Muhammad Ali Passes Away at Age 74

It is with great sadness that we report that brother Muhammad Ali, beloved boxer and civil rights champion, has passed away.
Muhammad Ali died Friday evening at a Phoenix-area hospital.  NBC News reports that he had spent the past few days being treated for respiratory complications.
He was 74.
The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer fought a lengthy 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that affected both his legendary silver-tongued eloquence, and his golden hands.
Funeral services are being planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

While his fights in the ring were epically notorious, what made Muhammad Ali a true champion was his character.  His greatest battles were fought outside of the ring.

In 1960, a young Ali–then Cassius Clay–headed to the Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight.  His gold medal and fast hands, however, did nothing to defend him from being attacked by society’s ignorance:  He was still a Black man in America in 1960.  After being refused service at a soda fountain counter, he threw his Olympic gold medal into a river.
He found guidance with the Nation of Islam, who preached civil rights activism versus pacifism.  Inspired by Malcolm X, who would later leave the Nation of Islam to become a Sunni Muslim, Ali converted to Islam in 1963.
He renounced Cassius Clay as his “slave name,” and adopted the name Muhammad Ali, a moniker bestowed upon him by Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam’s founder.
At the height of the Vietnam War, in 1967, the prize-winning boxer was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.  He subsequently refused, saying that the war did not agree with his faith, and he had “no quarrel” with America’s then-enemy, the Vietcong.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, 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,” he said in an interview.
Ali’s commitment to his views culminated with an appearance at an Army recruitment station, where he refused to step forward when his name was called.  After being stripped of his boxing title, and convicted of draft evasion, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
He was released on appeal, but unable to fight or leave the country, so he hit the lecture circuit, where he continued to advocate for civil rights, pointing out the inherent duplicity of the United States’ imperialist philosophy:  Blacks were denied rights at home, but expected to–and ordered to–fight the country’s battles overseas, or face imprisonment.

When a white student challenged Ali’s by now infamous avoidance of the Army draft, Ali clapped back with a one-hitter quitter that eloquently exposed the hypocrisy at hand. 

“My enemy is the white people, not Vietcongs or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”
Four years later, Ali’s appeals reached the U.S. Supreme court, who finally, in June 1971, reversed his conviction in a unanimous decision, after finding the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s refusal to serve was independent of his religious beliefs.
Like his inspiration–and friend–Malcolm X, Ali eventually left the Nation of Islam for a more mainstream sect of Islam.
Throughout the years, Ali also continued his activism, dedicating himself to humanitarian causes.  He traveled to Lebanon in 1985, and to Iraq in 1990, to seek the release of American hostages.

With his health steadily declining, in his final years, Ali was barely able to speak, but that never stopped him from speaking his truth.

During a 2009 interview with NPR, Ali let his wife read an essay he penned on his personal philosophy:
“I never thought of the possibility of failing, only of the fame and glory I was going to get when I won. I could see it. I could almost feel it. When I proclaimed that I was the greatest of all time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”
Ali embodied that spirit right up until he died.

He didn’t let his difficulties speaking take away his voice–or the fight in him.  

Just recently, in December, ever the activist, he released a statement criticizing Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, saying “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda.”
Muhammad Ali was great during his time on Earth–ma shaa Allah–and may he be amongst the champions of God in Jannah, just as he was among the champions here on Earth.