The late Muhammad Ali was a great hero in American society who must be remembered for more than just his achievements inside the ring, especially for his stand against Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim, nativist, xenophobic policies. Ali fought his whole life for civil rights, peace, and freedom of religion. Donald Trump and the Republican party in general have been championing all the hate and intolerance that Ali stood against, relentlessly perpetuating a massive smear campaign against Islam and its followers.
The religious right and other Islamophobic nativists seem to believe that religious freedom in America is absolute – in that it should only apply to them. Yet these same individuals who cannot tolerate the secular greeting “Happy Holidays” are ardently committed to banning Muslim refugees from entering America, to imposing surveillance on mosques and other Islamic places of worship, and ostracizing Muslim-Americans for their beliefs. They slander the entire religion of Islam as illegitimate based on the actions of a few bad actors like Daesh (IS/ISIS/ISIL) who use religion as a smokescreen to mask their very secular and immoral geopolitical ambitions – while doing the very same thing in America to deprive women of agency over their own bodies and to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
In December 2015, Ali released a public statement titled, Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States, in which he tore into the perception that Islam is a religion of violence. Ali converted to Islam in the 1960s and lived his life as an unwavering and unapologetic pacifist, even conscientiously objecting to the draft during the Vietnam War.
“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.
We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.
Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”
Ali’s statement is a critical reminder to all Americans that the demonization of Islam in a country founded by religious refugees has gone way too far. Not only has the right refused to respect Islam as a religion, they simultaneously play the victim and claim that Christianity is marginalized in America. It is utter hypocrisy to declare allegiance to the Bill of Rights while demanding the government discriminate against all Muslims, and their claims that children and families fleeing religious violence are themselves violent zealots are as incoherent as they are inhumane.
Islam is at its heart a religion of peace, a truth that the legendary Muhammed Ali took to heart and made a central part of his identity. Politicized religion in any form is in itself a contradiction in terms, a lesser form of fascism that flies in the face of the values that religion is meant to instill in the human heart.
As the world begins celebrate the month of Ramadan, a period of fasting and reflection, we wish to leave you with these words from the Prophet Muhammed (عليه السلام).
‘Forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you, and speak the truth although it be against yourself.’
If religious conservatives weren’t so intent on ignoring the actual message of the Bible they love so dearly and using their faith as a weapon to oppress and discriminate against others, they might recognize similar themes in the words of their own prophet.
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