Rasheda Ali was born too late to see her father in the arena in all his swaggering pomp but, thanks to the magic of the film, Muhammad Ali’s quick stride, verbal taunts, and regal allure never fade. “I watch him box all the time because he was so good at it,” she said. “It was like watching a Shakespearean actor. He was so handsome when he moved.
“I don’t see that today. My father had so much passion for sports; he loved her so much. The early years of his prime it was wonderful to see him dance around the ring. It’s something I don’t think we’ll ever see again.
Ali passed away five years ago this week. A documentary film, City of Ali, marks the anniversary by exploring the place where he was born and, 74 years later, buried with great fanfare: Louisville, Kentucky. Directed by Graham Shelby, it tells the story of how Ali grew up during the days of Jim Crow’s racial segregation and, when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, faced widespread hostility.
But over the decades, the three-time heavyweight world champion became a legend during his lifetime – a comic depicts him boxing Superman – as well as a civil rights star, a Muslim who preached interfaith tolerance, a person with Parkinson’s disease whose courage and charisma were on fire. In June 2016, Louisville gave the “greats” a funeral fit for a king, with more than 100,000 people on the streets and tributes from everyone from Bill Clinton to Billy Crystal.
For Rasheda, who shares his Muslim faith, he’s always been a dad, clowning around the house like he did in front of the camera. “Parts of this movie made me cry with joy,” the 50-year-old said via Zoom from his home in Las Vegas. “I also had sadness, because I remembered looking at my dad and how funny he was and how he made people laugh. My dad was like that with us. He loved playing pranks on us and he did magic tricks for my children, his grandchildren.
She fondly remembers family outings to the movies – but only after bribing him to take his Parkinson’s medication. “I told him we were going to see Peter Jackson’s King Kong and showed him the trailer and his eyes exploded and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to go see this movie.’ I said, ‘Daddy, we can’t see the movie unless you take your meds.’ So he reluctantly took his medicine and we left the house.
“Dad loved to watch his people. He liked to see their expressions when he walked into a room. So we went to the movies and there were all these people rushing around and my dad loved being Muhammad Ali. He loved spending time with his fans and he loved to take us with him and brag. He would take all his daughters and we would get in a car and drive around town.
Ali had seven daughters and two sons. Rasheda’s continued sense of closeness to him emanates from the film and Zoom. “I would tell my dad in secret about things that I couldn’t share with my friends,” she says. “My dad was very outspoken and he was a social man, so I could talk to him about things that were quite personal that I was embarrassed to even say to my friends.
“I could talk to him about things that I was uncomfortable with. I was struggling with my own personal issues and he always gave me his best advice, like no matter your age, no matter your situation, if you believe there is something you can do, just do it. It resonates with me even to this day.
Born in Louisville as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he announced his conversion to Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali (some older residents of the city never quite accepted this). Rasheda insists that her formal diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 1984, three years after his retirement from boxing, has not weakened his own faith.
“It must have been difficult for him to be diagnosed with something for which there is no cure. It was probably mind boggling and shocking at first but, once my dad was able to come to terms with his condition, he kissed her and he always thought that everything happens for a reason. God put him on this earth for a reason; God gave him this condition for a reason.
“He just kept giving to people. He hasn’t stopped sharing. It was a little hard at the end when it was hard to walk and talk, but he still kept doing the things he thinks God put him on this earth for: giving to others. In my humble opinion, I think Parkinson’s disease saved his life.
Rasheda, advocate for research on progressive nervous system disorders and author of a children’s book on the subject, explains: “Parkinson’s disease is a very humbling experience, something that takes away: my father’s best asset was his speech and it was a test to see how much faith my father had. In our religion we believe that when you are tested it does not mean that you are a bad person, God loves you and wants to see how much we love the Almighty.
“I think my dad embraced Parkinson’s in the sense that he felt that ‘God is testing me to see if I will always trust him, even though it is harder for me to speak. and walk. ‘ Personally, I think that put him on another level spiritually, because I think he handled this very, very complicated condition very well.
After years of keeping a low profile, Ali, a trembling but indomitable colossus, returns to the public arena by lighting the Olympic flame at the opening of the 1996 Games in Atlanta. His left hand was shaking uncontrollably. His right held the torch in the air.
Rasheda looks moved at the memory: “It was very brave of him and he did it not only for himself but for other people who had this condition. He wanted these people to know that” I’m Muhammad Ali, I have Parkinson’s disease but I can still be great and I can still do things that will change the world. “He gave people with other conditions the ability to be brave and strong and hold on, because that’s what he did, hold on to his faith.
Rasheda’s sister Laila was a professional boxer who retired undefeated and now Rasheda’s son Nico, 20, has just turned pro. Seeming like any worried parent, she admits, “I understand why, because he had a connection to his grandfather and then he just started to love sports. I am not 100% happy but I support him 100%.
Ali’s death came amid growing unrest over police gunfire on unarmed African Americans and a presidential election campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which proposed a ban on Muslims from enter the United States. Rasheda reflects, “The movement of my father, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and their stand against police brutality at the time, comes full circle because we are seeing it again.
“My father had suffered hate crimes. He had suffered tons of death threats. Islamophobia was on the rise at the time of my father’s death. There was a heated presidential campaign, so there were a lot of people coming out of the woods: hate groups and the like against African Americans, people of color, Jews, Muslims.
“It was really overwhelming. I think my father’s stance against these type of hate groups resonates and has certainly been a huge inspiration to the Black Lives Matter movement. “
Trump, who staged big fights at his casinos, had appeared at Ali’s charity events, while Ali attended Trump’s wedding to Melania Knauss at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in 2005. When Ali died, the businessman-turned-candidate told the New York Times when Ali was a “great guy”, “so generous” and an “incredible poet”.
Trump won the election a few months later and, as president, quickly issued a travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries. Rasheda, who remembers briefly meeting Trump but doesn’t know him well, says: “He was a huge fan of my father but then once he took office I think he forgot who my father was. dad.
“You cannot be a fan of someone and go against their religion and beliefs. Once in power he had a different political agenda and he decided he wanted to reach out to people who didn’t like Muslims and didn’t like African Americans or Jews or any other group. Unfortunately, the political agenda has become more important than the love of the people.
She continues, “My dad was very clear who he kissed and he always really kissed those who loved others. So my father wouldn’t have been for anyone who specifically excluded a group of Muslims. He has always believed in implementing love and inclusion and has always been against racial inequality from the start because of what he grew up in.
City of Ali briefly raises the question of whether Ali could have been buried in Mecca, but he chose Louisville, the city that did and is his parents’ resting place. Rasheda, who grew up in Chicago, learned about it as a child after visiting her grandparents and other family members. She always returns to the Muhammad Ali Center and is standing on her father’s grave.
“When I go to Louisville, I bring him flowers. I spend time alone with my father so that I can talk to him and think about it, tell him what I’m doing, what I’m working on. I still cry because I miss him and it’s not going to stop even in the near future. It is not going to change because I miss him every day and he was an integral part of our lives.
She adds nostalgically: “The moments I spent with him are like gold. Even a moment alone with him was like gold because we shared it so much with everyone. It was really nice to be able to spend this quiet and alone time with him. It was a gift. “