Muhammad Ali was a fighter with conviction. His conversion to Islam, in many ways, defined his legacy, which made him an icon for American Muslims.His story is very interesting.It was in 1964, Muhammad Ali the great heavyweight champion got in a fight. It wasn’t a fight in the boxing ring, but an argument at home with his wife, that prompted him to write down some reflections on what drew him to Islam.
Ali was out of control, not exhibiting any traces of humility, Belinda (his wife) said. You may think yourself the greatest, she told him, but you can never be greater than Allah.
She instructed Ali to write an essay, why he became a Muslim. Ali obliged, and began to write. It reveals a great deal about Ali’s character, but also give us insight about the religious life of one of the best-known African American athletes and activists.
Ali writes of his teenage days in Louisville, when he noticed a man selling newspapers for the Nation of Islam. He acknowledged that his journey to Islam began with a search for pretty girls and took a turn with a newspaper cartoon. He took newspaper and began reading. Suddenly a cartoon caught his eye, a white slave owner beating his black slave and insisting the man pray to Jesus. This made him to think that Christianity was a religion forced on slaves by the white establishment. “I liked that cartoon,” Ali wrote. “It did something to me. And it made sense”.
In 1964, he publicly declared his conversion to Islam. “I believe in Allah and in peace,” he said. “I don’t try to move into white neighbourhoods. I don’t want to marry a white woman. I was baptized when I was 12, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a Christian anymore. I know where I’m going and I know the truth and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” After the death of Elijah Muhammad ,Ali embraced orthodox Islam. He studied the Koran.
It’s interesting to note that Ali’s journey to Islam is not a result of anybody’s effort. It was a simple coincidence. The cartoon caught his attention and awakened him. He realized that he hadn’t chosen Christianity. He hadn’t chosen the name Cassius Clay. So no need to keep those vestiges of slavery. His story reminds us that even the most powerful spiritual journeys can have humble beginnings. In the following years, he continued to explore his religious views. Neither he always had a clear philosophy nor did he always live up to the principles he espoused. But he never stopped asking questions. Religion demands that we constantly ask questions, not just accept things because they’ve been handed down to us. Ali’s essay reminds us of that.
In the late years of his life, it became difficult for him to entertain fans as Parkinson’s disease slowed his speech. He would sometimes invite admirers to join him for long religious discussions. He would say that God didn’t care about him for his boxing; God cared only whether he had been a good person and lived up to the responsibilities of a believer.
It’s hardly the stuff of legend, but better than legend, because it’s true.