The Legacy of Muhammed Ali

The Legacy of Muhammed Ali



After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, the legendary Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 to a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali started boxing when he was 12. He won a Golden Gloves titles before heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight.

Shortly after winning the Heavyweight Championship by easily defeating Sonny Liston whom the “Louisville Lip” labelled the big ugly bear, the Champ revealed that he had converted to the Nation of Islam. This offshoot of traditional Islam viewed all Caucasian people as white devils, so the newly named Muhammad Ali began to espouse the rhetoric of his adopted faith.

During the height of the Vietnam War, the eligible for the draft Ali took a bold stand. He refused to be inducted into the armed forces claiming to be a conscientious objector.

During the height of the Vietnam War, the eligible for the draft Ali took a bold stand. He refused to be inducted into the armed forces claiming to be a conscientious objector. This caused many people to view him as a draft dodger, thinking he was using his new found religion as an excuse to avoid serving. What most people did not understand was that Ali really was devout in his new found faith, and he was being honest in his refusal to take part in a war he, and many others came to view, as wrong.

Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War was very costly. It began with an April appearance at an Army recruiting station, where he refused to step forward when his name was called. The reaction to his refusal to serve was swift and harsh. He was stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali was released on appeal, but he could not fight or leave the country. He then turned to the lecture circuit, speaking on college campuses, where he engaged in heated debates, pointing out the hypocrisy of denying rights to blacks even as they were ordered to fight the country’s battles abroad. After four years, the Supreme Court vindicated him and overturned his conviction and Ali was once again allowed to obtain a license to box.

In the years that followed, Muhammad, like his brother in the Nation of Islam Malcomb X, began to understand that the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam were at odds with the beliefs of the rest of the Islamic world. This realization and move out of the Nation of Islam cost Malcomb X his life, but Ali was able to distance himself from that group. He moved into the mainstream of Islamic teaching and was able to take his place as “the greatest of all time” in the realm of prizefighting.

Muhammad AliAli was a master of theatrics. He made sure that every time he stepped into the ring that the stage was set for what often became a masterful, almost magical, illustration of the sweet science of boxing. If we are going to be honest about the man, we have to tell the entire truth.

Often, Ali’s crowd pleasing antics went beyond good salesmanship and bordered on everything he was supposed to be standing against. While he was a symbol of courage and self-sacrifice with regard to the civil rights movement, he would often belie those higher values by berating his opponents in a cruel and almost sadistic way.  

Perhaps the most egregious example of this was his public treatment of Joe Frazier. Frazier was the undefeated and undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World at the time of what sportswriters and fans dubbed “the fight of the century.” He often used racial slurs against his opponents calling Joe Frazier a “gorilla” as well as labelling him (and others) as “uncle Toms.”

A sad aspect of this had to do with the reality that Joe Frazier was the man most responsible for elevating Muhammad Ali to the title “the greatest of all time.” Frazier, a true gentleman, privately supported Ali in his stance for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. He was deeply hurt by Ali’s publicly berating him. It must have been somewhat satisfying when Smokin’ Joe handed Ali his first defeat in the first of their triology of fights, breaking Ali’s jaw and winning a unanimous decision.

Perhaps it was Ali’s huge ego that fueled his arrogant persona. We may never know why Ali lacked the humility associated with good sportsmanship, but we do know this, most of Ali’s career he deserved the moniker “the greatest of all time.” Sadly, Muhammad Ali made the common mistake of tarrying too long in a profession that punishes those who fight beyond their peak years. We know this too, because his fourth wife, Yolanda, has admitted that everything that Muhammad was doing, his many public appearances and long sessions of autograph signings, much of it for free, was done in the hope of doing enough good deeds to earn him a place in heaven. And Muhammad’s bigger than life persona allowed him to gain fans generation after generation. The sad truth has more to do with misplaced efforts to obtain God’s favor than anything Muhammad accomplished in and out of the ring during his 74 years of life.

All religions, regardless of their doctrines, are suffering under what I call the curse of the “isms.” Judaism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. are all under a biblical curse. The reason for this curse is revealed by the Creator through the prophet Isaiah.

13 Therefore the Lord said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.,” Isaiah 29:13-14

When spiritual truth, even the truth of God’s Holy Word, is taught without the benefit of the Holy Spirit as the Teacher, men and women never get it right.

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[a] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. I Cor. 2:13-14.

This is the sad unseen epitaph that accompanies all who seek to please the Holy One of Israel by standing in their own self-righteousness. Only when you have been given the righteousness that comes from God by grace through faith in His Messiah can you hope to please the Creator. He knows why we do what we do. That is the reason the staff of the Creation Studies Institute continues to preach the truth of the gospel of God’s amazing grace. While we acknowledge the achievements of Muhammad Ali from a humanistic perspective, we can never lose sight of what is true from God’s eternal perspective.

…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Gal. 2:16


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