I am still trying to fathom the immense honor to stand next to the Champion of generations, Muhammad Ali, and alongside some of the pioneers of the American Muslim community.
It is certainly a symbol of the greatness of Muhammad Ali that he brought everyone together in his love, including a very ordinary man like myself. I stood next to him as a representative of really everyone amongst us. This Janaza (Muslim funeral prayer) was not about titles and who is who in attendance, but more about loving men and women from every color and status in our community, coming together to honor the man that made a difference in their lives.
I am still in awe of that moment as we stood there next to the casket of the hero who proudly proclaimed Black and Muslim American identity. Even in his death, he shattered the idols of fear of Muslims as his Muslim Janaza was on every television channel, including those that engage in spewing hatred towards Muslims. I almost broke down and was deeply humbled to recite:
"And who is fairer in speech than he who calls to Allah and acts righteously and says: 'I am a Muslim?'" - Qur'an (Surah Fussilat 41:33)
Muhammad Ali, as he planned every detail of his Janaza, knew the implications on those who reflect—that he is now proceeding to be in front of the Almighty leaving behind all titles and statuses, that even the Champ will come to Him alone with nothing but a sound heart insha'Allah and the positive difference he made in the lives of those he encountered. And as our Beloved Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: "Death is enough of an admonition."
On the other hand, as the casket holding the most beloved and influential Muslim of the 20th century started proceeding away from the crowd, much of the media and cameras immediately left the casket, and took over the podium space to take pictures and videos of the dignitaries who attended. That immediate departure from the awe of the scene was striking to me. It was an indicator that most of our social media was bereft of spirituality to the point that it was successful in eclipsing the strongest of reminders—death! This includes this reflection itself, as it is part of the ongoing social media about Muhammad Ali's funeral. And here I pray that Allah accepts me and rectifies my intention!
Among other things I experienced at the Janaza, one thing to reflect upon is when the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, arrived to join in the prayer. I was one of the first ones to see him in close proximity entering the hall. Having high respect to this Muslim President and his leadership, I felt the urge to give him salaams (greetings of peace), but I was unable to proceed to put myself out there, in awe of the Janaza scene. Many then tried to rush to him at the front, or to pray with him or in the same row, disregarding repeated urges to maintain order. They were sufficiently blocked by his guards. At the last second, I was left out of the row in the front, as the organizers merged the front rows. And there I suddenly found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with President Erdogan, praying Janaza! I was in such awe of the scene as we went into the spirit of beginning the salah (prayer), humbled before Allah that we are all in one state and rank before Allah as we pray, especially in that Janaza state (maqam), such that I still never got the chance to give him my salaams even now.
On a different note, and in a beautiful, natural indication of the humility coming from our beloved leader, Imam Zaid Shakir, the Imam (or his spiritually trained staff) posted this picture above. The photo was posted, describing the people in the picture, but without mentioning Imam Zaid's name! I'm deeply humbled by the leadership of Imam Zaid Shakir who continues to exude nobility as he led our community in this emotional farewell, may Allah preserve him!
As we reflect on his legacy, Muhammad Ali was not a great Muslim American hero just because of his sports achievements or for being at the forefront of the civil rights movement. It was because of his good character that he was an inspiration to the world and it fueled his activism. Even dictators of the Arab world like Saddam Hussein had to give in to his great character when he went against the odds to Iraq to free American hostages.
On that note, it is interesting that in the Arab world, the post-colonial and dictatorial atmosphere never fully embraced the transformation of Ali's personality from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. They kept calling him "Muhammad Ali Clay". It could be a technicality between the cultures in describing last names, but I couldn't help but reflect on the tacit unwillingness to fully accept a hero liberated by Islam even in the heart of the Muslim world!
As for us here in America, we keep referring to the Companions (Sahaba) of the Prophet ﷺ to educate our community about the embodiment of Prophetic character, and it's usually emphasized in a flaw-free way to the referenced companion, but we need to make that process more relatable. Muhammad Ali is the prime example for such education of American Muslims; that like all of us, he had his shortcomings, but he persevered and kept challenging himself and others around him to become better. This is what made him 'The Greatest' of our time!
My sincere duas (supplication) and condolences go to the Ali family, as we all mourn the loss of an icon and a Prophetic example of great character!
When I stood there, next to the casket in Muhammad Ali's presence, I humbly recited verses from Surah Fussilat, verses describing the angels greeting him Insha'Allah (God-willing) with the glad tidings of Paradise. May Allah accept him and accept us all! May He grant mercy and forgiveness to our beloved hero manyfold, with the multiplication of rewards that Ramadan brings, and may every mention of him, from hashtag #MuhammadAli to any other media, to our own personal conversations as we grieve together, be a source of blessing and honor for our Champ in the next world. Ameen.
By Ghuydar Bashmaf , 10 Jun 2016