Imran Shah is a political blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @ImranShah884
Imran Shah says those who embody the power structures that Muhammad Ali always fought against are now trying to appropriate his legacy.
It’s been a day or two and already our oppressors are trying to take a piece of Muhammad Ali. Like vultures preying on the deceased, they use another person’s misfortune as an opportunity to benefit their own political scorecard.
David Cameron gave a Twitter tribute to our hero while despite his record of demonising, extraditing and legislating his way to a climate of Islamophobia. As well as heading a government that has persecuted Muslims who were less opposed to his foreign policy than Ali was to the Vietnam War.
By Cameron’s book, a young Ali would be a radicalised extremist who needs to be referred to Prevent, like many of our youth are today.
And then over the pond you have Donald Trump, a man who is endorsed by white supremacists and often talks like them, giving Ali a Twitter tribute after lambasting Obama for highlighting the presence of Muslim sportspeople six months earlier.
Even Channel 4 called Ali a “pacifist” for his stance against the Vietnam War, despite the fact that he was a student of Malcolm X, did not believe in non-violence, and was driven by religious, moral and political conviction.
Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!
They will not be the only ones. You can’t blame vultures for being vultures, but must understand that their story-telling has ramifications on our future.
When Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated, there was no one charismatic, infamous and strategic enough to tell the Black American story after them, to shape their identity and their direction and capacity as a people. So their racist society, and the system that upheld it, did so instead.
They framed Malcolm X as the trouble-maker, the “uppity n*****”, who, despite his angry and fiery rhetoric, was too hot to handle to cause any real change. An enemy of white people and of peace.
No one wants to be angry and ineffective getting all that heat for nothing right? Despite the fact his words shaped more black and Muslim minds today than anyone else of his time.
And then they took Martin and diluted him until he was no longer the symbol of strength that he was. They painted him despite all his striving and enduring as a “non-violent hero,” and robbed him of his firm demands, his heavy critique of institutional white supremacy and his almost revolutionary rhetoric of Black Power.
And then they made a national holiday out of him.
After all, if you have to give the people you are oppressing a hero, give them one that supports your agenda.
Even today, white people use their version of Martin to keep Black people in check when they are demanding their equality. They have done the same with our heroes; distorted and twisted them and used them against us. Even taught us to do the same thing!
What is stopping them from doing the same with Muhammad Ali?
Today’s Muslims are so mentally colonised, they self-dilute even the Sahaba through the framing of an Islam taught by their past colonial masters: soft, peaceful-loving, austere and forever patient.
Yes they were, but not without that anger towards injustice, self-confidence, the success in Dunya purely to help Allah’s Cause and strategic brilliance to do so.
We define ourselves and our capabilities by how we define our symbols. And it was no different from someone as brilliant as Muhammad Ali. Ali had a movement to draw from and contributed to it.
Ali was certainly gifted. His physical prowess, intelligence, sheer relentless determination and audacity made him forever a legend in boxing history alone. Yet this is an echo to what he did politically for his people and the movement that carried them.
In a world of images that consisted of black men being submissive and soft to the point of pity, Ali’s militant audacity and bewildering success Was a clean break from the usual destructive and manufactured black role models.
They could be strong, powerful and successful. They could have all the odds against them and beat them. They could be just like Ali or possibly even better. Open and unashamed to be who he was, he taught a generation of black people to be the same.
This was complimented by his open support of the Black Panthers, his unwavering love for Malcolm X and his methodologies. He even risked everything – stripped of his heavyweight title, his life’s work and profession for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War.
His political actions resonated even more powerfully than inside the ring. This is his true legacy.
Civil rights movement
The likes of Ali, Malcolm X and King did not come out of a vacuum. They were a product of a civil and human rights movement of black people that grew and grew from the life of Frederick Douglass in the late 1800s. These giants were not entirely self-made; their minds were revolutionised, moulded and dignified by the political and cultural movement of Black Power.
In my short 30 year life, I have persistently heard Muslims complain that we do not have the right leaders to lead our people forward. Voicing dismay as to why our current sportspeople, business people, politicians and religious leaders are not as courageous, principled and inspiring as the likes of Ali. And my question to them is: what environment and what movement have you created that makes such people?
Always their reply is one of silence.
People like Muhammad Ali became giants mostly because they inherited a movement given to them by generations of previous leaders, who carried it for them. Which Muslims will take up their batons now?
Yes the black civil rights movement is experiencing a renaissance, but where is our movement to join theirs?
Muslims globally are in need of freedom and equality more than ever. As another Muslim hero goes back to Allah, how do we honour him as part of our people’s struggle and story, before our oppressor does? How do we preserve our identity and our struggle through him and many others? We have no space for this currently.
More importantly, who will build the infrastructure, mechanism and space for the next Muslims to be as confident, courageous, abrasive, unapologetic, humble, intelligent and as free as Ali? Look around, do you see many that could fill even half his shoes?
We must remember it is not enough to simply honour them by our hearts, social media posts and duas alone. For those who lived and died in the name of justice and by Allah’s name, we need to create a space that honours them for who they are, the values and faith they lived and died for, and one that creates more leaders like them. If not for the sake of their past, then for the sake of our future and the faith and principles of Islam that they sacrificed so much for.