Muhammad Ali The Servant


“How long is eternity?” Muhammad Ali asked and answered, “Let’s imagine, take the Sahara Desert. There’s a lot of sand on the Sahara Desert. Now imagine, that one grain of sand represents one thousand years. …Wait a thousand years and every thousand years, I want you to pick up a grain of sand until the desert is empty.”

Everyone knows Muhammad Ali, the Champion. Meet Muhammad Ali, the servant:

Muhammad Ali was Muslim. He followed the religion of Islam. A Muslim is a person who submits to a life of peace through living for the Almighty God. A Muslim is a person who accepts the message of all of the prophets of God from Adam to Abraham to Jesus to Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them all. As a Muslim, Muhammad Ali freed himself from the shackles of humanity and sought to be a servant to God and God alone.

Muhammad Ali was proud of his Muslim identity. Every chance he got, with his words and actions, he demonstrated himself to the world. He spoke with a confidence that every soul yearns: “I know where I’m going, and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”

Growing up with the living legend in Chicago, I drew pride in being a Muslim like Muhammad Ali. I drew pride in being the best that I can be at anything I do because I am a Muslim. I drew pride in striving and trying and running and struggling to defeat my deepest demons because I am a Muslim. I drew pride in standing up for truth and justice and serving the people around me because I am a Muslim. I drew pride in wearing hijab in a school where I was the only covered one so that I could be recognized as a Muslim, like Muhammad Ali, in his very name.

When I learned of his passing on Saturday morning, I felt an eerie tug at my identity and own mortality. Just the day before, during the Friday prayer in congregation, the Imam who delivered the sermon talked about how blessed we are to make it so close to Ramadan. He talked about prominent figures who had passed the week before and the droves that are dying by the day in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and lands uncounted. He talked about the 72 hours left for Ramadan. Do you think you are guaranteed another minute?

On this eve of Ramadan, as we contemplate the passing of a beloved servant, his legend lives. As some of us idolize, and some of us criticize—I find myself guilty of both—let us take this time to remember the force that made Muhammad Ali. In that same grain-of-sand explanation of eternity, Muhammad Ali shared his life plan:

Get myself ready to meet God and go to the best place.”

Here we are with Ramadan at the brink of the new day. The point of the month is to get ready to meet God, a mission that Muhammad Ali, the servant, lived in his life and continues in his death. May every thousand-year grain of sand from the Desert of Sahara and the deserts that follow bring to him the vastness of Heaven. Ameen.

Verily, from God we came, and unto Him we shall return.