The passing of Mohammad Ali, the greatest sportsman of all time, at age 74 has saddened many hearts. He came to world-wide attention in the 1960s with his brash claims of knocking out the then heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston, in the sixth round with the famous boast “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and then going on to prove that too.
Few would have any quarrel with his victory proclamation “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.” A three-time heavyweight champion, Ali would go on to successfully defend his title six times, including a rematch with Liston.
As former US President Bill Clinton said in his fitting tribute “from the day he claimed the Olympic gold medal in 1960, boxing fans across the world knew they were seeing a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that many never be matched again.”
Ali, however, transcended the sport that won him fans everywhere, including of course in Pakistan, visiting here twice to a rapturous welcome in the late ’80s. He fought bigger battles outside the ring against racial and religious discrimination in his country.
Soon after becoming the new champion he announced having embraced Islam, rejecting his birth name Cassius Clay as a “slave name” to assume a Muslim name, Mohammad Ali. More to the chagrin of American establishment, at the height of the Vietnam war, he refused to be drafted in military as a conscientious objector saying “I ain’t got a quarrel with them the Vietcong.”
He would tell an interviewer “my conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me.
They didn’t put no dogs on me.” As a result of his refusal to fight an unjust war he was stripped of his boxing title and sentenced to five years in prison. Although later released on appeal, he was banned from returning to the boxing ring. He was to reassert his boxing greatness in 1974, reclaiming his title from the then reigning champion, George Foreman, in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire.
His 32-year-long suffering from Parkinson’s disease may have rendered him a weak shadow of his old self, but inside Ali remained the same man of convictions who would never shirk from speaking his mind.
Just last December, he issued a statement taking strong exception to Donald Trump’s suggestion to ban Muslims from entering America saying “we as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda.” Ali will long be missed for his phenomenon charisma as a sportsman and his courage and compassion as a public figure.
Source: Business Recorder