Remona Aly
Saturday 29 April 2017 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

First Love & Fighting Spirit

My first love, the cord of unity and fighting spirit
Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2, Breakfast with Dermot O’Leary


I fell in love in the first flush of youth, when I was 14 years old. But I didn’t fall in love with an out of my league, tall, dark and handsome sixth former – that was my first crush – yet my first love went much deeper.

Being a geeky adolescent with plastic granny-sized glasses, my first love was a gorgeous piece of literature. It was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and there was one bit of the classic I fell truly madly deeply for, when Mr Rochester tells Jane there’s a string attached between the base of their hearts – a ‘cord of communion’ that would snap if she went too far away from him.

Apart from sending my formative romantic notions charging through the roof, it also made me think of the cord of God, mentioned in the Quran, which states: “Hold fast, all of you, to the cord of God, and be not divided.”

Holding fast, undivided, is the greatest challenge when each of us is radically different to the next, sometimes so different that it hurts. But I believe weaving in our complex strands like the plait of a rope makes us unbreakable.

It can take one person, one act, even one death to bind our lives together. When the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, departed this life, it felt like the entire world formed a ring to watch his funeral and live his legacy. I saw rabbis, pastors, imams, politicians and actors unite across the divides, for the love of one man – and beyond that, for what he symbolised. It’s what the Chinese call ‘chi’, what the French call ‘panache’; what Barry McGuigan might call ‘fighting spirit’.

Muhammad Ali inspired real heart, because love isn’t weak. It runs deep, it stands solid, it fights strong.

Imam Zaid Shakir, the African American Muslim who led Muhammad Ali’s funeral prayer, said: “America, despite its flaws, is great because of the greatness of its people. A great people, despite the tremendous pressures at bear, will not allow hatred to destroy the fabric of its nation. Unity and sanity, love and humanity will prevail.”

It’s not easy of course; it takes guts to stand united, especially in our unstable climate, especially with all our differences. But together, I reckon holding fast to the rope, with fighting spirit, to echo Muhammad Ali – we are the greatest.