I happened to come across the book “The Soul of A Butterfly” written by Muhammad Ali and his daughter Hana Yasmeen Ali back around 2003. Portions are from the book “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times” by Thomas Hauser which was one great book. Having re-visited Ali’s Camp at Deer Lake last month brought back many memories of my visits there in the 1970’s. It’s now the Butterfly & the Bee bed and breakfast.
Hana is one of two daughters from Ali’s marriage to the beautiful Veronica who also is the mother of former champion Laila Ali. This book gives the “other side” of Ali up through 2002 and his search to bring as much peace to the world as he possibly can.
Few people seem to remember when Ali in 1990 traveled to Iraq with the hope of the release of fifteen United States citizens held there for four months by Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait. Ali toured the country and told Hussein he would report back to the President of the United States what he saw. The hostages were being held as “human shields” to deter military strikes from the West. Six weeks after Ali brought the hostages back home to their relieved families, Operation Desert Storm bombarded Iraq, a harsh reminder to the hostages of what could have been had it not been for Ali.
The book talks about Ali’s life as a youth how he challenged the neighborhood bully to a fight in the “ring”. How he frustrated him into the second round when the bully ran out of the ring exhausted from so many missed punches claiming “this isn’t fair”. How Ali tried to meet with “Sugar” Ray Robinson at a New York gym only to be told by the great boxer “later, boy, I’m busy right now” and Ali made a promise never to do that to one of his fans.
Ali tells upon his return to the US in 1960 after winning the Olympic Gold medal in Rome how he tried getting Joe Louis and then Robinson to manage him only to be turned down by both. He was signed by local white businessmen from Louisville. Even though he saw how blacks were being slighted back then his stable was a mix of all ethnic people. “My trainer was Angelo Dundee, who was Italian. Bundini Brown, my assistant trainer was a Black man, but he was Jewish. Gene Kilroy, my camp manager, was white, Ferdie Pacheco, my ring doctor, was Cuban. And Howard Bingham, one of my closest friends, is Black and Christian. I loved them all and considered them my family,” said Ali.
One day while in camp at Deer Lake when a knock came to the door of Ali’s cabin it was a young boy with health problems wanting to meet with Ali. The boy was wearing a heavy sweater and a wool cap though it was a hot day in May. Ali questioned why he was dressed like that and the boy told him he had Leukemia and was wearing the cap because his hair fell out, due to the chemotherapy that he had undergone.
Kilroy took a picture of Ali with the twelve-year old boy. The boy said “my name is Jimmy” and how Ali made him happy. Ali told the boy how he was going to beat George Foreman and that the boy would beat Cancer. Ali had the picture of him and Jimmy enlarged and sent to the boy’s father signing it “to my friend Jimmy”, and how he was going to beat Cancer and Ali was going to beat Foreman”. Two weeks later the boy’s father called and said his son was in the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and he didn’t have much more time to live.
Ali had Kilroy drive him down that day to the hospital and when he arrived at Jimmy’s room “his skin was as white as his sheets were”. Jimmy looked up with bright eyes and called out, “Muhammad, I knew you would come!” Ali reminded him what he told the boy. “No, Muhammad. I’m going to meet God, and I’m going to tell him that you are my friend.” Ali hugged the boy and the room was silent and everyone had tears in their eyes. A week later little Jimmy went on to join the Lord.
Ali has seven daughters and two sons. The youngest of them was adopted by him and his wife, Lonnie, who married in 1986. Ali went on to tell how he felt when he was told he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him and at first refused interviews only to realize other victims with Parkinson’s depended on how he would handle it and how then he was at peace.
Ali would go on how his faith in Islam has changed him. It pulled him up and kept him clean as a human being. He tells how he has two daughters from other relationships, Miya and Khaliah. How Miya was teased because she said her daddy was Muhammad Ali and the kids didn’t believe her per her mother. Ali flew to New Jersey where she was living and drove her to school and stayed with her all day through her classes.
In 1996 at the Olympics in Atlanta Ali was to be the final carrier of the Olympic torch. Olympian Evander Holyfield would enter the stadium carrying the torch that he would be handing it to the great swimmer Janet Evans who would be handing it to Ali. “I showed the world that Parkinson’s disease hadn’t defeated me. I showed them that I was still The Greatest of All Time,” said Ali.
In 2002 Ali visited Afghanistan on a three-day mission for the United Nations. He would meet with President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul. In 2003 Ali would meet with the Dalai Lama at an interfaith temple outside of Bloomington, IND. Ali would go onto say “with all that we’ve accomplished through history, we have yet to master peace”. He added “we have to make an effort to be kind to others, even toward those we don’t know. It is through selfless acts that we inspire change”.
Hana and her father were at his house watching old Elvis Presley movies together. “Dad is a big fan of Elvis, and in the middle of the movie, Dad reminded me that Elvis had given him a white jeweled robe back in the mid-seventies”.
They went for a drive that afternoon to buy some Bibles and Qurans for a project that Ali was working on. They noticed an elderly black man standing on a corner of the street with a Bible in his hand. Ali would have his daughter turn around and pick the man up. When the man got in the car he told them his name and that he had just got out of church and asked if they could drop him off a few miles up the road. Hana told the man she wouldn’t mind driving him home.
At this point the man realized when Ali turned his head around to the back of the car to who it was. He told the man how he and Hana were on their way to purchase Bibles and Qurans. The man told them he had three Bibles at home that he would give them free of charge. Ali asked how much money he had on him and the man said ten dollars. Ali asked Hana the same thing. She said she would go to an ATM machine and get more. Ali tried and tried to give the man the money but the man kept refusing to take it. Ali wasn’t used to this behavior for he knew many people who would usually ask him for money but this man refused. When they got to the man’s house “he would introduce us to his wife, of more than thirty years. As we were leaving his house I notice my dad had hidden the money under a napkin in the kitchen. I gave them my phone number and told them to call me when he needed a ride to church or anywhere else,” said Hana.
Ali would ask his daughter Hana “you would go out of your way to pick him up and then take him all the way home?” Again she said she would, if he needed me to. She noticed her dad’s head was down and she could not see his face. He then looked up at her with tear-filled eyes and said in a soft and gentle voice, “That’s me in you.” Then he smiled at her and added, “You’re on the road to heaven.”
The entire books informs the reader how Ali is all for peace in the world. Remember, this was just after 911. He converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. In 2005 he embraced Sufism. Ali had two boxing lives, one before his three year inactivity for not wanting to fight the Viet-Con and the one upon his return to the ring. Now in his “third life” he is a world known humanitarian.
The book “The Soul of A Butterfly by Ali and his daughter Hana is a great read. It really shows the Ali of today!