Muhammad Ali and Osama Bin Laden are two of the most known personalities of our time, although one certainly has more favourable connotations applied to his legacy. Ali and Bin Laden come from two different worlds, one who refused to kill another man who had never done him any harm during the Vietnam War, the other being one of the worst harbingers of destruction in the modern world.
For those who do not know, Bin Laden was one of the most infamous terrorists of our generation with him being the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the US. Since then he had become an international fugitive on the run, who would only be captured, or more precisely killed almost 13 years after the attack on the twin towers.
It may come as a surprise to many that these two magnetically opposite personalities were at a point in time, mere meters away from each other. What’s more surprising is that Bin Laden was entranced like everyone else by the speeches and demeanour of Ali.
Muhammad Ali impressed even the worst of humanity, including Osama Bin Laden
In 1988, Ali was sent as a part of a diplomatic mission to embed goodwill with the people of Pakistan. Long since his retirement from boxing, Ali was now known internationally as a symbol of humanitarianism, a fact that was not lost on Bin Laden.
While in Peshawar, Ali gave a speech to an adoring crowd of thousands who keenly listened to every word he said. Standing among the crowd, was a young tall, and bearded man, eagerly listening to the proverbs of the great one.
In a biographical book titled, Ali: A Life it mentions, “On the video, during Ali’s speech in Peshawar, seated in a sea of men wearing traditional Afghani and Pakistani clothing, a thin man with a long beard stands out.”
Later on the CIA would use this very footage to confirm the identity of Bin Laden after he accepted responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “He’s wearing an Arab throbe with a white ghutra on his head. He sits two rows from the back of the auditorium, listening to Ali speak, “ read a description of Bin Laden among the audience.
While Ali wasn’t aware of his existence until much later, Bin Laden apparently was an ardent follower of Ali’s words. He would allegedly be a regular listener of his speeches and keenly observed the developments in 1990 when Ali went to negotiate the release of hostages from Iraq.
On his death, Ali was mourned in Pakistan, just as feverishly as he was mourned around the world. A man that manages to touch the hearts of the best and worst humanity can offer is truly the Great One.