The Greatest of Our Time versus The Greatest of All Time
As America lays to rest the Greatest of our time. His greatness in the boxing ring is being proclaimed, but his greatness goes far beyond a boxing ring. He was a man of conviction, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a champion of the oppressed. The government tried to draft him in 1964 and failed because he did not pass a test, but as they needed more soldiers they lowered the standards and tried again to draft him. This time he passed and was drafted, but he refused to be inducted into the service on conscientious grounds.
I was very conscious of the situation with Cassius Clay. At the same time he was standing firm for what he believed in I was just entering the U.S. Army after dropping out of high school in June 1965. I enlisted because I felt my country needed me. In hindsight he was far more aware of the realities of life than I was. It has been interesting to read in the reports of his life that his IQ may have only been 78. Yet he had an unmeasurable amount of “common sense” which over the years I have come to believe may be a far better measure of a man than his IQ.
When he made his famous quote, “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong” I was already in the Army and on orders for Vietnam. I respected his right to follow the tenets of his faith. Had more Christians stood up for what Christ taught and acted on His Words, maybe America would not have spent so much time in Vietnam at a cost of so many lives. They say hindsight is 20/20 and looking back on Vietnam it is easy to see it was a war we were manipulated into by lies our government told the American people. It was to become just one of many such wars. I do not believe Muhammad Ali had any great secret knowledge in that area, but he did have the convictions of his faith.
Upon entering the Army in July 1965 I had only met one black person in my whole life. It was in a high school printing class as a sophomore and I was setting type for a project I had been assigned. I picked up a letter and could not make up my mind if it was an i or a j. So I started to recite some words I had used often in my life when making decisions. Words that were common in that time. I started off, “Ennie, Mennie, Minnie, Moe catch a”, and I stopped and looked straight across the table into the eyes of the only black senior in my high school. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Finish it.” and very humiliated and embarrassed I did. He told me something that has stayed with me all my life. “Pay attention to what you say in life. Words have meanings and they have the power to make you great or make you small.” Little did I know at that time that less than three years later I would be living in a twelve man room at Fort Stewart, Georgia as the token white boy in a room with eleven black soldier’s. That few months was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. It taught me to look at things from more than one perspective in life, but that is for another story and another time. This story is not about me. It is about a man I came to know in a way many never would. At least in my mind that was the case.
Muhammad Ali stood on his principles and even did so when they conflicted with the teachings of some in his new found faith. He remained faithful to his beliefs in the goodness of man. Many thought his refusal to fight in the military was an excuse and that it was not sincere. They could not reconcile that boxing did not mean killing. It did not mean hating your fellow man. I tend to believe boxing was more of a survival skill than a sport in the city he grew up in. That is a harsh judgment on my part. Part of which was learned from going to the time trials for the Indianapolis 500 Race. To get to the track we had to pass through a predominantly black neighborhood. My Dad insisted I roll up my window, in spite of the heat and no air conditioning. I was conditioned to be biased. The town I grew up in had very few blacks. We only had two or three black students in a high school of over 1100 students.
Ali spent most of his career outside of the ring helping the poor and those who did not have the chance in life that he had. He was an example of what I think the Muslim faith is really about. He experienced and met some of the people who promoted a hate filled version of Islam, but he stood on what “He” believed the faith to mean. It was a view that crossed all barriers of faith, religion and nationalities. The eulogy given by Billy Crystal at his memorial service showed the real Muhammad Ali that many did not see.
He had a joy and love of life that was not diminished by his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. It was a fight in his life that showed that overcoming obstacles in life for him was something he did in every situation. It was his battle and how he fought it that makes me believe there is a good side to the Islamic faith. It also taught me that those who are fomenting terror in the name of Islam are not only a minority, but uninformed about the true nature of the faith they profess to believe.
Ali lived his faith as it was lived and practiced by Abraham. He shows me the side of Abraham that pleaded the case with the Angels that visited him to deliver all the good people in Sodom and Gommorah, not just his nephew Lot. The same Abraham that cast out Ishmael and his mother Hagar into the wilderness and yet was so loved by Ishmael and Issac that they came together in peace at his funeral and Issac and Ishmael both buried his body. Gen 25:9
Billy Crystal testified of their awesome friendship. Crystal a Jew and Ali a Muslim, their friendship transcended what for some are insurmountable differences. Ali reached out and spoke on behalf of Jewish hostages in Iran helping secure their release. Ali is the true side of Islam that I believe in and think most Muslims of the world believe in. It is not the Islam of the hate filled terrorist. Terrorist who missed the loving side of their faith and perverted it by only half learning the faith they profess to believe. They walk in darkness and have no understanding of the light of the teachings of Mohammed.
When all of Islam comes to grasp the example of Ali and his understanding of Islam the world will truly be changed and ISIS will be destroyed, when it is exposed for the ignorant perversion of the true faith of Islam that it is. When and if they learn to grasp the teachings of all the prophets in the Word of God, which is a big if. Especially those of the Prophet Jesus Christ and the message he taught, they will be changed. Ali grasped and understood The Word of God was not limited by the Prophet Mohammed, which is something I believe even Muhammed himself understood, but that the teachings of peace and love far out weight those of hate and will move mountains that will bury those living in darkness and spreading hate.