This weekend, the world lost a man of great strength and great integrity.
Growing up, I didn’t understand what “converting to Islam” meant. All I knew about the Nation of Islam was what I read in magazines, and those articles mostly portrayed the group as a scary bunch of black folks anxious to take over. Or maybe I got that from conversations I overheard. I did understand, a little, about Ali’s refusal to be drafted, though I came from a military family and we frowned on such things.
I didn’t really understand boxing, either, though my older brother boxed Golden Gloves.
But you could not listen to this man verbally joust with Howard Cosell and not appreciate his big heart, his deep wealth of humor, and his style. You couldn’t watch him box and not see, in his own words, how very pretty he was — no, how beautiful. And as I got older, the things he said and stood for began to make perfect sense. If it’s possible to do so without embracing the brutal sport of boxing, I became a fan.
Muhammad Ali got older and slower, but he maintained that heart and that humor. I remember crying as he lit the flame at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. I still cry when I watch that video now. I always cry at pretty. When the world was against him — or, most of the world, anyway — he stood firm in his beliefs. He never wavered. That right there is enough to make you cry.
Blessings on you, Muhammad. Blessings and peace. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. I hope I spelled that right. May Allah give you an easy and pleasant journey and shower blessings on your grave.
Then, again, this is Muhammad Ali, and he should have the last word.