By Shah Siddiki
The Revival talks to Danny Williams about life as a Muslim, his boxing career and his future plans.
Big, powerful and fearless can be three words to describe the current British Boxing heavyweight champion. After knocking out the likes of Iron Mike, Audley Harrison and most recently Matt Skelton, Danny Williams visited Queen Mary's University in East London to discuss Islam and life outside the ring. The talk, hosted at the Mason lecture theatre, turned out to be quite an audience as the big man sat himself down with his title belts gleaming in front of them.
Born and raised in Brixton, Williams described how his life revolved around friends who were involved with drugs, gang violence and prison, yet the only time he went to court was for jury service.
Although his family were not so religious-minded, his father was a strict Christian and Danny still remembers attending Sunday Church with him. However Christianity, with its fundamentals based on the Q & A With Shaykh Salim Giza!Trinity,' was something which dazed Williams.
"The more I read the Bible, the more I questioned myself" he said. He began pondering about Islam and Judaism, although he repeatedly spoke of how he did things which prevented him from being a Muslim at the time.
Journey to Islam
He was first drawn to Islam while he was abroad in Turkey, when he heard the adhan at a mosque there. Williams described how at the age of 27 he turned to seek spiritual guidance and slowly fell in love with Islam through the beautiful Quran. "You only need to listen to the verses to realise this is the true word of God" he said, and he called on the non-Muslims who were present to read the Quran.
It took him a few years before he converted to Islam in 1999. In his own words it was "a gradual process." He spoke clearly of the numerous contradictions contained in the Bible and felt that worshipping Jesus was not right. "Every time I tried to prove the Islamic faith wrong, my belief in it became strengthened; there was an answer to every question I asked."
Danny said that he used to watch a lot of Ahmed Deedat's debates, particularly the Christian versus Islam debates. William regards Deedat as one of his main inspirations in becoming a Muslim alongside his desire to read various Islamic books and attend various talks. Williams describes how he found it simple and easy to wake up in the morning and pray five times a day.
"It only takes a few minutes to pray, you could be on the phone longer than that", he said, jokingly. "A few years later my wife converted and now she prays five times a day." After taking up Islam, he described his daily routine which included waking up at four in the morning, reading his Fajr prayer and then going out for his jog. His lifestyle and career revolved around praying five times a day.
The subject shifted to his boxing career as Williams spoke of how he took up boxing when his dad had a dream for him to become a world champion one day. By the age of 10 his dad had provided him with 4-5 years of training to enable him to go to the gym and become a qualified boxer. Training since the age of 8, he hailed the likes of Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali as his childhood role models. "I was about 14 years old when I had my first fight, and it gave me the strength to believe I can be a good boxer."
His showdown with Klitchko last year was endured with fatigue and tiredness, because he trained during the holy month of Ramadhan. But he was determined and confident of taking the WBU title for himself. Williams believes that allowing Islam into his life made him become a better fighter because it made him more comfortable and patient.
Speaking of his battle with Audley Harrison a few months ago, he said he was able to ignore all the criticism made towards him from Harrison, because of how Islam taught him to have patience. "I was always a nervous fighter, but since I became a Muslim, I am more relaxed both in and out of the ring."
Williams was now open to questions from the audience so I thought I'd ask him how he handled life without getting too deep into the luxury of it. "Simple" he replied, jokingly. "I'm not rich but I'll answer the question when I do get the money." Immediately laughs began echoing all around the lecture hall. I was then tempted to ask him how he handled his nerves before clashing with Iron Mike and whether he had nightmares of Tyson taking a bite off his ear.
Again the response was a simple one- "I was stronger, more confident and knew he wouldn't be biting again." Following my questions came an anonymous one in a small slip passed by one of the sisters from the back row, which read- Q & A With Shaykh Salim Giza!are you married?.' Louder echoes of laughter were received as Williams responded- "yes I have a marriage contract with my wife."
An interesting question was addressed to Williams from the audience, surrounding the issue of whether he thinks Muslim women are being oppressed in society because of how they cover themselves. To this, Williams responded by saying how he personally feels that it is Western women, and he cited Hollywood actresses as an example, that are actually oppressed, because of how they reveal themselves in everyday society. "It is they who are being exploited," he argued.
Life after Boxing
A happily married father of two, he intends to give up his boxing career very soon because Islam discourages violence. He wants to wait until he becomes World Champion so he can accomplish his fathers dream. After giving his audience a few boxing lessons, Williams returned to talk about his future ambitions and said he was willing to give up boxing for the sake of Islam.
He spoke of how he intended to go abroad, learn Arabic and seek more knowledge after his boxing career. While his parents aren't too bothered about him being a Muslim, the problems stem, he said, from converting them. However his sister has recently taken up Islam and his brothers are keen to study it.
As the lecture was drawing to an end, Williams dished out his title belts for the audience. Fortunately I was on the front row so I could hold them and get a quick picture with him before a wave of people came my way. Those who weren't able to talk with Williams followed him all the way to his car until he drove off.
As I saw for myself, Danny Williams is a great role model for young Muslims along with the likes of Amir Khan. Let's hope Inshallah there are more Muslims who can be successful like them and show the world that Islam isn't a segregated, questionable faith but a beautiful one which encourages Muslims to prosper in every field.