Dear Brother Muhammad Ali,
You don’t know this, but my dad and his twin were named after you. My grandfather felt like he was on top of the world when they were born, and you were on top of the world at the time.
I do not claim to know you, for all I know is the image of you that I have formed. All I know is the man in my head that changed both my internal and external worlds. You and I lived in the same time, in the same world and yet we did not. Just like I can’t claim to have lived while Rosa Parks was around I can not claim to have been around while you were alive. Despite the similarities in our world, in our work even, we are worlds apart. Your world does not feel relatable despite similar social issues, because your world has been hijacked and erased from the history that I grew up with despite your unforgettable role in the creation of that world. It wasn’t until later, years later in college, that I finally learned about who you were.
I grew up in a Muslim community, your daughter came and visited my elementary school, and yet I did not know who you were. I knew you were a Muslim, and a Boxer. I knew you were Black and American at a time when the two did not necessarily fit with ease. I knew those things, but I did not know you. We didn’t speak about Vietnam, about your values, about your battles against racism and Islamophobia. We didn’t speak about your war against Systematic Oppression, for those things were not spoken of in my community like they weren’t in many communities. We White washed you, and for that I am sorry.
You passed down the torch to us but then we realized that we are outnumbered, like you had been and we decided to lay down the torch and join the crowds. We decided to integrate and merge, and in doing so we joined them in hunting down all the systems' enemies, and everyday your torch dimmed. And now, now that you're gone, we're back with the crowd trying to recreate who you really are like we've done to Malcolm x and King before you.
Did you know that during the last years of your life Muslims were the happiest with the system, more so than any other religious groups. We were happy with how we fit into a system that was built to oppress us.
I can not make assumptions but if I was the person that fought so bravely against the US government in the Vietnam war then I would've also fought against every war we've started in the last two decades. I would've stood with Palestine (which you did) like I stood with South Africa. With Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Burma, but mostly with the American people as they went to war against their own drones and surveillance.
People celebrate you for your boxing, and your standing up to the war, but honestly I believe your greatest achievement was that you were able to take back the narrative from the media. You lit that torch and made sure it was seen all around the world. That's something no man or women from a minority group has been able to do since. Many have tried carrying your torch, but it never burned like when you held it. And even though they weren't the mainstream it's important to remind people that neither were you. You were shunned by nearly every community for becoming Muslim, for standing up to what you believed in and because you were black. Only now, after you're gone that your skin is bleached and you join history as a knight in shining armor upholding the white mans peace are you unanimously accepted like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. before you.
I wonder what the next generation will learn about you, and the one after. I wonder if you'll look down at us then and smile or will you frown. No matter we are no longer your concern. You have given more than anyone ever should be asked to. You have paved the way for the rest of us. I just hope we can build ourselves to stand as tall to climb the paths that you set for us. Rest in peace my brother, your work here is done, but your legacy is just getting started, because we will carry your torch and follow your path and they might try to white wash everything that you were but the world will never be the same because of you.
May you rest in the same Peace that you have offered us,
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder and Director of Mental Health for MCL, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events.