Why Muhammed Ali’s fight against Racism is very needed in Our Ummah

The death of Muhammad Ali made me realize that we have a long fight against racism within our Community, or the so-called Ummah.

Going to bed on Friday (3rd of June) I was reading a newsflash about Muhammad Ali being in a coma. While I prayed for him, my mind was still silently telling me: “He’s the Champ, he will be okay!”

As I came back home Saturday, my Facebook page went bunkers! Filled with Muhammad Ali images, quotes and video’s. My heart started pounding like I just survived a car crash. Amazed with all this beautiful things about him, my heart felt heavier every second it became clearer to me that Allah had taken his soul.

But I still was in a state of disbelief. When my brother walked into the room, I told him “Muhammad Ali is dead”.

“Yes, I know,” he said. That was the moment I had to believe he was gone. I sought solace on the social media, just like millions of other people, and shared my feelings about Muhammad Ali’s death.

Universal Hypocrisy and Glorification

The following hours, lots of TV channels invited guests to discuss Muhammad Ali and his legacy.  Meanwhile, lots of people on the social media were explaining why Muhammad Ali was the Greatest. I was surprised that there seemed to be little knowledge about him. But, as a fan of him myself and a being Black African Muslim myself as well, I got mad a few times, realizing that, once again, people were painting Ali to their satisfaction, just as it had been done with Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. The focus was shifted away from the early days when they were called terrorists.

The media, who once hated Ali, was now more than ever embracing him like a brother. Once called all sorts of terrible names one can imagine, was now being praised for his bravery, quick feet, and outspokenness. As they tried their best not to show his full images talking about his religion, talking about him being proud to be “black”, his full statement why he would not fight in Vietnam, and why he fought for justice for whom he believed was being treated unjust.

Hypocrisy within our Community

But while the media was glorifying someone they once called racist names, I noticed how the Ummah was massively praying and mentioning the heroic person behind Muhamed Ali. But I couldn’t help asking myself the question if we, Muslims, were not being hypocrites?

As we now all embrace Muhammad Ali for being an example for mankind and especially Africans and Muslims, we seem to forget one of the elephants in the room: racism and discrimination among Muslims.

I could tell you international stories about how we as an Ummah have failed as a mankind when our black Muslims or non-Arab Muslims have been enslaved, neglected and, as you read this, badly treated in Arab countries or just in other places we meet. But this is a topic for another article, I promise.

Growing up I learned that being a Muslim goes above your skin color and culture. I was told just like any other Muslim that we are a family no matter what we look like. But being a “black” Muslim, I face racism from both Europeans, Arabs, or Turks. Let me share two short stories with you.

Being dehumanized by a brother from the same Ummah

I can’t remember myself being more angry during a soccer game as the time I experienced racism towards me.

As my team was playing against a much higher ranked team, we were doomed to lose. But during this game we played one of our best matches that year. During the game I rushed to a high ball, while bringing the ball down. A guy from Arabian descent couldn’t mind to call me the N-words and repeating it in Arabic: “Abeed”, I felt every vain in my body wanting to punch this guy. As I walked up to him a close friend on the team screamed “You’re better than this”. His words made me stop and rushed off the pitch where I kicked an iron bar. Frustrated and angry I was to just have being dehumanized by a brother from the same Ummah! It felt like a knife in my back!

I told this guy “may Allah forgive you, for your ignorance”. Under the shower tears flew down my cheeks, while my teammates couldn’t believe or understand why I was this angry.

I’ve seen friends being refused to marry sisters due to their “other” culture. I’ve heard people use terms such as “we Arabs are the chosen people”, because of them sharing the same culture with the Prophet, and I’ve seen converts to Islam being discriminated and not considered as equal to Arabs.

I even heard a sister telling another sister I never considered a non-Arab equal to me, I know it’s wrong, but that’s how we grew up thinking.”

While we all mourn Muhammad Ali, I wonder if we as an Ummah can start throwing a few jabs at racism in our communities. I wonder if we can start educating our self about the African-Arab slave trade. I would like to start a conversations in this holy month so we can truly start uniting and deal with this fake belief of superiority. Ramadaan Kareem!

Written by Mohamed Bearrach

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Mohamed Bearrach, social work student with a great passion for sports, music, and history