I can remember back to the year 2001 when Muslims in America were overwhelmed with joy when Hasim Rahman scored a stunning knockout victory over the then heavyweight champion of the world Lennox Lewis in South Africa.
I did not see the fight live because I was on a Greyhound bus traveling from St. Louis to New York. I found out Hasim pulled off the upset at a rest strop in Pennsylvania where a group of Muslim brothers were talking about it.
The next day in Brooklyn and New Jersey I heard a lot of Muslim brothers excitedly talking about Hasim and a lot of brothers were trying to get a tape of the fight. These were all African-American brothers; but a few weeks later I was in the DC area at the home of a Bangladeshi brother and he and his friends were equally excited.
It was not just the fact that Hasim was a Muslim, because there have been numerous Muslim titleholders in boxing from Muhammad Ali to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad to Naseem Ahmed, it was the fact that Hasim was such a vocal and enthusiastic Muslim.
After he defeated Lewis he attributed his victory to the fact that his salat had been right and he used a number of Muslim phrases in his interview with HBO commentator Larry Merchant. Most Muslims did not know at the time of the fight but learned shortly after that his father, Yahya Cason, is an imam in Baltimore and a prominent figure in the Muslim community. We also did not know that Hasim was married young and had a Muslim family. So, the more Muslims learned about our brother the more we learned to like him.
After the first Lewis fight Hasim was given a lucrative contract by Don King and I have it on good authority every Muslim within shouting distance came running to get a piece of the money for their community projects. I am told he donated a nice sum but after a time grew a little leery (which is understandable).
In the buildup to the rematch with Lewis in a televised joint interview on ESPN Hasim further impressed Muslims by physically attacking Lewis after his sister was disrespected. Watching the program I could almost read the mind of Hasim and it said “I cannot let this man disrespect a Muslim sister”.
So, while most Muslims were not in the camp of Hasim leading up to the first Lewis fight, Muslims in America were fully on board for the rematch and there were PPV watching parties for Muslims all over the country. American-Muslims were prepared this time around to support our man; but there was a little problem, Lewis was also prepared.
Rumor had it that Lewis did not train hard for the first fight and had been too busy on the set of the Hollywood film Oceans 11. He looked sluggish and out of shape going into the fight; but for the rematch he had trained well with Emanuel Steward and was in prime condition and ready to avenge his loss. Muslims watched the tables be turned that night as Lewis scored a viscous knockout victory over Hasim after landing a classic right hand.
For the moment, the Muslim hero had been vanquished, and American-Muslims were left with only a few fringe contenders like Zahir Raheem and rumors about Bernard Hopkins being a Muslim (his camp is almost entirely Muslim and I have been told he is a Muslim).
Hasim would have a few other good moments and some good wins; but his career would never again gain the kind of notability he had after the Lewis win thanks to losses to guys like John Ruiz and getting knocked out by Oleg Maskaev.
However, like a lot of Muslims I know, I was still pulling for Hasim when he fought the Ukrainian Heavyweight and universally recognized best in the world Wladimir Klitshcko last Saturday. And, like a lot of Muslims, I cringed as Hasim took a straight up beating at the hands of Klitschko.
Now is the time, and all fighters get to this point, for Hasim to look in the mirror and say ” I have made good money, given good memories, and left my mark, now it is time to retire”. That would be the best course of action for Brother Hasim. Go out while he still has his health and work on his deen.
There will be other Muslim boxers to come up like Saddam Ali a young Yemeni kid from Brooklyn, Amir Khan out of England, and Rock Allen out of Philly; but no matter what they do they will have a hard time topping the excitement Hasim created on that night in South Africa.