A Dream And A Promise


A Dream And A Promise

Several hundred years ago in the dry and rocky desert, a mother died of thirst, just a few miles away from her nearest well.

For countless nights she had dreamed about a place where people didn't have to suffer for water, where there was enough for everyone. When she woke up on that fateful morning, she made the promise to herself that one day the world would know this peace.

A century later and her son would be born: Mohammed Ali Afgani; peace be upon him. He’d go on to take on Joe Frazier in Manila back in 1975.

It was a great victory for the world, but it wasn't enough.

Afgani returned to the desert where his mother died, and he continued her quest to find a solution to a problem that had plagued mankind since people first learned how to hunt, grow crops and raise livestock. He would spend his entire life trying to seek justice for the millions of people who continue to suffer under oppression. It would take him 40 years, but eventually Afgani would succeed in changing the world.

The world never knew this first part of Afgani's story; I know it because I was there. We met when I was six years old, and lived together for almost my entire life.

I was young and just beginning to learn how to write when my teacher, named Afgani after him, told me the story. He believed that by sharing the same name I would learn better.

I didn't fully understand the story at that time, but I knew that it was important. More than three decades later I still remember it.

We never shared a father, but we were brothers nonetheless. We had similar looks and similar personalities – especially with our dry sense of humor and love for American-style rock music – but he was better known than I ever would be.

I remember when I was five years old the day Afgani took me to the doctor. The doctor asked to see his birth certificate, and he showed him a piece of paper that had a different name on it.

He was so angry at being tricked that he told my mother that if he ever got any money for my good grades, he'd pay for my education and send me abroad in search of peace. He made it clear that I could never go with him because I was too young to travel alone. So, they decided that they would develop friendships with people who could take care of me while I studied abroad.

Afgani left the desert and came to the city. He felt invincible, like nothing could stop him. He was in his prime and he'd won the world over with his skills inside the ring.

He quickly alienated himself from his family, who were unhappy with Afgani's decision to leave me behind. They didn't understand why he was so determined to search for peace when it had already been found for us in the desert through Islam. It turns out that this conviction that took Afgani around the world was not about religion; it wasn't about finding God or proving people wrong – it was about giving everyone a fair shot at life.

Afgani's determination to search for peace began because he never received a fair shot at life. His mother had died early, and he'd been raised by his grandmother like a son. She allowed Afgani to use her car for recreation and even allowed him to earn money by selling newspapers at the airport.

When Afgani got bigger, she stopped the car and told him to stop using it because it belonged to her son's wife. So, instead of driving, Afgani would hitchhike around the city; it wasn't much but they were able to survive.

In the desert, people are kind and often give you a ride, but in the city, people have places to go and will rarely find time for you. Afgani was smart; he knew that if he could get a ride to the oil fields, he could work his way up through the ranks and eventually get on a plane to America.

Afgani would never forget how cruel people in the city were and began to realize that they must be living like this because they had been forced into it. He watched this system kill his grandmother from old age because she couldn't afford medicine for her illness, even though she had worked hard all of her life until she died at 55 years old.

She was buried next to him, and Afgani would mourn her death for years.

In the desert, Afgani would go on to dream of a better world where people won't be so cruel and uncaring. In America, he would make it happen. He would be known as Muhammad Ali, Jr., because his father wasn't a boxer; he was just a champion for peace in the place where he learned it. No one knew that Afgani had left us in search of peace until I read about his ideas decades later when I was working as an editor at the Washington Post.

It wasn't until I was reading about his life that I realized what a great man he'd been.

Afgani arrived in America in 1972 at the age of 22. He was just a boy, unsure about what he would do with his future. I think everyone thought he'd be our next boxer, but instead he changed the world from the bottom up.

He set out on this journey to find peace only to discover that our own leaders have never had any intention of doing so except for themselves and their families.

He'd listen to talks on the radio, and he'd learn of rich nations who had been responsible for the wars and human suffering around the world. He worked hard and learned English so that he could read what was happening. Afgani would visit libraries and different organizations throughout America to find out what was really going on in this great country, but it wasn't until he met with an organization in Washington DC that he learned just how bad things really were.

He met with an organization called the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – they had set up a meeting with their representatives at a bar in Georgetown.


At the CFR he learned that there were hundreds of millions of people around the world who were being denied their opportunities and were living in poverty. They spoke about how America had created a worldwide system where countries had different interests based on how much population they could support and where the resources were.

Afgani was in disbelief because he didn't realize that America had made these policies out of greed rather than the justice dictated by Islam. He would later write that "The only difference between this America I knew and the one in my head was that we weren't feeding these people. We've been feeding ourselves.

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