Muhammed Ali on Modesty – A Father/Daughter Talk

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

The following true incident took place years ago, when former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammed Ali was visited by his daughters, who arrived at his home wearing clothes that were immodest. Here is the story as told by one of his daughters:

“When we arrived, the chauffer escorted my youngest sister, Laila, and me to my father’s suite. As usual, he was hiding behind the door waiting to scare us. And we exchanged as many hugs and kisses as we could possibly give in one day.

“My father then took a good look at us. He sat me down in his lap and said something I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down and in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get them.’

“He looked at me again with serious eyes and said, ‘Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.'”

Taken (and slightly edited) from Rohi Padela’s excellent Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved blog.

Note: It is worth noting that Muhammed Ali now follows the Sufi path of Hazrat Inayat Khan, according to Hana Yasmeen Ali. An interview with her, where she mentions that fact, can be found HERE.

Update Note: Because of the response in the comments, here are links to two previous posts on Hijab: Wearing Hijab – A Spiritual Concept and Wearing Hijab in Mecca.

The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “Faith is naked, but its clothes are modest.”

Ya Haqq!

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24 Responses to Muhammed Ali on Modesty – A Father/Daughter Talk

  1. Achelois says:

    I didn’t know he was following sufism. That is great news!

  2. ned says:

    Hi Irving … first of all, let me mention that I love Hazrat Inayat Khan and resonate deeply with the Inayati lineage! Even though I am not a religious Muslim, I have been thinking of getting an initiation into the Inayati Order (as they also welcome non-Muslims).

    Not too put too fine a point on this, but just to share my own experiences as someone who used to wear Hijab and be very conscious about modesty … there is a real danger, I feel, when women become psychologically dependent or attached to a particular type of dress such as the Hijab. I am speaking from experience on this, which is the only reason why I’m saying it. I remember what used to happen to me was that if a man ever saw me without the Hijab, I would rush and cover myself up, and a wave of anxiety would wash over me. I mean I think I became pathologically dependent on the Hijab and was obsessed with looking modest. I was very spiritually immature at this time — it was many years ago. I think there is a danger of believing that some sort of clothing can protect you — it can’t.

    This whole mentality of treating women like “precious jewels” who need to be protected — I can see that it’s well-intentioned but I have always found it very stifling. I wish that instead of imposing this mentality on me, my parents had enrolled me in kung fu or martial arts lessons when I was five years old! I’d be a lot safer today!

    In the final analysis, true protection comes from within. This may be very difficult for people to understand and someone might make fun of me for saying this, but if one is totally surrendered to the Divine — regardless of whether one is male or female — one is always protected by the Grace. You just can’t suffer if you are in that state — it’s not possible. You could be a woman and sit around stark naked, but if you truly have that authentic spiritual presence no harm can come to you — because you are protected by the Grace. (We still find statues of topless women from ancient India. They were considered sacred. Modesty is socially constructed.) Numerous mystics have described how they have been able to avert being murdered because they were able to go into states of total non-resistance. Not to sound too Star Wars-y here, but even in my own experiences I have at times been able to sense a protective auric forcefield around myself. In that state there is no fear whatsoever, I know that I am loved and protected, and as long as remain surrendered to the Supreme Will no harm can come to me.

    Basically in my own journey, I realized that surrender to the Divine means something totally different from following social conventions or even religious edicts. That’s why it’s so much harder to truly surrender than to follow conventions, because you have to accept what God accepts and reject what God rejects, regardless of what society thinks and even if all of society is against you. As Pir Vilayat says, the spiritual path is only for the lion-hearted.

    I think I feel inspired to write a post on this subject as gender-related trauma has been such an important part of my own spiritual awakenings.

    Sorry that was a bit of rant, maybe! ;-) Hope nobody takes any offense at what I’ve said.

  3. Shahrzad says:

    Muhammad Ali traveled to iran once. I met him, of course in a meeting with others.. I liked his words.. His story really touched me.. :)

  4. Irving says:

    Salaam Dear Sisters:

    Thank you for the comments :) And Ned, of course you are right that modesty comes from within, although having an outer layer of it also helps :) That does not mean having to wear a hijab, but an attitude of modesty that is internal. There are two old post on darvish about it, that you can find by using the Search function on top of the blogroll. Just type in hijab and they will come up, inshallah :)

    Ya Haqq!

