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and other overseas areas brought increased publicity to the many social problems in the developing world.
Moreover, Muhammad Ali was also well-known as an ambassador. He worked with UNICEF and many other organizations in this regard. He was responsible for securing the freedom of 15 United States hostages during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 as well. Muhammad Ali also hand-delivered food to many hungry adults and children throughout various locations in Africa. Ali was honored with a lifetime achievement award from Amnesty International and received an ambassador position from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000 also. There is indeed a lot he had done to promote peace and love throughout his golden years.
So, how do we answer the question about whether Muhammad Ali truly embodied the right elements of the Muslim faith. We start by examining what the Koran says about peace and love. To start with, it says, “So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).” Did Muhammad Ali live out that principle? I think we can safely say he did his best to do so.
Muhammad Ali’s religious faith also has a verse that states, “God does not love corruption.” (Surat al-Baqara, 205) True Muslims have compassion for people of all faith because they realize that even if their faith differs from their own it is still, in their view, a manifestation of God. Thus, the true Muslims are not the ones we see on television who are promoting violence against those of other religions.
By endeavoring to do good, Muhammad Ali was the embodiment of what a true Muslim should be. He lived out his faith and practiced tolerance for others. For an example of a true Muslim, we should look no further than Ali, and we should immediately discount those who are terrorists because they do not represent the faith of Muhammad Ali.
[Photo by Chris Pizzello/AP Images]