Thursday, June 9, 2016

Perspective: To celebrate Muhammad Ali's legacy, we must live by his principles


"I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30 million black people."

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: The Nation Pakistan
By Kashif Chaudhry | June 08, 2016

Just as Ali gave his life to fighting racial discrimination and prejudice in America, we must call out anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry in our midst

It is one of those rare occasions when everyone - on all forms of media - is talking about the same person. The world has come together to mourn the loss of one it's greatest - Muhammad Ali. Like everyone else, fellow Pakistanis are also rightly celebrating his grand legacy.

We love Muhammad Ali. We cherish his successes, his ideals and his principles. We know him not just as a great athlete, but as a man who boldly stood up for what he believed in, and was ready to challenge the status quo.

Muhammad Ali was a man who fought passionately for the rights of the oppressed. He was one of the most vocal opponents of racial segregation - Jim Crow laws - in the United States. As protest, he even threw his 1960 Olympic gold medal in the Ohio River. He didn't want recognition from a system that racially oppressed people. He wanted to live in a world where no one would be discriminated based on their color, race or beliefs. He was a man who struggled for freedom and absolute equality.

"They get hit by stones and chewed by dogs and they blow up a Negro church and don’t find the killers."

He lamented the rampant prejudice and violence against African Americans, and the indifference of the State in bringing the perpetrators to justice. In fact, the State – by endorsing racial segregation laws – was a partner to these crimes he believed.

He proclaimed:

"I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30 million black people."

Muhammad Ali was fiercely vocal against racism and Islamophobia. Yes he was a black Muslim, but his stand was not based on mere affiliation, but on principle. He detested all kinds of hate and discrimination, no matter who the victim. He said:

"Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong."

So how can we Pakistanis celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest men the world has seen?  Is sharing his pictures and quotes enough? Of course not. We must honor him by following in his footsteps. And as Pakistanis, we have ample opportunity to do so.

Pakistan is a country that has many parallels with early and mid twentieth century America. Today, religious minorities in Pakistan are treated similar to how America treated blacks in Muhammad Ali’s formative years. Similar to racial segregation laws (abolished in 1965), Pakistan has laws that enforce religious segregation. The State not only judges the faith of its citizens (Second Amendment), it has also passed laws that discriminate and punish a particular religious community – the Ahmadis - for their religious profession. Hundreds of Ahmadis have been imprisoned in Pakistan for praying like Muslims, reading the Quran, reciting the Kalima, identifying as Muslim, saying the Salam etc. Today, Pakistan is the only country in the world to have laws that strip a religious community of their right to self-identity and basic religious freedom.

And anti-Ahmadi hate speech and abuse is rampant in society. Extremists often target religious minorities with impunity in Pakistan, and are rarely brought to justice.  Hundreds of Ahmadis have been martyred for their faith, and over a hundred Ahmadiyya 'places of worship' sealed, taken over or burned down. In the last ten days alone, two Ahmadis have been shot and killed, the latest in Attock. And there have been no arrests as usual.

If we really wish to honor Muhammad Ali's legacy, we must call for an end to this rampant discrimination and State-sponsored persecution of religious minorities at home. Just as Ali gave his life to fighting racial discrimination and prejudice in America, we must call out anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry in our midst. Just as Muhammad Ali decried racial segregation laws, we must speak up against Pakistan's opprobrious anti-Ahmadi laws. And just as he refused to be drafted in an illegal war because it was against his principles, we must refuse to sign the discriminatory clauses in our passport applications that force us to insult Pakistan's Ahmadis every few years. There is no better way to honor Ali’s legacy than to champion his cause for equality, justice, tolerance and pluralism.

But if we continue to stay silent on the issue of Pakistan's draconian anti-Ahmadi laws, and continue to endorse religious discrimination and oppression of Ahmadi Muslims by the State and right-wing religious clergy, then I am afraid we do not honor but deeply insult the man that was Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali recognized the importance of speaking up against injustice very early on. He famously said:

"A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he'll never crow. I have seen the light and I'm crowing.”

Let us revere the most beloved athlete of all times by learning from his integrity.  Let us also see the light. Let us also crow. Rest in Peace Muhammad Ali.



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