Valley Islamic center holds memorial for Ali

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jun 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-06 01:56:11-04

Dozens of people gathered at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe to honor Muhammad Ali and his legacy.

Ali was known as a devout Muslim and champion of the civil rights movement. He was raised Baptist, but converted to Islam in the 1960's and changed his name to Muhammad Ali to get away from what he called his "slave name" Cassius Clay.

Many Muslims who spoke during the prayer service said they respected Ali for being a strong Muslim, and standing up for his faith, even in controversial times.

"He was unapologetically black and unashamedly Muslim," said Angelica Ali, a Muslim community activist.

She said Ali inspired her to convert to Islam as well.

Zarinah Nadir met Ali when she was 12 and Ali paid a visit to the first mosque built in the Phoenix area. She said Ali, who died Friday at a Scottsdale hospital, had meant a lot to her whole family.

"He inspired my father to change his name. I just admired his courage, his strength. I admire his beliefs, and that his beliefs led him to be so loving and open to others," said Nadir.

She said she had been crying a lot since Ali's death. When she met him as a child, she knew he was an important person but it's now in his death that she realizes the true scope of his impact.

"I wept. My scarf became wet. He is no longer here with us," said Nadir.

The chairman of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, Brother Usman, said Ali was not just part of the Muslim community, he belonged to the world.

Asra Hussein, an Islamic activity spoke of the time when Muhammad Ali had been offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She said he declined it because he did not want people to walk and trample over the name that meant so much in the Muslim world.

He was offered a star on the side of a building instead. Hussein said it showed her that Ali was a devoted Muslim who valued his faith over fame.

Ali is well-respected for criticizing those who have given Islam a bad name.

He is quoted as saying: "I'm against killing and violence, and all Muslims are against it. People should know the real truth behind Islam. You know me. I'm a boxer. I've been called the greatest of all time. People recognize me for being a boxer and a man of truth."

He is also quoted as saying: "I wouldn't be here representing Islam if it was really like terrorists make it look."

The prayer service was open to the community. World champion boxer Junior Earl Butler showed up to talk about how Ali had inspired him in the ring.

"I watched him for years. All my life since I was a little kid, I just wanted to come show respect for Muhammad Ali,"  Butler said.