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Boxing and Belief: celebrating the legacy of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali- Janaza and Memorial Service offers an intimate behind-the-scenes view of the janazah of Muhammad Ali held in June of 2016. The event was widely televised with famed members of the Muslim scholarly elite such as Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir delivering heartfelt and honorary speeches in praise of Ali the sportsman, activist and wordsmith.

Isra Morley

Muhammad Ali bee and butterfly

This short feature is a collection of personal video footage and photographs taken by Tariq Subhani, assistant to Imam Shakir, as he shadowed and aided him throughout the funeral proceedings. These stunning shots and poignant moments are edited together with Muhammad Ali’s unmistakable rhetoric to produce a worthy tribute to such a great man and a truly captivating viewing experience.

Janaza funeral service of Muhammad Ali

The first section of this feature documents the burial day and the procession leading up to it. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf delivered a speech and offered prayers before his coffin was driven to the cemetery, complete with pictures of the throngs of fans that lined the streets. With this exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, viewers are given a chance to see members of Ali’s family, famous friends with familiar faces, and immerse themselves fully in an emotional yet empowering day for the global Muslim community.

Muhammad Ali funeral - flowers on hearse as people touch it in farewell

Imam Zaid Shakir delivered his widely televised speech in rhyming couplets in the same vein as Ali, a huge and distinctive part of his beloved rhetoric that set him apart from his fellow boxers and solidified him as one of the most influential voices of the civil rights movement. Imam Shakir’s speech is moving as well as uplifting – a fitting celebration of the ‘The People’s Champ’ both in the ring and outside of it, making it clear that his influence extended far beyond the world of boxing.

Muhammad Ali with Malcolm X

This is a fact that is also made clear during the reception event that followed the large public funeral, an event full of close personal friends and family swapping personal anecdotes on his illustrious life culminating in a final speech from his widow Lonnie Ali. His influence is also celebrated in a final montage of pictures from Ali’s life set to his speeches on why he chose Islam and absorbed it so fully as part of his public and private identity. He cites it as a source of spiritual nurturing, a key component to being proud of his identity as an African American, and an open rejection of the white Christian establishment.

Muhammad Ali praying and in Mecca

Ali’s well-documented relationship with Malcolm X and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War marked a new age of agency for the African American community, encouraging them to embrace the religion of their forefathers and to take pride in standing against an establishment that was so abusive to them. He identified being Muslim as an extension of his African heritage and black identity, an ideology which still rings true for many members of his community.

Muhammad Ali banner

The diverse assembly comprised of Islamic scholarly elite standing alongside some of the world’s biggest celebrities is a testament to the power of Ali’s rhetoric, athleticism and character, a power which he used to transcend the boundaries of racial and religious affiliation on a global scale.

Flowers on car at funeral of Muhammad Ali

Despite only being a short feature this documentary manages to encompass the legacy Muhammad Ali left behind and how this was as a direct result of his steadfastness in his faith. This is an uplifting viewing experience and a beautiful tribute to a man who meant so much to so many people, a true celebration of an icon who helped change the world.

Muhammad Ali service to others

Isra Morley is a University of Glasgow English Literature and Latin graduate. Raised in Cardiff by an Indian mother and a Greek and Welsh convert father, Islam and the pursuit of its understanding have always been central to her life and writing. Having written articles for various Islamic publications, and taken part in assorted creative writing courses, she is currently an intern with the Alchemiya Journal.
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