Muhammad Ali is the Truth


Muhammad Ali is the truth. Even though Ali laid his body down on Friday, June 3, 2016, a body that was fast and strong and weak and trembling, the essence, excellence, beauty, and truth of the man remains.
Muhammad Ali is the truth. His life tells us that to be excellent at anything, we have to put in the work. He started boxing when he was 12-years-old. He trained six days a week for more than twenty years. Joe Martin, the police officer who taught him how to box, and Angelo Dundee, his trainer for his entire boxing career, both agree that he was the hardest worker they ever trained. As a teenager, he ran to school rather than ride the bus. He asked his brother to throw rocks at him so he could work on his reflexes. He ran long distances in Miami to the point where the police contacted Dundee to confirm that Ali was a professional fighter in training.
Moreover, Ali was a student of his craft. He knew its history, and he could talk with authority about the fighters who came before him. He knew their styles and the styles of their opponents. When he built his boxing camp, he remembered boxing history by painting the names of previous champions on rocks. He made a decision to move like Sugar Ray Robinson rather than Joe Lewis. When he proclaimed himself “The Greatest”, it was a declaration based on his assessment of other fighters and a study of their styles.
Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is the truth of the essence of a champion, in every sense of the word. He fought for the Olympic Gold Medal. He fought for the money and the fame that comes with winning the heavy weight championship of the world, but he also fought for more than the belt that comes with the title. When he converted to Islam under the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he became an advocate for the dignity of African-American people in particular and human dignity in general. He claimed the right to name himself, to choose his religion and way of being in the world. He spoke the truth of African-American history as he understood it. He accepted the teaching of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad that black people in the United States were members of an Afro-Asiatic race that made us brothers and sisters with people of color across the globe. This understanding along with the just war tradition inside Islam became the basis of his refusal to be inducted into the United States military during Viet Nam.
In a conversation with William F. Buckley on his program “Firing Line”, Ali assures Buckley that his mind had not been poisoned by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Ali said:
“He cannot teach us you are our enemy, you taught us and your people daily.” Ali recited the history of lynching, castration, rape, and a 400 year enslavement. He reminded Buckley and his audience of the assassination and persecution of people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Medgar Evers. He spoke of poor education in the black community and of white soldiers who wave the rebel flag. He was a champion of the truth of both the history and the current challenges of black life in America.
Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is an international truth. He understood that systems of oppression are global. So in all of his fights, he promoted himself as the champion of the underdog. In the fight against George Foreman, the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, he assigned the role of defender of colonialism to Foreman. The people saw Ali as not only a boxer in pursuit of a championship, but he was a freedom fighter. In the fight against Joe Frazier, he again assumed the mantle of freedom fighter. Frazier held a grudge for many years because of Ali’s portrayal of him as an Uncle Tom and a gorilla. However, the two great champions made peace before Frazier’s death in 2011. The truth is that forgiveness sought may be given when two great men respect each other. At the height of his career, Ali was one of the most recognized men in the world. He was the universal people’s champion.
Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is the truth that for believers, war is prohibited. There is a long and easily recognizable just war tradition in Islam. It allows defensive wars, and it places restrictions on how wars ought to be fought. A pacifist tradition is harder to locate. As is the case in Christianity, there are some few sects who teach pacifism. Muhammad Ali, through the teaching of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam embraced pacifism. In refusing the draft, he first said he would fight if the Viet Cong came to America. Later, he took a more radical stance saying that as a believer, participation in wars that take human life are forbidden unless the war was declared by God.
According to the teachings of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, the primary significance of Islam is “the making of peace, and the idea of “Peace” is the dominant idea in Islam.” Muhammad also writes: “The author of Islam is Allah (God). We just cannot imagine God being the author of any other religion but one of peace. Since peace is the very nature of Allah (God), . .” (From the book “Message to the Blackman in America.”)
Muhammad Ali is the truth. His life is the truth that the young become the old, that vigor can and most likely will become frailty. Yet he did not hide. We cheered him as a young champion of the world. We cheered his comeback fights. We cheered again when he lit the 1996 Olympic cauldron in Atlanta. He did not allow his physical disability to stop him from traveling and promoting peace. He did not allow his dyslexia to stop him from talking trash or from speaking eloquently about his faith, black pride, and about peace. He was an advocate for research into the disease that took away his speed and grace and finally his speech.
Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is the truth and the hope that we all will take inspiration from his life, that we will live the six principles outlined at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky – confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality. Muhammad Ali is the truth that we all can be champions of human dignity, justice, and peace.

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

2 thoughts on “Muhammad Ali is the Truth

  1. Brilliant piece Valerie. I failed in finding your contact details in order to contact you individually about commenting on Rabbi Lerner’s rousing speech at the Muhammad Ali memorial service and about the need to speak truth to power on UK radio on the 16th June. If this is something that would appeal to you, please contact me on my email address aishshah(at)
    Very Best Wishes,

  2. I always admired Mr. Ali… He was in the best of physical conditioning… He could dance and trough punches for 15 three minutes rounds… I admired his pacifism.
    Why can’t we just recognize him as a great person, a mensch… Why to we have to turn him into something he isn’t… just for political agenda purposes… This demeans his character and who he was. a roll modal for all of us to have principles and morals.

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