A revolutionary style of boxing brought fame to Cassius Clay, but it was his voice for social justice that made Muhammad Ali — the name Clay took after embracing Islam — an international icon.
The three world heavyweight championships speak for themselves. It’s what he did outside the boxing ring that’s drawn the most comment in the days since his death on June 3. President Obama praised him as “a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t,” referring to U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and anti-apartheid activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
England’s Independent remembered Ali as an emblem of the civil rights movement and a powerful symbol against racism both in the U.S. and around the world. In 1978, Ali addressed a special committee against apartheid in South Africa. Mandela said Ali “was an inspiration to me, even in prison, because I thought of his courage and his commitment to his sport. I was overwhelmed by his gentleness and his expressive eyes.”
Al Jazeera wrote of Ali as the face of “real Islam,” quoting his frustration at the mischaracterization of his religion in some parts of the world. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion,” Ali said in December 2015.
Speaking at Ali’s funeral on June 10 will be representatives of multiple faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Mormonism and Catholicism. Also speaking will be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and King Abdullah II of Jordan, among others. Former President Bill Clinton will deliver a eulogy.