Mohammad Ali and Bangladesh

Once a man said, “If I get kicked out of America, I have another home. It’s Bangladesh, my heaven.” That man is none other than the self-proclaimed “greatest” heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). Thirty-five years ago, in the February of 1978, Ali journeyed to Bangladesh with his wife Veronica for a week-long tour. He was awarded Bangladeshi citizenship from our late President Major General Ziaur Rahman. Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016, a Friday, at age 74, according to television and print media. He was hospitalized in the Phoenix area with respiratory problems earlier this week. We showed deep respect to this greatest man of world and we pray for the salvation of his soul. He was the greatest He was fast of fist and foot – lip, too – a heavyweight champion who promised to shock the world and did. He floated. He stung. Mostly he thrilled. Even after the punches had taken their toll and his voice barely rose above a whisper. That a greatest man was coming drew in a huge crowd like 2 million delirious fans who greeted Ali’s arrival at the airport in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. During his stay in Bangladesh, he went to some of the country’s most scenic areas, including the Sundarbans, a world-famous mangrove forest, tiger preserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site; the splendid Sylhet Tea Gardens; the beautiful lakeside town of Rangamati; and the coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar. The highlight of the week-long tour of Ali’s took place at the Dhaka Stadium, where he staged a “boxing match” with a 12-year-old Bengali boy who “knocked him out” (to huge cheers and laughs of the crowd of course). Ali was also awarded a plot of land in the aforementioned Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh and had a stadium named in his honor. In the documentary, Ali speaks of returning to Bangladesh and building a home there, declaring “If you want to go to heaven, came to Bangladesh.” During a public reception organised by the Cox’s Bazar sub-divisional administration, a local political figure, Akhter Newaz Khan Babul, had declared the plot to be a gift from him to the boxing legend. “I gifted a piece of plot to Muhammad Ali from out of my land. I had given him a letter of interest in gifting him the plot. He had also given me a letter of consent that he had received it,” Babul said. “Muhammad Ali had committed to come to Bangladesh every year. He had said he would build a house on the land and stay there for two months every year. But that never happened,” rued Babul. The most exciting part of Muhammad Ali’s sojourn in Bangladesh was probably the mock fight against a young boy at the Dhaka Stadium. Even though Ali took the fight as yet another stage to entertain the crowd and those watching on TV, it meant a lot to that young boy. Ali was one of the most famous people in the entire world and was loved by millions. He was perhaps the most famous athlete of all time. He was to sports what Elvis Presley was to music; indeed, the two admired each other and were friends because they had so much in common. Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky to a Baptist family. However, in 1962 the boxing champion met black civil rights leader Malcolm X and began a relationship with the organization the Nation of Islam. In 1964, Ali publicly acknowledged that he was a member of the religious movement and his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad, gave him his new name: Muhammad Ali. Although Malcolm X quit the Nation of Islam soon after Ali joined, Ali stayed on with the group and went on to cause controversy by declaring white people as his enemy. At the time, Ali said: “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad don’t want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all. Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali.” In 1975, Ali formally converted from Sunni Islam and to Sufism in 2005. Although he is dubbed as the greatest ever to enter the boxing ring, Muhammad Ali remains a name to have inspired a generation of champions including the likes of Mike Tyson and Floyd May weather and more than that, Muhammad Ali will remain as a burning example of reform and social welfare – as a champion both on and off the ring. May his departed soul rest in peace

  • Saad Bin Jasim
  • Member of Editorial Board

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