  5. Merryweather says:

    Modesty… hmm. Great reminder :)

  6. Merryweather says:

    As for Mohammad Ali… wow, he’s something :) I don’t doubt either that he’s taken to the Sufi path :) May Allah guide us all to His Light. Amen.

  7. Rabu says:

    This what I needed today to know! Masallah I find it.

    We are the precious. Everything from HIM and will return to HIM.

    Thanks dear brother irving :)

  8. Omar says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this. I am a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, and I have lawys wondered at how he can allow Laila to box in public when so scantily dressed. I know that Ali divorced his fisrst wife Sonji, mainly due to her not dressing properely. I know too, Ali saw to it that his third wife, Veronica, was properly dressed when in public.

    I hope, his daughters took his very wise advice seriously.

  9. ned says:

    Hi Irving — yes, I’ve read your posts. I really like the esoteric interpretation of Hijab you gave. But really in terms of changing one’s consciousness I don’t see what external dress has to do with it. Not much, if you ask me. Like I said, many Indian yogis and yoginis would basically sit around half naked and it didn’t interfere with their yoga or get in the way of raising their consciousness. Sure I can accept that there are social norms, but they are *human* norms, not divine sanctions … the Divine really doesn’t care so much about these things in my experience. Women can go topless in some places in Sweden and nobody really cares or even notices. Ditto for certain tribes in Africa. Ancient India I’ve already mentioned. Now of course our sympathies lie with different traditions so we’ll probably have to disagree on this somewhat. ;-)

  10. Irving says:

    Salaam Dear Brothers and Sisters:

    Thank you all for the comments :) And Ned, I don’t disagree at all with you :) I have lived a life of extremes, and been exposed to all kinds of social norms of dress and behavior in various cultures, and embrace them for their beauty. I love the infinite diversity of human expression, and can never understand the Mao mentality, where everyone looks and acts and thinks the same. My Master stresses that we dress comfortably in the style of the country we are in, live simply, earn an honest living to support ourselves, and help as we can all who need it that cross our path. Allah knows the truth.

    Ya Haqq!

  11. pbsweeney says:

    I only want to love my sisters, no matter what they are wearing. I only want them not to be beaten or killed over a piece of cloth that will be the first thing to rot in the grave. Forgive me, dearest, but folksy stories that gently remind women that they should be covered, infuriate me. Diamonds, pearls and gold are cold, dead things. Yes, his daughters are treasures, but they are the treasure of life and light and air and birdsong and all that is divine that we see right in front of us.

  12. Barbara says:

    Salaams Irving,

    I guess everybody’s right according to their personal opinions. Personally, I LOVED what this father said to his daughter, and I’m sure he told her this story in a very loving way. In seeing how some young women go to extremes for attention in their dress, I would guess maybe seeing his daughter scantily dressed in his opinion, and as a father ,and knowing how men in general think, didn’t appreciate the way he saw his daughter dressed. I am going to tell this lovely story to my grandaughters and friends’ daughters; Being they’re of all religions, they’ll understand I’m not talking about totally covering themselves up either. My dad didn’t used to like to see me in shorts when I was a teen.

    .

  13. Omar says:

    I too, having spent most of my life in Africa, Eastern Africa in particular – have been to many places where people go almost naked and in some parts (like North Western Kenya, North Eastern Uganda and Southern Sudan) people are totally naked – have lived it all. But that kind of not having enough clothes is due to culture and lack of religion in those parts. At the same time, in those parts – having a woman’s body not covered is not intentinal and not exhibitionism.

    While on the other hand, there is the kind of a woman displaying and exposing parts of her body intentionally and with a sexual purpose. And a woman can be completely covered up and still at the same time, be covered in such a way that she is sexually explicit – which is wrong too.

