I thought I’d write and bring you up to date on what’s been happening here in heaven.
Things are good and, usually, peaceful and serene. After all, this is heaven. Then Ali got here.
What a scene. Fifty-two years ago, Ali shook up the world. Now he’s shaking up paradise.
The first person Ali saw was his mother. Years ago, Muhammad told a group of students, “My mother was a Baptist. She believed Jesus was the son of God, and I don’t believe that. But even though my mother had a religion different from me, I believe that, on Judgment Day, my mother will be in heaven.”
Ali’s mother was laughing and crying when she saw him and saying over and over, “My baby! My baby!” He hugged her for a long time.
Most people get here and, after seeing their family, they want to meet Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or some great religious leader. After Ali finished hugging his mother, he started signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. He did that for hours. I think he set a record for most autographs signed by a person on his first day in heaven.
“It’s just like on earth,” Ali said.
The first famous person Ali asked to see was Malcolm X. When Malcolm broke with Elijah Muhammad in 1964, Ali sided with Elijah. He believed that Malcolm was wrong and Elijah was God’s Messenger.
“I didn’t do right by you,” Ali told Malcolm when they reunited in a grove of olive trees. “What you saw was right. Color don’t make a man a devil. It’s the heart, soul, and mind that count.”
“I’m proud of what you accomplished,” Malcolm said as he and Muhammad embraced. “You’re still my little brother.”
Later in the day, Ali got together with Joe Louis. Right away, Ali asked Joe, “Did Sonny Liston get here?”
“He had some trouble,” Joe said. “But they finally let him in.”
Ali and Sonny had dinner together that night.
“You scared me bad,” Ali told him.
At one point, Joe Frazier came over to the table to say hello.
“I forgive you,” Joe told Ali. “But I still want to fight you again.”
Ali told Joe that he’d done enough fighting on earth and wanted to lead a more peaceful life in paradise.
That night, Ali and I talked about the outpouring of love that swept the world when he passed. Ali’s eyes got wide and he blurted out, “Man! That was big! It was bigger than for Elvis.”
Twenty years ago, Ali proclaimed, “I believe, if you’re a good Muslim, if you’re a good Christian, if you’re a good Jew; it doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a good person you’ll receive God’s blessing. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all serve the same God. We just serve him in different ways. Anyone who believes in One God should also believe that all people are part of one family. God created us all.”
Ali told me he’s happy to see that people of all races, religions, and creeds are in paradise. If you see a particularly pretty star in the sky tonight, that’s the twinkle in Ali’s eye.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Ali walked into a gym where some kids were training. These are boys who died young and never had the chance to box on earth. Ali taught them some moves, did the Ali shuffle, hit the heavy bag for a while. They loved him. And there was a gleam in his eye.
I knew what was coming.
“Does Joe Frazier really want to fight me?”
“I think he does,” I said.
“Doesn’t Joe know this ain’t the Ali he fought before? This ain’t the Ali he fought at Madison Square Garden. This ain’t the Ali he fought in Manila. I got my legs back. My reflexes are sharp. I’m prettier and faster than ever. Slow-movin’ Joe Frazier wants to fight me? Let me think about it.”
This should be fun.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Muhammad Ali: a Tribute to the Greatest) was published in the UK by HarperUK and in North America by Pegasus Books. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.