Physically, the last phase of Muhammad Ali’s life was very difficult. The ravages of Parkinson’s Disease had robbed him of his health, vigor and voice. Spiritually, however, Ali was only strengthened as he approached the end of his earthly tenure. His illness could not steal his generous heart and noble spirit. Despite that, his departure was painful and represents a great loss.
For me, that loss has been lessened by being able to witness, up close, the tremendous outpouring of love and support his family has received from all over the world. The healing process was furthered by an amazing memorial service, which I was honored to have been chosen to lead. Many of Ali’s most beloved friends, along with a wide array of faith leaders, were able to gather to reflect on his life and significance.
In the immediate aftermath of that glorious event, we are now confronted with an unprecedented national tragedy, the unconscionable massacre of fifty of our fellow citizens in Orlando, Florida. Although the alleged gunman is dead, the fact that he has a “Muslim” name, will likely unleash a wave of anger, hatred, and possibly acts of violence, against the American Muslim community.
This barbarous act in no way represents the Muslim community that Ali was part of nor does it reflect the Islam that Ali exemplified. The fact that thousands of Muslims traveled from all over the country to attend his funeral indicates that his message of peaceful protest and dissent, love, compassion and humanity is a message that resonates with American Muslims. I firmly believe that it is also a message that will eventually defeat the violence of dehumanized extremists who never miss an opportunity to defame the very religion they perversely claim to be defending.
If Ali’s life taught us anything, it is that love conquers all. Ali’s deep love, compassion and generosity is what helped to make him the towering figure he became. In the aftermath of the awful tragedy in Orlando, we must all tower above our negative impulses and try to find the inner strength needed to heal our wounds and to forge on as a unified nation.