American History Paper


How Muhammad Ali Influenced the American Society

Points to address:

1. How Muhammad Ali influenced the American Society.
2. How Islam change his life.
3. How refusing to a draft influenced other people to go againts the war (vietnam).
4. How Malcolm X have some influenced over Ali.


How Muhammad Ali Influenced the American Society

  1. How Muhammad Ali influenced the American Society.

Mohammad Ali influenced the American society in numerous ways. One of Ali’s greatest contributions apart from being a great sportsman who represented his country at the global level was to the American civil rights movement. During the 1960s, Mohammad Ali converted to Islam. Soon afterwards, he teamed up with the Nation of Islam in efforts to legitimize and publicize the Black Muslim Movement. During this time, the black people were being subjected to racial injustices. As a black person himself, Muhammad Ali felt obliged to use the Black Muslim Movement as a means of positive expression among the black people.

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Ali understood the political aspects of racism and fought it to the best of his ability. As a gifted boxer, Ali used his God-given talent to fight injustice and evil in the American society. In these efforts, Ali had to pay a huge cost. According to Haley, his beliefs were motivated not by personal gain but by his personal convictions about justice for all the American people (27).

Indeed, Ali made use of the resources at his disposal as weapons against the injustices of his time. One of these tools was the numerous heavyweight titles that he won. For this reason, he became one of the most recognized Americans in the world. Ali’s criticism of dictators was a major step forward in efforts to spread the American democratic values to the rest of the world.  

Furthermore, his ideas greatly influenced matters of policy within America. During the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali refused to go to war even after being drafted in the army. His refusal was based on the opinion that the war was immoral. Marqussee points out that as a black American, Ali felt that since blacks were being denied equal rights at home, for them to join in the war was simply a “perversion of justice” (47). These beliefs made Ali to be granted the status of a conscientious objector. However, he later insisted that he was not opposed to all wars and would readily participate in any Islamic war. Following these remarks, the American authorities declared that he no longer qualified to be a conscientious objector.  This matter ended in court, where Ali was sentenced to five years and given a fine of ten thousand dollars. Moreover, he was stripped of his license to box and his heavyweight title.

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Muhammad Ali continued to fight both on the ring as well as outside the ring as an American civil rights crusader. During the era of civil rights movement, Ali faced the challenge of battling issues of class and race as well as defending his newly acquired Islam name. Throughout this time, he was keen to deliver the message of black pride and unrelenting resistance to domination by white Americans. He was always willing to alienate mainstream America as well as defy the US government if that is what it would take to stand up for his principles.

For all his struggles, Muhammad Ali won the Otto Hahn Peace Medal at the age of 63. The awarding organization pointed out that Ali won the medal for his lifelong participation in the civil rights movement in America, his role as a goodwill ambassador of the UN, and his efforts to bring about global cultural emancipation among blacks.

  • How Islam changed Muhammad Ali’s life

Islam had a significant impact on Muhammad Ali’s life. Through Islam, he was able to change the view that many people had of him. The transformation went beyond a change of name from Cassius Clay to the new name, Muhammad Ali. Muhammad was not always an Islam; he changed his religion to Islam soon after beginning his boxing career. In this case, he joined the Nation of Islam. Alongside Malcolm X, Ali became the public face of the Nation of Islam.  

Saeed observes that after conversion to Islam, Muhammad Ali embarked on a path towards many uncharted lands (56). He underwent a radical transformation that was noticed by blacks and whites alike. To many, the conversion to Islam was a move to turn his back on American values, Christianity, and even the white race. The move bemused many boxing fans. Many sports governors in America were appalled. For Ali, the move to become an Islam and to join the Nation of Islam was not a way of turning his back on the civil rights movement. On the contrary, it was a way of embracing his blackness.

For changing to Islam, Ali had to face criticism from many quarters, both within America and around the globe. In Ali’s view, this criticism showed the extent to which some Americans hated Islam and the Muslim community in America. Nevertheless, it was through the conversion to Islam and membership to the Nation of Islam that Muhammad Ali first experienced a sense of social awakening that later transformed him and his career both in the ring and outside of it. Through the Nation of Islam, Ali got a clear sense of his fellow black people’s right to a dignified place in this world.

Marqusee argues that by joining Islam, Ali was able to turn his back on the main actors of contemporary social drama (104). He was able to turn his back on black youth who were focused largely on protests as a way of fighting for their rights. This wave of protests among youths had spread not just across the US but also other parts of the world. Islam influenced Ali to avoid violent protests and integration marches. However, although he refused to emulate the protestors, he was aware of the sacrifices that his contemporaries in the civil rights movement were making in efforts to fight for justice. In fact, many of his decisions were informed by this awareness.

The conversion to Islam made Ali to believe that terrorism was evil. He believed that Islam as a religion was founded on the values of peace. However, his views on non-violence created controversy because he was a boxer, and a boxer has to be violent to win tournaments. This controversy was one of the factors that led to Ali to be thrown out of the Nation of Islam.

  • How refusing to a draft influenced other people to go against the Vietnam war

Ali’s refusal to go to war in Vietnam after being drafted added to the momentum of growing opposition to the war around the globe. However, as Hall argues, even Ali himself could not have foreseen the impact that the refusal was going to have on the American and global opposition to the Vietnam War. Soon after this decision, Ali became the face of the American people’s opposition to the war. 

Ali also influenced the way in which black Americans expressed their opposition to the war. Many people of color learnt from Ali’s predicaments that there was a heavy price to pay for protesting the war. It is for this reason that many black Americans chose to refrain from participating in protests. Therefore, few black faces were seen in public demonstrations and protests even though the intensity of opposition to the war was very high among the blacks. When the reality of destruction and death in Vietnam was finally revealed to the American public, an increasingly large section of the American population started sharing Ali’s sentiments about the need to bring the Vietnam War to an end.

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  • How Malcolm X influenced Muhammad Ali

Malcom X had a profound influence on Muhammad Ali. He devoted much of his thought and time to the young boxer, even when the latter was going through difficult moments. However, this did not stop critics from insisting that Malcom X sought to use Muhammad Ali politically. There was a real, strong bond between Ali and Malcolm.

One of the greatest influences of Malcolm on Ali was related to Islam, particularly with regard to their membership in the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was performing the challenging task as a leader of the Nation of Islam. Through Malcom, Ali was able to learn about the hypocrisy that had already been institutionalized in the Nation of Islam.

Moreover, Malcolm influenced Ali to enter into political activism. However, at some point, Ali felt the need to break away from Malcolm X to join Elijah Muhammad. His decision was based on the suspicion that Malcolm was leading him deeper into the American political activism, thus exposing him to more problems with the authorities. According to Marqusee, Malcolm was intent on converting Ali into a racial hero while Ali’s intention was to become a religious hero (90).

Works Cited

Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: SparkNotes Publishing, 2002.

Hall, Simon. Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s.Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Marqusee, Mike. Muhammad Ali And The Spirit Of The Sixties. London: Verso, 2005.

Saeed, Amid. “What’s in a Name? Muhammad Ali and the Politics of Cultural Identity”. Culture, Sport, Society 5.3 (2002): 52-72.

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