The day Muhammad Ali passed away the world stood still.
As posts about him flooded my social media feed, I walked around the streets of Davis, California with a pit of sadness growing in my stomach.
It’s an odd feeling being outside and knowing that you and the people around you are thinking about the same thing.
When you don’t share a word but a look says it all.
It was like the first days of COVID-19 when you could see the fear and uncertainty hovering right above the masks in people’s eyes.
Like walking the streets of Sacramento the day after Stephon Clark was killed in his Grandma’s backyard, because Police thought his phone was a gun. Stephon’s passing hung thick in the air that day too.
Murmurs and fraught conversations on street corners and in gas station lines. Charged commentary and arguments over whether or not he deserved to die and who was to blame. Tragically I found myself defending his and what felt like my humanity too.
But while Stephon’s death set fire to our city and national dialogue,
Muhammad’s passing was a swelling tide, rolling over us, all at once.
The Champ had the great privilege of dying peacefully in old age, unpoliticized.
At the time of his death, people of all ages and backgrounds had something to say about his life, how beautifully he lived it.
Black and white.
Muslim and those who weren’t.
Muhammad Ali was the world’s champion.
As I sat with one of my elders reflecting on his legacy, he mused that Muhammad Ali’s status with God must be special to have been chosen as the individual who would uplift the name of the Beloved Prophet SAW around the world and place it on the tip of so many tongues. A feat matched by none.
We knew him as the leader, the fighter, the advocate, the beautiful man with beautiful words who was the most beloved sportsman of all time.
A consistent reminder of greatness.
He was a man who was not just a butterfly, but also had a sting.
Muhammad Ali initially terrified America with his willingness to speak truth to power.
Using his platform to openly call out and eloquently expose structures of oppression like racism, imperialism, and the war-machine, he was principled and unwavering in his belief.
Even when it cost him everything.
He refused to fight in the Vietnam war based on his values as a black Muslim.
In return, he lost his championship belt, his boxing license for three years, and almost lost his freedom,
He was willing to lose his life.
It was the same period of time where Martin Luther King JR did lose his life for speaking up and Malcolm X the man who introduced him to Islam had already lost his.
As the general public and media lambasted Muhammad Ali on his stance, he responded
“I would like to say to those of the press and those of the people who think that I lost so much by not taking this step, I would like to say that I did not lose a thing up until this very moment, I haven’t lost one thing,” he said.
“I have gained a lot. Number one, I have gained a peace of mind. I have gained a peace of heart.”
Muhammad Ali’s story reminds me that peace of mind and heart is attainable.
It reminds me to speak the truth especially when it’s most difficult to say.
It reminds me to be to be unapologetically black and unapologetically Muslim.
It reminds me that, in his words, “ Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
It reminds me that greatness is not awarded by creation but by The Creator.
So I'm reminded it’s God alone, whose acceptance we should seek.
Muhammad Ali was initially feared and hated for speaking the truth but still,
He spoke it.
God must have loved Muhammad Ali for that, and told his angels and all of mankind to love him too.
Because by the time he died, he was loved by all.
Muhammad Ali رحمه الله 1942 – 2016
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- Ibraheem Leone hails from California but is a local in neighborhoods around the world.
His travels and background in community organizing have informed his passion for connecting with people over issues that matter.
He uses storytelling to uplift individual experiences, shaping our collective narrative for the better. (IG: @ibraheemleone)