Muhammad Ali Had the Name He Deserved

09/06/2016 16:50 | Updated 10 June 2016


Muhammad Ali, the man loved by people of all faiths, nations and walks of life, is laid to rest. The Islamic funeral service in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky, streamed live across the world before crowds.

In this age of material selfishness and war, we need heroes. How strange it is to realise Ali's loss effects us so profoundly, when so many of us had either forgotten he was there, through his years of painful suffering, due to Parkinson's. Or, as in my own case, knew so little of his incredible list of great deeds, done for all mankind, during his determined, powerful, life.

His litheness of body and tongue allowed a black man, at the time of segregation in the US to utterly transcend that tawdry human episode.

Ali openly mocked racism in such a fluent way, that it seemed silly and pointless. Separating toilet facilities, seating people on buses according to skin shade, was reduced, through his posy, into n a shameful political tantrum taken to criminal heights.

We Don't Serve Negroes Here
In a British TV interview with Michael Parkinson, in 1971, Ali recalled the time 'I done whipped the world for America' winning gold at the Italian Olympics for the USA. To celebrate, he went eat out in his home town, Kentucky.
Ali sat down and asked for a coffee and a hotdog. The waitress said:

"We don't serve negroes." Quick as a flash, the champ parried,

"I don't eat 'em either just give me a cup of hot coffee and a hotdog."

Despite telling the manager about winning a gold medal, Ali was told to leave the restaurant.

"Just won the gold medal and couldn't eat downtown. I said somethings gotta be wrong here."

The all white, London, audience lapped it up. Doubtless though, wondering in their minds whether they were being mocked (with a light touch) in the process.

The 1970's was a grubby age. Coming off the back of the 1960's 'liberation' from traditional values, a hedonistic nightclub culture embodied by Studio 54 drew the famous into the clutches of drugs and alcohol. In Britain a horrendous wave of child abuse hidden beneath the cloak of fame allowed DJ's, TV presenters, priests and government ministers to abuse the vulnerable at will.

Muhammad Ali, the most famous man in the world, was drawn to another path. His transformation, became a protection from the ego which amused the world and the confidence which appeared at first to cloak his genius, then to enhance his deeds.

At 22, he won the WBC and WBA heavyweight championships, defeating Sonny Liston, in 1964.
Soon after, he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name saying:

Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me

Prayer Not Alcohol
In 1966 Muhammad Ali refused conscription to fight in Vietnam. He was convicted of draft evasion and banned from boxing for three years at the height of his prowess.

The US Supreme Court eventually overturned the charges. Ali praised God when he heard the decision.

Prayer helped him prepare for his fights too.

"Lord, millions of people are waiting for me to fail, but as long as You are with me, I can't fail."

Despite all the retrograde applause and adoration (Trump and Cameron both made fools of themselves with their bandwagoning), the true reaction to Ali's change of religion by the mainstream white establishment they come from, was swift and furious.

Imagine if David Beckham willingly turned his back on millions, risking his international 'branding' for a civil or human rights cause considered illegal by the government

Now imagine Beckham doing that and accepting Islam. The mocking and the fury poured upon any such star today might mirror some of the pressure Muhammad Ali, experienced four decades ago.

We haven't moved forward all that much, it seems.

His wife, Lonnie said of that period: "People were outraged, how dare he give up his Christian name and take on this 'barbaric' Muslim name."

Ali's reaction was confident and sure: "I'm free to be what I want to be, I don't have to be what you want me to be."

An Ambassador For Peace
in 1985 he became an ambassador for peace flying to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivering over $1 million in medical aid to Cuba. Incredibly he successfully secured the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War. When they thanked him he said simply 'thank God, thank Allah.'

In 2002, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce placed Ali's star at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Some 2,500 brass stars are embedded in the sidewalk spread across 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard. Ali refused to have the name Muhammad at ground level where feet could tread upon it, dishonouring the the Prophet of the faith he followed.

Today, a star bearing the name Muhammad is the only one to hangs vertically on the famous boulevard.

In his 2005 book 'The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey', co-authored with his daughter Hana the man who made the world gasp at his audacity and skill admitted to a final goal.

"I sometimes thought I would like to be a Muslim Billy Graham." He continued: "But God had a different plan for me

Yet that dream too appears to have been fulfilled. The name the man who was so much more than a boxer was given to replace an ancestral slave title resonates with positivity across the world.

Muhammad Ali was a man who made the world smile. At his bravery on behalf of not only his own people through the civil rights movement, but through his refusal to take part in the mass violence visited upon Vietnam by the US administration. 

He was a man who made the world think with his easily accessible yet striking thoughts.

"You lose nothing when fighting for a cause ... In my mind the losers are those who don't have a cause they care about."

This was a man with a great name, who sought in his actions, to honour the Prophet he was named after, Mohammed.

For Muhammad Ali's courage on behalf of others, his unwavering faith and his synonymity with righteousness - he has succeeded.