HARTFORD – Connecticut remembered Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who captivated the world with his heroics inside the ring and his fierce activism around the word. The anti-war activist, civil rights champion and a proud voice for those with Parkinson’s and other disabilities died Friday after years of declining health. The 74-year-old died of septic shock, surrounded by family in Arizona.
In Connecticut, many mourned his passing, remembering how his steady commitment shook up the world.
Ali called himself “The Greatest,” and his actions always aligned with his words.
“He had everything, For a big man he had speed, brains, footwork, power at times, put it all there and he was the greatest,” the trainer at Manchester ROCS, Paul Cichon said. “He`s probably the best known boxer of all time, ever.”
The president of the Greater Hartford NAACP, Abdul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari, remembers Ali for putting up a different fight.
“Not just being the heavyweight champion for fighting, but taking a position on principals, what he believed in, his faith, which was very inspiring and encouraging to me because I was a Muslim, too,” he said.
Ansari was inspired by his decision to change his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., and to join the Nation of Islam.
“When he was faced with the draft going in the service, it would have been easy for him to just go ahead in,” Ansari said. “But he stood up for his religious conviction.”
Ansari said he met Ali in Hartford when they were in their 20s, and it was shortly after he won the title from Sonny Liston and declared that he was a Muslim.
“Even though he’s the heavyweight champion of the world at the time, he treated us like he was just regular,” he said. “He didn’t act like he was some big shot.”
It was the 1960s, a time when many needed Ali’s to fight this fight the most.
“At that time there was a lot of racism around,” Ansari said. “For him to take a stand as a black man, standing up for what he believed in, it was very inspiring for a lot of young people.”
“Ali's legacy will never die,” Cichon said.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA also released a statement on Ali's death:
"The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA mourns the passing of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016). The Community enjoyed a personal relationship with Ali in his youth, as he studied Islam under the tutelage of several scholars of the Community.
Most significantly, Ali’s unmatched contributions in the service of humanity are commendable and inspiring. He used his celebrity to unapologetically combat racism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Moreover, reports indicate that since 1986 alone he raised over $100 million dollars for charity to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
'Muhammad Ali is an inspiration and a once in a generation icon,' said Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah, National Vice President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. 'He was a proud Muslim and a proud African American at a time when both demographics are singled out. We pray that God bestows His grace and mercy on him. We pray that God gives patience to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.'”