Muhammad Ali Celebrity For Good -Abu Muaj
“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” It was Muhammad Ali Clay’s ringing declaration. It meant a ringing call of liberty not only for the Blacks, Dravidians, Mongoloids, Caucasians, Africans and Asians but also for the underprivileged and enslaved white people. The call resonated round the whole world. If you ask how many children did Muhammad Ali have, people will say he had given birth to nine children from four wives. But I will say he gave birth to dozens of minds, social organisations and the activists who were inspired by Muhammad Ali’s or his brainchild. These people, agencies, platforms and community workers were directly or indirectly imbibed by Ali’s spirit. Even it won’t be exaggeration to say end of Vietnam War was inspired by his refusal to be conscripted into US Army and drafted to be for the Vietnam War. He was the epitome of the sense of justice and independence and civil rights movement of the sixties that shaped the today’s modern world. US president Barak Obama is no exception to this spirit. In fact Ali matters to everyone who is fighting for the truth. Discover how Ali became an icon.
When Clay was a baby of merely several months knocked out her mother Odessa first. That time she lost one of her teeth to the stout baby Clay. At 12, he lost his bicycle and reported the theft to the police. Clay swore that we would beat up whoever took it. The policeman, Martin, who also happened to train fighters and produced a local television show, Tomorrow’s Champions, showcasing Louisville’s best boxing talent, responded: “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people you’re going to whup.” The world’s greatest boxer was born. Clay won 100 out of 108 amateur bouts, and two consecutive Amateur Athletic Union Championships, in 1959 and 1960, both as a light heavyweight. Muhammad Ali in 1974 fought in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman in Zaire, the present day Congo in Africa. The next year it was the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ against Joe Frazier.
Boxing career at its peak in 1967 Ali refused to be drafted into US Army to fight in Vietnam. A draft evasion was filed against him. Thus, he was jailed that year and released in 1971. He was stripped of his heavyweight championship. But being inspired by Ali a significant number of young Americans have decided they must refuse military service. Ali’s ‘no’ to Vietnam War and the subsequent antiwar movements in and around the world even influenced US government policy. People and the mass media saw how a person can defy a superpower state, standing in favour of the oppressed.
Ali was one of the 100 American entertainers who changed America. Ali, born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. had been always a man with a soft spot for children. In his life as a child he underwent some incidents in his birthplace Louisville and outside the Louisville that had lasting impact in the making of Ali. He helped UNICEF and other children organizations generously. While visiting a hospital in Philadelphia many years ago, Obama writes, picked up a boy with no legs. Gazing into the child’s eyes, Ali said, “Don’t give up. They’re sending men into space. You will walk someday and do this,” and proceeded to do the famous Ali Shuffle with the giggling boy in his arms. He has delivered food and medical supplies to children in Indonesia, Morocco, and to an orphanage for Liberian refugees in the Ivory Coast.
Ali was always a witty talker before, during, and after fights. “He (Clay) always made a joke out of everything,” a former high school classmate, Dorothy McIntyre Kennedy, told Sports Illustrated. Wilma Rudolph, who won three-sprinting gold medals in Rome, told Sports Illustrated “Everybody wanted to see him. Everybody wanted to be near him. Everybody wanted to talk to him. And he talked all the time. He used to quip much. His characterization of Joe Frazier, for example, as a “gorilla” was sophomoric, even if it did rhyme with “Thrilla” and “Manila.” And Clay waged an unprecedented smack-talking campaign to secure his shot. “Sonny Liston is nothing,” Clay said on a 1963 album he released for Columbia records, modestly entitled I Am The Greatest.
He used his silver tongue not only to attack and incite his opponent in the ring but outside the ring he always turned vocal against all sorts of odds and oppression.
In his activism he often launched war of words and spout truth till his loss of speech due to Parkinson’s disease.
Ali was always admired as the man who has never ceased using his celebrity for good — the man who met Saddam and secured the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq in 1990; who journeyed to South Africa upon Nelson Mandela’s release from prison; who has traveled to Afghanistan to help struggling schools as a United Nations Messenger of Peace; and who routinely visits sick children around the world, giving them money, pleasure of his presence and the inspiration of his example. His activism started when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. Since then he didn’t retire from his socio-political activism until his death on June 3, 2016. His last protest was lodged against US presidential candidate Donald Trump for the latter’s anti-Muslim campaign to win the US presidential race.
