Abu Dhabi boy grew up hearing stories about Muhammad Ali's first visit to emirate

ABU DHABI // When Ali Kaddas Al Romaithi looks at the framed photos hanging on his wall of Muhammad Ali’s first visit to the emirate, he does not just see a legendary boxer, but also a model Muslim. “He is the perfect role model of a Muslim,” Mr Kaddas – as he preferred to be […]

ABU DHABI // When Ali Kaddas Al Romaithi looks at the framed photos hanging on his wall of Muhammad Ali’s first visit to the emirate, he does not just see a legendary boxer, but also a model Muslim.

“He is the perfect role model of a Muslim,” Mr Kaddas – as he preferred to be called – said of Ali, who died on Friday.

“He set the example that ‘I’m not going to get angry about what you say about Islam, I’m just going to give you the facts and right answers to your questions’.”

Mr Kaddas grew up hearing stories about the heavyweight champion’s first visit to Abu Dhabi, in the late 60s or early 70s, from his father Abdullah Kaddas Al Romaithi.

Mr Al Romaithi met Ali while studying agronomy at the University of Phoenix, said Mr Kaddas. When the boxer travelled to Saudi Arabia for his first pilgrimage to Mecca, he was invited to visit Abu Dhabi, where the university ran a modern greenhouse project on Saadiyat Island.

“After Muhammad Ali finished his Umrah, he came down to Abu Dhabi and met with Sheikh Zayed and met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and his brothers,” said Mr Kaddas.

Mr Kaddas’s father was among the officials to welcome the athlete to Saadiyat.

One of his black-and-white family photos showed Mr Al Romaithi accompanying Ali on a tour of the greenhouses. In another, Mr Al Romaithi is seen guiding the boxer as he practised writing his name in Arabic.

“Both of them clicked to become friends,” said Mr Kaddas. “I think it’s because of the religion. Muhammed Ali was just newly Muslim at the time and it was his first Umrah.”

Mr Kaddas said he admired Ali’s unwavering conviction in support of religion and human rights. Ali refused to allow the Hollywood Walk of Fame committee to place his brass star on the ground, for example, arguing it would be disrespectful to Prophet Mohammed, after whom he was named, to have people walk over it.

“They obeyed his suggestions and today it is the only star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that is mounted on the wall, not on the ground,” said Mr Kaddas.

When Ali refused to be drafted by the United States military to fight in Vietnam in April 1967, citing his religion and stating that he had “no quarrel” with the Vietcong, he was stripped of his boxing title and barred from the ring for three and a half years.

“He was doing the right thing, even though he got himself in trouble,” said Mr Kaddas. “This is a great man, the greatest sportsman on earth. God bless him, that’s the only thing that we can say.”

rpennington@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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