In spite of his self-proclamation that "I said I was the greatest, not the smartest," the late Muhammad Ali held firm political views throughout his lifetime. The legendary boxer was predominantly known for his opposition to being drafted in the Vietnam War, a decision that earned him a controversial status but also inspired civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ali was also a fierce champion of civil rights throughout his lifetime, and even spoke out against now-presidential front-runner Donald Trump in the months before his death, describing Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States — a proposal Trump later said was merely "a suggestion" — as a misinterpretation of Islam. "I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion," Ali said in a statement.
In 1966, Ali famously refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War, saying in a statement, "War is against the teachings of the holy Qur'an." He was arrested and his boxing license taken away; his case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Although he was stripped of his titles, in the years of legal wrangling that followed, public opinion on the Vietnam War began to shift — in part due to dissenters like Ali. By 1971, the Supreme Court had walked back its decision to convict Ali. It emerged in the years following that the NSA began secretly (and illegally) monitoring Ali's communication during the case.
In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition to being a symbol of the fundamental peacefulness of Islam, Ali had become a symbol of equal rights and the necessity of peace.
Never afraid to speak up for what he believed to be right, the United States finally caught up to Ali's progressive views and recognized him in a series of awards in the decades prior to his death.
Ali died surrounded by family at the age of 74 after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease.