Muhammad Ali to me

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, many throughout the world are sharing their thoughts about what he meant to them. Some are looking at him strictly as an athlete who fought an epic battle with Parkinson’s disease. Some are also trying to paint him, incorrectly I believe, as post-racial. I have a few thoughts about what he meant to me which I’m going to share.

Muhammad Ali was my first childhood hero. The Ali action figure was the first that I remember playing with as a boy. Ali personified strength to me, black strength, black masculinity.

Ali showed me how to be courageous, not just at bucking American society informed by white supremacy but how to admit being wrong about beliefs then changing course more than once.

Ali sought to bring people together under common truths. Ali was unapologetic about being Muslim while working with leaders of other faiths including meeting with the Pope. Ali left the Nation of Islam to embrace Sunni Islam while later meeting with Shi’ah leaders, praying with them as equal brothers and sisters and making visitation to the shrines of Imam al-Husayn in Karbala, Iraq and Imam Ali ar-Rida in Mashhad, Iran.

Ali showed me how to have local concerns yet be global in outlook. Ali was Louisville and Saigon, Miami and Makkah, Harlem and Accra, and Detroit and Cairo. Ali was with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and at the grave of Omar Mukhtar.

Ali was my hero. No, Ali still is my hero. He is what I wanted to be as a young boy not totally feeling accepted in America. He is the Muslim who carried his faith proudly in America that I strive to be.

I cannot foresee anyone filling the shoes of Muhammad Ali…Ali…Ali..Ali!


Dawud Walid is currently the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), which is a chapter of America's largest advocacy and civil liberties organization for American Muslims and is a member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) Imams Committee. Walid has been interviewed and quoted in approximately 150 media outlets ranging from the New York Times, Wall St Journal, National Public Radio, CNN, BBC, FOX News and Al-Jazeera. Furthermore, Walid was a political blogger for the Detroit News from January 2014 to January 2016, has had essays published in the 2012 book All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim, the 2014 book Qur'an in Conversation and was quoted as an expert in 13 additional books and academic dissertations. He was also a featured character in the 2013 HBO documentary "The Education of Mohammad Hussein." Walid has lectured at over 50 institutions of higher learning about Islam, interfaith dialogue and social justice including at Harvard University, DePaul University and the University of the Virgin Islands - St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses as well as spoken at the 2008 and 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Conventions alongside prominent speakers such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Keith Ellison. In 2008, Walid delivered the closing benediction at the historic 52nd Michigan Electoral College in the Michigan State Senate chambers and gave the Baccalaureate speech for graduates of the prestigious Cranbrook-Kingswood Academy located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Walid was also a featured speaker at the 2009 and 2010 Malian Peace and Tolerance Conferences at the University of Bamako in Mali, West Africa. He has also given testimony at hearings and briefings in front of Michigan state legislators and U.S. congressional representatives, including speaking before members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington, D.C. Walid has studied under qualified scholars the disciplines of Arabic grammar and morphology, foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, sciences of the exegesis of the Qur’an, and Islamic history during the era of Prophet Muhammad through the governments of the first 5 caliphs. He previously served as an imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit and the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck, Michigan, and continues to deliver sermons and lectures at Islamic centers across the United States and Canada. Walid was a 2011 - 2012 fellow of the University of Southern California (USC) American Muslim Civil Leadership Institute (AMCLI) and a 2014 - 2015 fellow of the Wayne State Law School Detroit Action Equity Lab (DEAL). Walid served in the United States Navy under honorable conditions earning two United States Navy & Marine Corp Achievement medals while deployed abroad. He has also received awards of recognition from the city councils of Detroit and Hamtramck and from the Mayor of Lansing as well as a number of other religious and community organizations.


  1. About 20 years ago, I was in the Caribbean with my mother on vacation. We thought we were the only hijabis on the Island but were pleasantly surprised to be wrong. One day while we were on a walk, a car stopped next to us. We turned to see who was in the car, and there was a hijabi Muslima smiling at us from within. She got out of her car, introduced herself, and offered to take us around the Island. We took her up on her offer, and the next day we also met her husband. We found out during our conversations that they were reverts. My mom asked them how they came to know about Islam and the husband smiled and said, “Muhammad Ali.” Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajaoon. Brother #MuhammadAli, you will be dearly missed.

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