The late Muhammad Ali, who passed away Friday evening at the age of 74, was proudly, unapologetically black. He fought for the civil rights of African Americans, and famously refused to serve in the Vietnam War with the following ardent proclamation: “I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me nigger.”
He was also a devout Muslim and dedicated member of the Nation of Islam, having fallen under the tutelage of Malcolm X in 1962. When rumors began circulating that year that he’d joined the Nation of Islam, one of his bouts was nearly canceled, and when he officially joined in 1964, he had his boxing titles stripped from two organizations, including the WBA. Shortly thereafter, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad—who became a surrogate father to Ali—announced that the man formerly known as Cassius Clay would henceforth be “Muhammad Ali,” with “Muhammad” meaning “one who is worthy of praise” and Ali the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the fourth caliph. He later left the NOI after experiencing a falling out when Elijah Muhammad stepped down and, in 1975, converted to Sunni Islam (he later embraced Sufism).
In the wake of the deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, by two ISIS-affiliated terrorists, presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on,” he announced in a campaign press release.
This was, of course, after a rash of other anti-Muslim comments Trump had made, including that he wanted American mosques to be surveilled, considered establishing a database monitoring all Muslims in the U.S., and his bogus claim that he saw “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 (then again, Trump also claimed he saw people jump from the Towers on 9/11 from a “view in my apartment that was specifically aimed at the World Trade Center,” even though he lives in midtown Manhattan, more than four miles from Ground Zero).
Ali, who was cordial with Trump in years past, and even gave him the Muhammad Ali award at his Celebrity Fight Night XIII in 2007, had strong words for the reality star turned politician’s proposed Muslim ban.
In a public statement titled, “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States,” the boxing legend reiterated his decades-long stance that Islam was a religion of peace, and that people, in this case Trump, should not be exploiting it for political points.
“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali said. “They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.”
The sports and cultural icon further spoke out about how terrorists like those in Paris and San Bernardino have “perverted” the public’s views of Islam.
“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” he said.
“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”
Ali also spoke out against the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.On the very morning of Sept. 11th, 2001, Reader’s Digest had coincidentally scheduled an interview with Ali on his 88-acre farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was conducted by Howard Bingham, Ali's former public relations manager. When he was asked about the attacks that morning, Ali said, “Killing like that can never be justified. It’s unbelievable. I could never support hurting innocent men, women, and children. Islam is a religion of peace. It does not promote terrorism or killing people.” When the reporter told Ali that “Muslims are supposed to be responsible for this,” Ali replied: “People say a Muslim caused this destruction. I am angry that the world sees a certain group of Islam followers who caused this destruction, but they are not real Muslims. They are racist fanatics who call themselves Muslims, permitting the murder of thousands.”
During an Oval Office address in early December of last year following the San Bernardino attacks, President Obama spoke out against the widespread intolerance and bigotry against Muslims in America, saying, “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors; our co-workers, our sports heroes—and yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.”Obama’s address prompted conservative outlets like Breitbart to wonder whether America has sporting heroes who are Muslim, and presidential nominee Trump weighed in as well, questioning whether America has Muslim sports heroes by tweeting, “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?”
Donald, Obama was probably referring to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, and Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer ever.
You know, the one you love to quote to sound tough.