Is your mother Christian?
She's not Christian-she's Science 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 respected Malcolm 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 about Joe 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.
There's never a time when he can't communicate. There are intervals in the day when he might be tired, but it's not like you have to struggle to understand him. Sometimes the words don't come out as clearly, but it's not as bad as people might think. Often he speaks clearly but with a whisper.
How did you decide to become a writer?
My first book started out as a gift to my dad. It's really hard to give him stuff because he doesn't need anything. The things that make him the happiest are books or things you make. So I tried to create a memoir. I was going to go to Kinko's and copy it, but my mom thought it was so good that she called a friend who is now my agent and had her look at it. And it got published. It's not like I wanted to write more books about my dad-this one just happened when I was visiting him here. I'd been working on another story that got pushed aside.