Terror in Orlando: Ali Bomaye!
I was prepared to continue mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali in private, with my family and local community, and then this morning I awoke to the the horror in Orlando, and I just wanted to scream.
I am a Muslim. I am a Muslim in large part due to Muhammad Ali, who was a childhood hero of mine, long before I knew anything about the faith. He remained a hero into young adulthood and into this present day, because he represented many of the things I also rep for, such as Islam, blackness, social justice, humanity and love. He took two holy names and made them a part of global lexicon, so much so that people throughout the world scream Muhammad and Ali in unison, just as they had once had in Ghadeer Khum in the middle of the desert for only the faithful and historians to hear.
Muhammad Ali represented many things. Those who outcry the participation of many at his funeral, who they feel are incongruent with the politics of Muhammad Ali, have themselves “flattened” Muhammad Ali to a sliver of his robust and intricate persona. He was many things and his funeral was attended by many people, and his Islam was a global Islam, evolving beyond the backwards fatawa (plural of fatwa) of Saudi clerics who label anything new an innovation and associate it with shirk (polytheism), in order to destroy it, so that they can further manipulate and control the faith. Muhammad Ali also represented Islam, better than anyone without the surname Shabazz in the West and like Malcolm X, who was his mentor, Muhammad Ali continued to evolve and grow, becoming a better human being day by day. This is what I know of Islam and why I became a Muslim, and this is why I hate what happened in Orlando and mourn it doubly.
What happened in Orlando is sick and it has no faith, let alone Islam. If you think it has something to do with Islam, then check your own timeline for posts about Muhammad Ali and have fun trying to reconcile those two very disparate things. Muhammad Ali represented Islam, what Orlando represents is faithlessness. Today the community in Orlando is mourning, and I mourn with them. The LQBTQIQ community is reeling, and I too reel. Gun owners feel they are being homogenized with terror and I too feel the same. Yet there is a sliver of hope and it is named Muhammad Ali, for even in death his memory destroys the argument that this is Islam—it knocks out bigoted polemics and stands victorious, so that we all can chant “Ali Bomaye!” while facing terror with the poise of this unique and singularly powerful soul.
Muhammad Ali walked away at his prime, because he did not want to kill. His stance, which cost him dearly, represents Islam greater than any singular bomb blast or mentally unstable individual with an Islamic name. No one has ever done that in my memory. Imagine Lebron James Steph Curry stepping away from the sport of basketball, or Joe Cool walking away from the field in the late 80’s because he did not agree with the Gulf War. My Bay Area pride aside, no one has ever come close. Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf, whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1996 at a Muslim Unity Conference, came the closest in my opinion, but even he never walked away from sport for his beliefs—and as ill as he was with the rock back then (check tape if you are Steph Curry fan), he was never the G.O.A.T.
I never got to meet Muhammad Ali and it will remain an unrequited item on the bucket list. I was lucky to go to Louisville last year and visit his museum, walk through a street named after him and imagine as a squinted the segregation of the city in which he was bred. Last year as I visited his city, I was mourning Paris, events in Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen. This year I add Orlando to the list—as we as a human population try to heal, while we are baited into a never-ending conflict of us versus them. Like Ali versus Frazier, one side versus the other, where victory can only come when bodies hit the floor—and yet, if we understood Ali, we would know what Ali versus Frazier truly was. Frazier supported Ali as he took his moral stand and walked away from boxing, financially and stood by his side—these weren’t enemies caught in a never ending cycle, but two human beings who stood beyond the sport of boxing and became friends. This is the Islam that Muhammad Ali represented and this is the Islam I know.
So I ask you, if you have been reading this to invoke Muhammad Ali in your mind. Let him fill your consciousness and allow his memory to knock out the media fabricated mythology of the Islamic terrorist. Islam is about justice, peace and the evolution of the human being to become a better human being; that is why you love Muhammad Ali and why in that love we have to have to battle bigotry and hatred as he once did, in order to rise. It is why we have to build bridges and not walls, to paraphrase Billie Crystal, and why we have to stand for justice, instead of giving into the easy path of hatred and indiscriminate blame. Let us mourn those who we have lost and let us stop this cycle of hatred, by reminding those who would terrorize us that we will no longer give into their greatest strength, which is bullying us into conflating our hatred of them with a billion innocent Muslims—because these Muslims are represented by Muhammad Ali and nobody can’t beat the GOAT.
Professor A.L.I. is a spoken word and Hip-Hop artist and educator; in his piece “The Pen” he immortalizes Muhammad Ali with these words, “or channel Sonny Liston with devil intuition and fight Muhammad, then, pen becomes a prison.”
Professor A.L.I. has also written the book “A Muslim Trapped In Donald Trump’s America”, which speaks to the issues outlined above.