When my father passed away in 2009 ( late Cllr Mushtaq Qureshi), I said the only other funeral I would want to be at would be Muhammad Ali’s one. So, when l heard he passed away on the morning of the 4th of June, l was ready to go the 4,000 odd miles to get to his funeral in Louisville, Kentucky, USA without hesitation.
For the simply reason that he is the greatest, as he had a phenomenal influence in the 20th century. It wasn’t just confined to the sporting arena as the three times world heavyweight champion of the world, but also as a civil rights campaigner in the 1960s who dared to say “Black is beautiful” ; a conscientious objector against the Vietnam war which cost him his prime years in the ring; a poet and undoubtedly the first king of rap with magical lines like “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee….” and not least of all a global celebrity everyone in the world recognised.
I think of him as one of the most outstanding individuals we are likely to see in certainly my lifetime and we’re not likely to see his like again.
When people talk about him it’s as if he’s their own, an uncle or a grandfather or a friend. Even my niece of only five years of age, talked as though her father and l were going to a family funeral when we set off for Louisville. She also told me Ali had died in early hours of Saturday morning.
So dare l say it was very much a spiritual pilgrimage for many who went to his funeral including myself.
On the way back to the UK from Muhammad Ali’s funeral, we heard of the appalling Orlando shooting from fellow passengers on my flight back to London via Orlando International airport last Sunday evening.
If the assailant was trying to derail the goodwill after Ali’s passing away he will failed miserably. While America buried its favourite son, as a proud Black Muslim, they watched for the first time by the tens of million the last rites of a Muslim burial. As Ali’s Jenazah in the Freedom Hall was televised live across the whole of the States on local TV channels, illustrating well Americans acceptance that you can be both American and Muslim in the United States. That is part of Ali’s legacy.
As we travelled back to London via the South by car from Kentucky to Georgia you could feel the goodwill in the United States at the pit stops along their highways. Ali was clearly accepted as an American hero. The afterglow of Ali’s funeral was having an impact well into the deep South. Personally l certainly didn’t feel any animosity aimed at me when l would have clearly stood out.
Interestingly as well, l didn’t have any difficulties travelling into and through the States. Given the discourse on whether Muslim travel bans or arms sale restrictions would have stopped the attack in Orlando it appears at least the authorities are managing this quite well without being intrusive.
So, anyone who has any respect for Ali and his legacy, will stand in solidarity with Orlando & the LGBT community at their time of need.
That’s why as soon as l got off the plane and heard of the Soho vigil for the victims of Orlando shooting, l went to Old Crompton Street in the evening. The proceedings in front of the Admiral Duncan, it felt to me very similar to the vigil after the 7th of July London bombings in Trafalgar Square, another heartfelt vigil for many Londoners.
This blog was published in West End Forum on the 24th June 2016 as their Forum piece.