Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincided with the first celebration of Muhammad Ali Day in Illinois on what would have been the champion boxer and civil rights activist’s 80th birthday.
“Dr. King and Muhammad Ali are models of hope, courage and conviction in the face of extreme challenges,” said Dilara Sayeed, president of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition and one of the activists who fought for Muhammad Ali Day.
Ali lived on Chicago’s South Side during the tumultuous 1960s through the 1970s where he found his faith at the Nation of Islam. He refused to enlist in the United States military during the Vietnam War, and his refusal cost him nearly everything.
When asked about possibly going to jail as a result of not going into the service, Ali said, "Well, whatever the punishment, whatever the persecution is for standing up for my religious beliefs, even if it means facing machine gun fire that day, I will face it before denouncing Elijah Muhammad and the religion of Islam. I’m ready to die.”
The heavyweight boxing champion was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his heavyweight title, lost his boxing license and sentenced to prison but didn’t serve time.
“We stood on the shoulders of Dr. King and Muhammad Ali, his brother fighting his will to express his desire for peace in the world,” said civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson in video remarks at the inaugural the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition’s “Deliberate Dialogue” round table discussion Monday. “He was a champion inside the ring and a hero outside the ring.”
“When I think about what’s going on in the country right now, what comes to mind the most is conversations we would have about why he took the stands that he did,” said Maryum Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter and social worker.
Maryum Ali, Dilara Sayeed, and Donald Lassere, the president and CEO of the Chicago History Museum and the former president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, join the discussion on “Chicago Tonight.”