Posted Jul. 3, 2016 at 12:22 AM
Muhammad Ali’s legacy can perhaps best be remembered through the words of his wife Lonni who stated, “Muhammad wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment for young people, for his country and the world. He wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice. But he was never embittered enough to quit or engage in violence.”
Though initially treated with hostility for his attitude, beliefs and actions, Ali’s steadfastness, courage and conviction eventually touched the hearts of millions around the globe so that in his passing there was a reverential awe that celebrated his unparalleled accomplishments with torrents of accolades. These achievements can be best recounted in his own words:
1. As a humanitarian role model, “I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but if I have changed even one life for the better, I haven’t lived in vain”; “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
2. As an American patriot and civil rights activist: “America is the greatest country in the world”; “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” “I got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” “I didn’t want to submit to the army and then, on the Day of Judgment, have God say to me, ‘Why did you do that?’ This life is a trial, and you realize that what you do is going to be written down for Judgment Day.”
3. As the most notable spokesman for Islamic pluralism, “The only thing that matters is submitting to the will of God,” and “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.” His views are the embodiment of the ‘anti-ISIS,’ and a permanent reminder to all, in particular disaffected Muslim youth, who would be seduced by its toxicity. He is indeed the most potent WMD against ISIS propaganda.
4. As a cause celebre or a poster child for parkinson’s disease, he treated his challenge with humility and dignity, rather than as a disability that confined his irrepressible mind to the solitude of his own captive thoughts. And like the true champion that he was, he said, “Don’t feel sorry for me.”
5. As an inspirational model for those striving for perfection as he excelled in boxing, he exhorted others to be the best they could. “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”Despite his adulation in later life Ali was often maligned in his earlier years. This dichotomy was best expressed by Scott Pelley: “He was frequently on the wrong side of public opinion but more importantly on the right side of history.”
We marvel at the greats on the right side of history: Aristotle, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Darwin, Lincoln, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Spencer Tracy, Mandela, Pele, Navratilova, Florence Griffith Joiner, Sinatra, Jordan, Phelps, but are hard pressed to find anyone on Ali’s radar, with the possible exception of Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, a Navy Seal, a professional wrestler, a politician, actor and writer.
Only Shakespeare can epitomize Ali in all his grandeur: “and the elements, So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up, And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN.”
For such an iconic figure, who scoffed at the notion of “impossible” as, “a dare, a potential, as temporary, as nothing,” it is only fitting that a day be set aside once a year to reflect upon what one man can do if he sets his heart to live “The Impossible Dream,” and reach for ‘the unreachable stars.” For such a supernova the only requiem that is befitting is a global chorus of acclamation and a ommemorative “Muhammad Ali Day.”
If that day could replace the deeply despised Columbus Day, it would be a win-win situation for all. It would be a day, and a teaching moment, that would bring healing to the racial, religious and ethnic divides across our neighborhoods, our country, and across the world, and serve “to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice. But he never embittered enough to quit or engage in violence.”
Abdul Cader Asmal, MD, lives in Needham.