What is your father's most important spiritual goal?
All he's ever done and even more so now than before, is try to do good, be kind to people, to lead a clean moral life, and most of all help people in need. His spiritual journey comes back to loving people. He loves his fans and people in general, so it comes more naturally to him than most people. He really does believe he's working for God-being kind to people, having time for people. He gets up every day and does his fan mail. He goes around the office and looks for stuff to do. People leave messages for him with their phone number included, and he'll have his office call them back. He gets hung up on a lot.
Oh yeah. When I was 13 or 14 and we'd come to be with him for the summer and we'd go through the phone books, my dad would call people and say, "This is Muhammad Ali." And just go down the list. He's really happy when he gets a number, because he loves surprising people. Because no one expects him to actually call.
So he just dials them up?
Sometimes people talk to him, but nine times out of 10 he gets hung up on. Other times he gets voice mail messages, so he leaves a message saying "Hi, I'm Muhammad Ali, and I got your message." Even when we're in a car driving, my dad will stick his face in the window and look at people in other cars. It's kind of dangerous on the freeway because they get excited. It's like having a kid in the car.the speed up-slow down game. It gives him a sense of contentment and enjoyment.
All of that contributes to his spiritual growth. He's so grounded, even though he's had so much fame and love and admiration. He says it's constant work, especially when you've got the world at your feet.
How does your dad practice Islam-does he pray five times a day?
My dad feels guilty when he doesn't get to pray five times a day. Sometimes it's more difficult for him to actually get down and pray. When the Parkinson's accelerated, he stopped getting up at 5 a.m. to pray.
But he used to?
Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? He never missed prayer. And if he did, he felt guilty about it. He probably hasn't actually done the formal prayer for a few years regularly-five times a day. He just takes moments out when he sits in his chair and prays. And he reads constantly. His life is like a prayer. God is constantly on his mind. It's not in a preachy way. It's subtle, but you feel like you're in the presence of angels around him--especially now because he's so patient.
Is he able to attend a mosque?
Yes, he does go to the mosque, but not regularly. He goes to the one in Chicago when he can. And there's a small mosque about 20 minutes away. The only problem is it's so crowded, and that's hard for him. And he won't turn anyone away.
How did your dad come to embrace Sufi Islam, and what attracts him to it?
My father has a collection of books by a man named Hazrat Inayat Khan. They're Sufi teachings. He read them front to cover. They're old and yellow and the pages are torn. They're amazing. He always says they're the best books in the world.
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.