Muhammad Ali's New Spiritual Quest
He's given up religion in favor of spirituality and he's embraced Sufism, says Hana Ali of her father.
BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell
My father is very spiritual-more spiritual now than he is religious. It was important for him to be very religious and take the stands he did in earlier years. It was a different time. He still tries to convert people to Islam, but it's not the same. His health and his spirituality have changed, and it's not so much about being religious, but about going out and making people happy, doing charity, and supporting people and causes.
Are you a Muslim?
It's not that I'm not Muslim, but that I can't call myself a practicing Muslim. I wasn't raised going to the mosque after my parents got divorced. I read the Qur'an a lot. But I also believe all religions are true. If I had to choose one religion that most expressed what I believe, it would be Islam.
Is your mother Christian?
She's not Christian-she'sScience of Mind
. I have the influence of both. I'm not religious, I'm spiritual, which I think is better.
Your dad writes in the book that he thought he'd be the "Muslim Billy Graham," but then he got Parkinson's. But he's still the most famous Muslim in America.
Yeah, you're right. He's one of those people who goes with the flow and sees how many people he's helped since having Parkinson's. At first he was in denial, in the beginning stages. At the same time, he was never bitter, he was never sorry. He's had it for almost 25 years. The doctors don't understand it, but they say he's better off than people who've had it half that time.
It's part of his journey in life, and he knows it. A lot of people who are famous and have something like this happen to them try to use it to help others. He got so much mail after he lit the Olympic torch. People with the disease wrote to say they don't feel so alone. Someone who was unconquerable, who stood up to the government, who defeated the government, has this disease. They look up to him, and it helps them to get up out of bed. And that helps him, too.
After September 11, your dad made an important statement condemning the terrorist attacks. Has he considered doing more public service related to Islam?
All there is to do is to live your life and be an example. It's not a religion, but a person's actions that makes them right or wrong. He did give his announcement, his speech on TV. He doesn't do interviews. That was his contribution.
What was Malcolm X's main influence on your dad?
My father really respectedMalcolm X
. He was very articulate, very intelligent, and he lived a clean life. He was strong-willed and he considered him to be like his brother. The problem was when Malcolm branched off [to mainstream Sunni Islam], my father wasn't yet at that point spiritually. He was here in America fighting his battles. That [Islamic] knowledge came after Malcolm's death, and naturally that makes him sad. All the Muslims were ordered to keep from socializing with Malcolm. But my father's natural instinct was to talk to him.
Why did you write this book together?
It's a happy accident. My dad has always wanted to write a book, but he never does anything about it. He still likes to read his fan mail and a lot of people have a lot of questions and there's a lot of things he feels that he would want to share with the world.
One thing people ask him about, that he dealt with in the book, is how he really feels aboutJoe Frazier
--because Frazier still holds a little bit of a grudge. Joe Frazier has apologized in public. So my dad gets bombarded with a lot of questions about that. He loves Joe Frazier. He considers him to be a great fighter. He's sorry for all the pain that he's caused him. I think my dad was a little intimidated by him in the beginning, but he wouldn't be who he is today without Joe Frazier.
My father loves stories and anecdotes and he likes to share them with people. They're inspiring stories that help him to be a better person,and he tries to live by them. So many people want to know how he is so gracious, so giving, so loving, and so patient with his illness. Really, he does it all through his religion. He reads little quotes and takes them to heart, little stories you learn from the Sufi religion. Those stories are sprinkled throughout the book.
How did you write this book together?
I live about a 15-minute drive away. I would go over there every single day, and sometimes we would sit together and talk and I'd write notes down, or I'd bring a tape recorder. I'd write, based on things I know, and put it together and show it to him. Nine times out of 10 he'd have me add something or change it. It's amazing how much he remembered. It was just like we always do-we'd sit around and watch TV, only this time I'd ask him questions. There were days when he didn't want to do it, and I'd just type up notes. It took over two years.