After being hospitalized because of respiratory issues and put on life support, Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz. Since 1985, Ali had been struggling with Parkinson's Disease. Even with this setback, he managed to remain outspoken. Of the many political and social issues he covered, he focused on helping people to embrace and accept Islam, especially when many politicians have relied on anti-Muslim rhetoric to gain a following.
He is best known for his athletic prowess in boxing -- having won an Olympic gold medal and received the heavyweight title three times, becoming the first fighter to do so. Often being described as "silver-tongued" or "poetic," Ali was also famous for his speeches and trash talk.
Muhammad Ali was self-assured, determined, and creative, and after I, years back, watched a video clip of him talking, I gained a large amount of respect for him. Despite being quiet and soft-spoken myself, his outgoing nature inspired me in many ways. He unabashedly stood up for what he knew to be true. Many people back down if their views are challenged, especially when threatened with the loss of their freedoms, but he prevailed in letting his beliefs be known.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, Ky. (1940), Ali began his boxing training when he was 12 years old. After his bike was stolen, he told police officer and boxing trainer Joe Martin that he wanted to beat up the thief, to which Martin reportedly responded with, "Well, you better learn to fight before challenging people," and took Ali under his wing.
Even before he reached the age of 18, Ali excelled in the sport. Before choosing the name Muhammad Ali, he referred to himself as Cassius X. When he joined Nation of Islam, he changed his name to how we know it today. In 1975, he converted to Sunni Islam, then to Sufism in 2005.
It was because of the grounds of his faith that he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Demonstrating more than a knack for trash talk, Ali spoke multiple times about opposing the war and draft as a Muslim minister, an American citizen, and a black man.
One of his most remarkable yet lesser-known feats was when he met with Saddam Hussein on Nov. 29, 1990 in Baghdad, Iraq, to secure the release of 15 American hostages. Ali stayed in the city for about a week, meeting starstruck citizens before he was able to talk with Hussein.
Despite running out of medication for his Parkinson's and being bedridden, he maintained his drive to do what he came there for, and succeeded. During and afterwards, the media and those in the U.S. government criticized his mission, seeing it as nothing more than a publicity stunt, to which Ali responded that he needs publicity for many things, but not for helping people.
After powering through 32 years despite being troubled with Parkinson's Disease, Ali proved that he was just as capable a fighter as he was in his boxing days. He picked fights in and outside the ring -- some purely physical, others with his words and beliefs.
Throughout his life, many labels had been placed upon him: boxer, egomaniac, Muslim, black, insincere, American, etc. Many of these have been said contemptuously, trying to draw attention away from his identity and all he accomplished. In his death, may we remember him for the athletic, poetic, religious, and humanitarian legend he was.
Rest in Power Muhammad Ali. You left the world, but your legacy resonates within all of us. You have gone to meet your maker in paradise.
—Sarah Amy Harvard (@amyharvard_) June 4, 2016