The Soul of a Butterfly by Muhammad Ali
People were always asking me what I was going to do after I retired from boxing. My response then was as it is now: During my boxing career, you did not see the real Muhammad Ali. You just saw a little boxing and a little showmanship. It was after I retired from boxing that my true work began. I had more time then to develop my spiritual being the way that I once developed my muscles and agility.
When I look at the world, I see that many people build big beautiful houses but live in broken homes. We spend more time learning how to make a living than we do learning to make a life. What I hope to share with you are the beliefs that I have come to live by: Many of the philosophies, stories, and ideals that have touched my soul and inspired my heart I learned from my study of Islam. I have shared this knowledge with my family and friends; now I offer it to the world.
Over the years my religion has changed and my spirituality has evolved. Religion and spirituality are very different, but people often confuse the two. Some things cannot be taught, but they can be awakened in the heart. Spirituality is recognizing the divine light that is within us all. It doesn’t belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone.
People have asked me if I still work on my faith. The truth is, I can talk all day about my faith because more than anything else in my life, I believe in God. If all of the oceans on Earth were ink, and all of the trees were pens, they still would not be sufficient to write down the knowledge God has. Knowing that God has power like that keeps me humble. The more I study about God and Islam, the more I realize how little I know. So, I am still studying, and I’m still learning because there’s nothing as great as working for God.
Truly great people in history never wanted to be great for themselves. All they wanted was the chance to do good for others and be close to God. I’m not perfect. I know that I still have things to work out, and I’m working on them. There are certain things I have done that I am not proud of, especially when they caused pain to others. I ask God for forgiveness.
No matter where I go, everybody recognizes my face and knows my name. People love and admire me; they look up to me. That’s a lot of power and influence for one man to have, so I know I have a responsibility to use my fame the right way. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always tried to be good to everyone no matter their color, religion, or position in life. Though some people may see themselves as better or more important than others, in God’s eyes we are all equal, and it’s what is in our hearts that matters.
People say that I gave away too much money during my boxing career. They write about how some people took advantage of me, stole from me, and how I let them get away with it. Even when I knew people were cheating me, what was important was how I behaved, because I have to answer to God. I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions: They will have to answer to God themselves. Throughout my life, I never sought retribution against those who hurt me because I believe in forgiveness. I have practiced forgiving, just as I want to be forgiven. Only God knows what’s in a person’s heart, his true intentions. He sees and hears all things.
Many people around me had their hands out, and I tried to help as many of them as I could. There’s nothing wrong with that. I gave to people in need, even when I could have used the money myself, because God had made me rich enough. Now, as I look back, it seems that the more I gave in the name of God, the more he has given back to me. I try not to speak about the charities and people I help, because I believe we can only be truly generous when we expect nothing in return.
At night when I go to bed, I ask myself, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, would I be proud of how I lived today.” With that question in mind, I have tried to do as many good deeds as I can, whether it is standing up for my faith, signing an autograph, or simply shaking a person’s hand. I’m just trying to make people happy and get into heaven.
My concept of religion has broadened over the years. My mother was a Baptist, and my father was a Methodist. They both believed that Jesus was the son of God. I don’t believe that, but I believe he was an important prophet like Moses. I believe that on judgment day, my parents will be in heaven, not because they were without fault, but because they were decent, loving human beings, and they believed in God. We all have the same God, we just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans, all have different names, but they all contain water. So do religions have different names, and they all contain truth, expressed in different ways, forms, and times. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.
This book is a reflection of my life, it describes some of my most memorable experiences, and tells the story of how I came to be the man I am today. I have come a long way since I started boxing. I’ve traveled all around the world and met all types of people. I believe that God beautified the planet by spreading everyone out and making us different. The goal of our nations should be to work on understanding, respecting our differences, and celebrating our similarities. We should appreciate the beauty in the diversity. It would be a boring world, if every flower were the same shape, color, and size.
One of the most important aspects of my spirituality has been gradually recognizing all of the moments in my life when God was working through me, inside and outside the ring. Growing up, I had trouble reading and spelling. I barely graduated from high school. They have a name for what I have, dyslexia. But back when I was in school, teachers figured that kids with learning difficulties were stupid. School was challenging for me, but I found a way to work it out. When I came to a brick wall, I didn’t give up and quit; I found my way around, under, or over it. I found a way to work with what God gave me. When I read or hear something that I think is valuable, something that speaks to me of the world as I feel it, I focus on those parts. I memorize them. When something seems true to me, it becomes part of me. That is how I learn.
I felt God was always working through me. He filled me with wisdom, confidence, self-assurance, and awareness. I studied life and I studied people. I may be poor at reading and writing, but when it comes to love, compassion, and other feelings of the heart, I am rich. There is an old saying that I’ve recited over the years. It goes like this: “Where is man’s wealth? His wealth is in his knowledge. If his wealth is in the bank, he doesn’t possess it.” My wealth is in my knowledge of self, love, and spirituality. I’ve tried to use my knowledge to be a good representative of my people. I can’t be blind, because if the blind lead the blind they all fall into a ditch.
My soul has grown over the years, and some of my views have changed. As long as I’m alive, I will continue to try to understand more because the work of the heart is never done. All through my life I have been tested. My will has been tested, my courage has been tested, my strength has been tested. Now my patience and endurance are being tested. Every step of the way I believe that God has been with me. And, more than ever, I know that he is with me now. I have learned to live my life one step, one breath, and one moment at a time, but it was a long road. I set out on a journey of love, seeking truth, peace, and understanding.
I hope that one day all nations great and small will be able to stand up and say we lived in pursuit of peace for all. Maybe then there will come a day when instead of saying, “God bless America,” or “God bless some other country,” everyone everywhere will say, “God bless the World.”
( Extracted from the book by Muhammad Ali with Hana Yasmeen Ali, The Soul of a Butterfly )
Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016) – A legend, A humanitarian, A fighter for social equality and justice, A poet, A man who loved all people, A boxer, An athlete, A champion and much more passed away on June 3, 2016 (26 Sha’ban 1437 AH). May God accept him among the most honored of paradise (Ameen).