Saturday, June 04, 2016

The story of Mohammad Ali: How Ali became symbol of resistance, hero of the world

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

"I don't have to be what you want me to be, I am free to be what I want."

This earthshaking statement was made by Cassius Clay, who was just 22, a day after he became world heavyweight champion. He had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

A black man had cocked a snook at White America and embraced Islam. America was outraged. Worse, on his side was Malcom X, the most demonised man in USA.

Soon Ali was to give another statement that was equally volcanic. It was Vietnam war and Ali had to go as a soldier to fight in Vietnam. What he said is now part of history.


Ali declared NOT to fight for America. " I don't got no quarrel with the Vietcong (I have no issues with the Vietnam people)". Ali was the most hated person in America now. Even black leaders criticised him.

Entire America was against him. Government wanted to persecute him. But he was unperturbed. Imagine, an individual standing against the 'nation'. But Ali was now a man who was above petty geographical boundaries. As a black, his community was victim of imperialism and he didn't want to be part of it.

[Excerpts from Sharda Ugra's article on Muhammad Ali and Mike Marqusee's book Redemption song: Muhammad Ali and the spirit of sixties]


Ali was hated but he stood for his people, race and humanity. He was against war. He was stripped off his title in America. He was victimised but he knew he was championing a greater cause. No one believed he would make a come back.

Ali said, "I am fighting for Allah, I am fighting for my people. I am not fighting for money and fame. I am not fighting for me". He risked everything in defying the draft [fighting in Vietnam].

While White America hated him, red carpets rolled for him across the world. Emperors, heads of states welcomed him in Africa, Asia.

World leaders like Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah honored him. He was part of the Islamic fraternity where colour of skin does not make any man superior or inferior.

Now, Ali was ruling hearts across the world. Millions chanted his name wherever he went. he became the hero of Asia and Africa.

He was the most potent symbol of black pride. When Ali denied to fight for Vietnam, no one in his place would have dared to do so.


Ali became a world icon. He was stripped of his world champion belt but, finally, there were voices in his support. He lost precious years but was again back in ring after three  years. In 1974, the old Muhammad Ali came back to right, to fight undefeated George Foreman, 24.

Ali was now old by the boxing standards but he was fighting for his race, his people..

About Foreman, he said, "He represented America, the flag, I can not afford to lose. I did not fight in Vietnam when I was young. Why should I, they treat  blacks as dogs here and me not going to Vietnam".

After six rounds, Ali was again the world champion. Finally, Ali was an American hero too.

In 1996, US made amends for its past mistakes. A Parkison's stricken Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame and America accepted it's greatest hero.

[This article includes excerpts from Sharda Ugra's article on Muhammad Ali and Mike Marqusee's book Redemption song: Muhammad Ali and the spirit of sixties. Full credit to Sharda Ugra, the well-known sports writer and Mike Marquesee]