“It’s so unusual that we come under a lot of fire from even a lot of Muslims,” he said. “Muslims will say, ‘Muslims aren’t supposed to engage in boxing.’ They’ll say, ‘You are not supposed to hit a person in the face.’”
He smiles and points out that the gym is named after one of the most famous Muslims in the world: Muhammad Ali. “I don’t look at it as such a violent thing, and I know the real violence is in guns and weapons and different things that happen in our community.”
The young boxers are a range of ages. Some were raised Muslim, some Christian, some follow no faith, but all are welcome. The lessons are free and not just about boxing. Imam Muhammad talks endlessly about discipline, respect, education and commitment; about young people turning into responsible adults.
He knows all too well that just outside the doors others are pushing different messages, about gangs and drugs, and young boxers must run the gauntlet to come train. So he wants to get good habits established early.
“We don’t have a lot of time to waste,” he said. “When you come into this gym, this is where serious stuff starts. We want their commitments to be serious. We want them to be serious parents. And it all starts here.”
Certainly, boxers like Jeremiah Kendrick take it seriously, if only because it gives him a safe harbor. “I’d rather be here than standing outside. You know how Philly is; the crime rate and everything. If I can avoid getting shot at and fighting I’ll avoid that anytime of the day.”