-—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—-
NEW YORK, NY (June 4, 2016) – Last night America and the world have lost one of the most beloved and transcendent figures of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali. The Islamic Circle of North America joins the global community in praying for forgiveness of his sins and the highest reward in the Hereafter.
ICNA calls for all Muslims to offer Janazah ghaib (funeral prayer in the absence of the body) on the same day that the janazah prayer is offered with the body. This is one way to show our high regard for the decades-long champion of Islam and human rights, Muhammad Ali.
ICNA looses one of its strongest supporter and volunteer
In the mid-nineties when ICNA Chicago used to organize information booths on Islam outside the Dan Ryan train station, Muhammad Ali was a regular volunteer. “He would always ask for a pack of 250 of his favorite ICNA pamphlets: Islam Explained and You should know this man“. said Ikram Hussain, then President of ICNA Chicago Chapter. “He would distribute them in about 40 minutes while it took the rest of us 2-3 hours.”
Ali was also an active volunteer with the ICNA meat distribution at Masjid Al-Faatir in South Side Chicago. “We remember his selfless devotion and passion to helping others as a volunteer with ICNA meat distribution during Eid-ul Adha” said ICNA President Naeem Baig who used to volunteer with Ali.
Muhammad Ali was also part of ICNA’s Bosnia Task Force formed to stop the Bosnian genocide. He was part of the national Muslim leadership delegation which met in 1993 with the security council members and also addressed a room-packed press conference on the issue at UN Headquarters, New York. Muhammad Ali was the main attraction for the UN diplomats as well as the reporters.
Courage in face of injustice
While dominating and redefining the style of heavyweight boxers during the 1960s, Muhammad Ali’s impact as a transcendent figure beyond sports is where his imprint on the world is most prominent.
Muhammad Ali, teenager with the uncommon name of Casius Clay, came to the world’s attention as a brash, self-confident, handsome boxer from Louisville, KY. Sponsored by a wealthy group of White businessmen, young Cassius demonstrated at an early age his potential greatness in the ring by winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics at the age of 19. The American landscape was strewn with incidents of racism and bigotry as the Civil Rights Movement struggled to force legislators to remove the hideous Jim Crow laws that mandated racial separation and institutionalized inequality, especially against African Americans.
Like many superior African American athletes during this era, far too many viewed sports achievement as a more viable option than classroom excellence to overcome structural racism in America. The young Clay was no exception. His keen intellect was masked by his less than stellar accomplishments in the classroom. Boxing provided a degree of shielding from the dehumanizing effects of racism, but he nevertheless began to develop a consciousness that compelled him to lament the plight of African Americans in this country.
In June 1962, Clay and his brother were invited to attend a Nation of Islam rally in Detroit to hear Elijah Muhammad speak for the first time.. He had attended Nation of Islam rallies before outside of Miami where he was training to fight, five weeks later, Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. After Clay and his brother were picked up in Louisville by Sam Sexton and driven to Detroit, they stopped at a luncheonette owned by the NOI. It was in this luncheonette and the later rally that Clay said that his life changed forever. Malcolm X was introduced to Clay. Malcolm later declared that he had no idea who Cassius Clay was at the time because he, Malcolm, had not watched sports since he had gotten out of prison and that they “were in two different worlds. Shortly after this encounter, Clay would join the NOI. Malcolm and Clay developed a short but intense friendship that virtually ended when Malcolm was forced from the NOI. Muhammad Ali would later say that one of his deepest regrets in life was that he never had the opportunity to reconcile with Malcolm.
A champion for the oppressed
One of Muhammad Ali’s most iconic moments was when he refused induction into the United States army in 1967 because as he said then, “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger.” Understood in this statement was his position that he would not fight against another oppressed people while African Americans were being denied basic human rights in this country. As a result of his refusal, he was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his boxing title, passport, deprived of his means of livelihood, threatened with a five-year federal prison stint, and a fine of $100,000. His conviction was later overturned by the US Supreme Court.
Muhammad Ali was a champion for the rights of African Americans, Palestinians, and all oppressed people in the world. Even though he was vilified as being un-American for opposition to government policies, Ali was not only vindicated years later for his honorable positions, but passionately embraced by the American people and worldwide community. Muhammad Ali is not only a global cultural icon, but more importantly for him, a firm believer and practitioner of Islam. In response to his declaration of “I am the greatest” in the past, Ali declared, “This life is not real, I conquered the world and it did not bring me satisfaction God gave me this illness to remind me that I’m not number one, He is,”
The Islamic Circle of North America calls on all Muslims in the United States to individually and/or collectively offer Janazahul Ghaib (funeral prayers with the body not present) for our dear brother on the day that the Janazah prayer, with his body present, is offered. There are few individual Muslims who have more positively influenced the image of Islam in America than our Brother Muhammad Ali. May Allah forgive his sins and grant him Jannatul Firdous (the highest level of Paradise).