Sunday, June 05, 2016

Muslims in America?

It was my father, I am sure, who set me on the path of reading the newspaper every morning with his routine of sitting with the paper (and sometimes taking it to the bathroom too!)  Early on in my life--I wish I knew exactly when it happened--I got to that habit.  I was so much addicted that if The Hindu wasn't there, anxiety set in.

I read every page, whether or not I understood the deeper issues.  One of the most confusing moments, which I still recall, was when the business section of the paper had a report that jute prices were affected because of oil prices.  I could not ask anybody about it because in the culture back then we kids did not nag the elders with questions and I was terrified of teachers to ask them.  Stupid is as stupid does!

I read the sports pages too, and keenly followed the action even when I had not participated in the real world even for a nanosecond.  I celebrated the fact that a Muhammad Ali was winning boxing fights.  I did not understand what a jab or a hook meant, but I felt joyous that there was a name that I could recognize who was winning over names that were alien to me.  But, the mystery deepened within: how did one of our guys manage to get to America in order to box?

If the world is confusing to adults, well, it was head-spinning to the kid that I was.  Muhammad Ali looked like he could have been from India, was dark-skinned, and had a Muslim name, but was in America?

Imagine my surprise when I learnt that there were Muslims in the US and that Ali was one of the American Muslims.  When we are kids, I suppose the world is a fascinating place about which we are constantly learning something new every single day, but for some reason as we get older we think we have seen it all and that we know it all--and we stop being amazed with all things all around us.

Much later in life, here in the new country, I watched documentaries, especially Eyes on the Prize, which made me understand and appreciate Ali not for the boxing, which I don't care for, but for the phenomenally courageous civil rights fighter that he was, and for how well he articulated his views.  Which is also why of the homages that I read about Ali, I liked this part in Kareem Abdul Jabbar's tribute:
Today we bow our heads at the loss of a man who did so much for America. Tomorrow we will raise our heads again remembering that his bravery, his outspokenness, and his sacrifice for the sake of his community and country lives on in the best part of each of us.

Slate notes this from Ali's interview with Playboy back in 1975 on how he wanted to be remembered:
… I’ll tell you how I’d like to be remembered: as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could–financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam that he found when he listened to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.
A "champion of his people" he certainly was.  And a pretty one at that.


Ramesh said...

Pl correct the first paragraph. Your father must have read The Hindu along with the morning cuppa of Kumbakonam degree kaapi. And he wouldn't ever ever take it to the bathroom - stop blaspheming the goood man :)

I continue the great tradition of reading The Hindu with the morning cuppa- Ah for the small pleasures in life. I can only pity you for having to settle for The Register Guard and Colombian half roast :):):)

You entirely left out Muhammad Ali's opposition to the Vietnam War. In many ways that defined the man, for his protest was before the anti war movement really caught on in the US. He really sacrificed the best years of his career for something he believed in . Depending on your point of view he was either a sinner or a saint.

Sriram Khé said...

Ahem ...
1. we didn't know anything about "Kumbakonam degree" back when we were school-going kids in Neyveli. The only coffee that we knew was "amma degree" because mother roasted the beans in the backyard and then we had the freshly ground filter-kaapi.
2. I don't drink no Colombian.
3. Don't you dare to diss the RG

Ali's anti-war stand was tightly woven with his arguments calling for rights for the blacks here. Ali certainly put his money where his mouth was ...

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