Shaykh Omar Suleiman Reflects on the Funeral of Muhammad Ali

On a flight home from the Janaza of Muhammad Ali (ra), and wanted to pen my emotions while they’re still raw.

It was an absolute whirlwind. When we arrived at the center, it seemed more like a sporting event than a funeral prayer. Everyone was excited to have their ticket and take pictures of the occasion. In many ways, it seemed offensive. This was a man that I grew up adoring, and It was like seeing a family member go. To be honest, I had a really hard time forcing a smile throughout the day. But I thought to myself, one of the things that made Muhammad Ali so special was that he would make everyone around him feel special no matter how swamped or busy he was.

His family walked in and sat down one by one. Layla, Hana, etc. People surrounded them as if they were some sort of display taking pictures of them sitting in their grief. At that point, for whatever reason, one of the organizers recognized me and a few other scholars/preachers, and pulled us to be in the very front row.

Then there his body was. I imagined him walking through shouting “the champ is here!” It’s amazing that he has a presence even in his death. I stood next to one of his sons that looks exactly like him as his coffin was rolled out. With all the selfies with his casket, snapchatting, etc. around me, I chose to focus my eyes on my dear brother Hamza Abdullah who was one of those standing next to his casket. I know the softness of the heart of Hamza and could see the emotion in his eyes and wanted to feel that rather than the “I was there” euphoria. So I focused my eyes on the coffin of the champ, and the eyes of my beloved brother. Surat Al Fajr was recited as his coffin was moved. “Oh soul at peace, return to your Lord pleased and pleasing. Enter thou amongst my servants, enter though my paradise.”

The center roared with shouts of Allahu Akbar and La Ilaha IlAllah. He evokes that raw emotion even in his death. As Imam Zaid moved forward to lead his janaza, I couldn’t help but think what the journey of his soul must be like. That he’s hearing the shouts and the footsteps of the people around him. I pray that the angels are comforting him, and assuring him of his place in paradise. If there is any indication by the way he’s loved around the world, I hope we will all bear witness for our champ.

The reciter than read from Al Fussilat, “those who say our Lord is Allah, and remain firm, the angels descend upon them saying “do not fear or grieve, and receive the glad tidings of the Paradise you’ve been promised.” It was at that point that I broke down. I love the champ, and I also envy him. Not in a way that’s negative but in a way that I can only wonder if the angels would descend upon me with mercy and words of comfort like I hope they have descended upon him.

To be honest with you all, I didn’t know how much it would hurt to hear of the death of Muhammad Ali or attend his Janaza. I was surprised by my own grief. We knew he was severely ill, aging, and barely able to communicate. It was only a matter of time so why did it hurt so much? I still don’t know that I fully understand as many people have expressed the same feelings. But what I do believe is that Allah put the love of Muhammad Ali in the hearts of so many people. This is a special connection. It can’t but be divine.

I can’t think of anyone more deserving than him to have Janaza prayed in absentia across the country and many parts of the world. I’m still immensely grateful to Allah for allowing to have actually prayed in the first row of the janaza of one of my heroes.

May Allah shower him in His mercy, raise him to levels in the hereafter even higher than the ones he reached in this world, and join us with him and the one he was named after in the highest level of Jannatul firdaws. Ameen

I always wanted to meet him in this life, but pray it will happen in the next.

Love you champ,
Omar

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