Ali, most probably the first Muslim in the world, invested in Puma, and even beyond just investing, Muhammad Ali had a plan to branch out sales as well. Ali was brokering a deal with Sheik Al Fassi of Saudi Arabia to order 400 (some sources say 440, one says 1,440) special editions of the Puma P-108 convertible, to be called the Puma Al Fassi, and sold throughout the Middle East. The car would have played on Ali’s involvement pretty heavily, with the official name being “Puma Al Fassi by Muhammad Ali.” Also interesting is that Ali himself travelled to Curitiba, Brazil to oversee the production of the prototypes, which might be a first for a professional boxer. Unfortunately, before any of the production cars could be built, the Sheik had all his assets frozen because of tax evasion charges, which pretty much sank the whole deal. With around $36 million invested to produce the Al Fassi, the company took a hard blow, and was forced to give up production rights of the Puma to another company, Alfa Metals.
None is perfect in the world, so was Ali. Ali was not a superman either. But Ali was relatable, someone in whom everyone could see the version of themselves they wished they could become, whether they were a white establishment businessman clamoring for a ringside seat at Madison Square Garden or an impoverished child in a dilapidated village shouting “Ali, bomaye!” while listening to a fight on an improvised radio.
We lost Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of All Time. Note the absence of a noun in that title. He was not the Greatest Boxer of All Time; he was not the Greatest Athlete of All Time; he was not the Greatest Showman of All Time. No, Greatest stood alone, floating, butterfly-like, unencumbered by a noun or any other superfluous impediment that might weigh it down. On being the greatest traveled the world’s one corner to another, particularly the Muslim world, like a butterfly to rescue the wretched and sting the oppressors.
Ali in Egypt:
Of all Muhammad Ali’s travels in the Muslim world, his 1964 trip to Egypt was perhaps the most symbolic, a visit remembered mostly by an iconic photo of the boxing great happily shaking hands with a smiling Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt’s nationalist and popular president. “Muslims wanted a hero to represent them, and Clay was the only Muslim champion… No other Muslim athlete managed to achieve what Clay did … Thus, he was a symbol for Muslims,” said Mohammed Omari, an Islamic law professor in northern Jordan’s Al al-Bayt University.
Ali in Turkey:
In 1976, boxing legend Muhammad Ali visited Istanbul. The late Necmettin Erbakan, known as the Father of Turkish Islamism, greeted Ali at the Ataturk airport. Together they attended Friday prayers at the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque and toured Haghia Sophia with thousands of fans marching along on the streets of Istanbul to catch a glimpse of Ali. Legend has it that Ali that day praised Erbakan, saying, “No white leader ever before embraced me,” making Erbakan the first white politician to hug Ali.
Bangladesh and Ali:
On February, 1978 Ali made a visit to Bangladesh, a newly born country. A fight between Ali and a young Mohammad Giasuddin who was the same age when Ali started to fight, 12, took place then. In one of the three rounds, Ali patted Gias on his bottom. The referee intervened. Ali was knocked out. It was fitting that the boxing stadium at Paltan was named the Muhammad Ali Boxing Stadium. However, the memory of Ali in Bangladesh that left a lasting imprint was that Ali was given Honorary Citizenship to Bangladesh. This meant Ali was a Bangladeshi like all of us. The people of Bangladesh could be a part of whatever Ali did and whatever Ali stood for. Hats off to the then government of Bangladesh that it gave the great boxer a piece of land to settle in!
Ali in Iran:
Ali was for the oppressed, be they Christian or Muslim. He advocated for a Washington Post reporter who spent 545 days in an Iranian prison. Before being released the journalist said Ali helped his cause. In March 2015, Ali released a statement that said, in part, “I am sorry that I cannot be physically present to lend my support in person but I pray my words will provide relief to the efforts to secure the release of Jason Rezaian. Insha’Allah. It is my great hope that the government and judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian.” In an exclusive interview with CNN, Rezaian said the boxing legend is revered in Iran and when his guards heard about Ali’s plea, “They started treating me in a better way. I think it brought some doubt to them about the (espionage-related) charges against me.” This was the first interview in which Rezaian has talked about his time in Iranian prison. In a piece he wrote for his newspaper, Rezaian said of Ali’s words, “It was a turning point for me. The public acknowledgment by Muhammad Ali, one of the most unifying figures in the world, that he believed I was innocent of any wrongdoing meant everything to me.”
Beside moving around the world he used to channel funds for the children in Indonesia to Morocco and the refugees of different parts of the world. Ali rose to international prominence during the height of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War and often criticized the US government on issues of war, race, class and her foreign policies. He left a legacy that excel in your career first and serve your religion. He was professionally sound and when he wanted to serve Islam and Muslims he could do it successfully. He used his celebrity for the good of the humanity. Ali as a heavyweight boxing champion excelled in his field and when a champion influences people outside his field, s/he becomes an icon. A trendsetter or icon is a person who gives hope to people that everyone, if they want and if they work hard, can attain their goals against all odds. It was the way Muhammad Ali grew to be an icon. He has transcended time and inspired people irrespective of creed, cast, religion and countries.