    Unfortunately: in both the developing world and the so called developed world – people, especially men, have used the culture, traditions and the system which they have, to subjugate women and make them very miserable. In the Western world, with all the so called women’s ‘liberation’ and ‘rights’ – women are in most insatnces no more than sexual objects and in many instances (like in the very big and lucrative pornograhic ‘industry’) women are used in the most despicable, degrading and horrific of ways. And in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – women too, find themselves, in many instances, in the most miserable of situations.

    Islam, as taught in the Holly Quran and as examplified by The Prophet’s life – gives women the uttermost of respect and dignity. Only those who misterpret these, see otherwise or do/act otherwise.

  14. Mustahsin says:

    I would not agree that dress is not important. In the Qur’an and the sunnah it is well-established how much men and women should cover. We have a material body, material needs and material responsibilities. The material side of our existence is tightly tied to our spiritual side. Covering our material body as Allah and His last Messenger (peace be unto him) told us to cover is therefore very much related to our spirituality.

  15. MysticSaint says:

    Mashallah. a beautiful post, a beautiful advice. may Allah bless Muhammad Ali and i am so glad that he is on the sufi path of Hazrat Inayat Khan. God is beautiful and He is the guide indeed!

  16. Yes very true… Hijab is required to protect the women (who are more valuable than any jwel & daimond)

    Please feel free to read article related to Hijab from the below Link

    http://moralsandethics.wordpress.com/2006/11/01/liberation-or-sexploitation/

    Iltemase Dua
    MoralsandEthics

  17. [...] out to Darvish Explore posts in the same categories: Reliable [...]

  18. umar boxing industri says:

    hi
    how are you
    my name is umar nawaz from pakistan sialkot

  19. Terry Graham says:

    I thoroughly agree with both ned and pbsweeney, who have expressed the view of the spiritual woman who is in harmony with the Divine. The Koran says nothing about hijab, which is a concoction of male chauvinists seeking to keep women under their control. Such individuals, who have poisoned both Christianity and Islam,have vitiated the messages of Jesus and Muhammad. I am moved by Muhammad Ali’s eloquence in the way he expressed his view to his daughters,and I certainly admire what he has done for the dignity of human beings in general, but I am afraid that his beautiful metaphors simply conceal that old bugaboo of dogmatic religion: naked puritanism, that which spoiled so much of the profound mystical thinking of the founders of American spirituality. Let us think of the great 12th-century Sufi master Ruzbihan of Shiraz, who, as the preacher of the Atiq Mosque,in Islam’s Abbasid golden era, down from his pulpit chided a mother who was upbraiding her daughter for not covering her face, saying, “Let the beauty which the Creator has bestowed shine forth to inspire others!”

  20. Rabia says:

    I do agree with all of you
    Sometimes Hijab is indeed oppresive, just a tool in the hands of paternalist and patriarchical men. However it depends on the context. In Iran, it might be a symbol of oppression, because women are required to wear the veil. In Holland, because of the media hype against Islam, women from cultural muslim backgrounds start to wear the scarf because they want to show that they are proud of Islam and/or that they are proud of their Morrocan/Turkish background. Here the veil also can be emancipatory. These women are usually very well educated (while their mothers are usually not, so this is a big big achievement) and know what they want to achieve. By wearing the veil they say implicitly: hey, I want to show who I am because I am proud of myself and you cannot ignore that I am a self conciouss woman having the right to express my religious identity, like you christians in this country have as wel.

    Like wearing the scarf, sometimes, showing your (naked) body can also be very oppressive. It again can be both oppressive and liberatory depending on the context. Billboards showing women naked for marketing of cars or underwear are offending for a lot of women. We are human beings so we are not products. However swimming or walking naked can be very liberatory if there are no stereotypes attached invented by sexually frustrated men. I can imagine that women want to cover themselves when such men are around. Indeed when such men are not around and there are only men seeing you as a human being instead of a woman its o.k. to be half naked!

    Whatever we wear (be it the scarf or not), wherever we go, RESPECT WOMEN’S CHOICES
    en let them choose for themselves what to wear!!! they are adult human beings, able to judge for themselves
    men (and even women) sometimes seem to forget this

    THANK YOU.

  21. ruzina begum says:

    Mashallah,this is a nice story with a beautiful meaning. Of course, at the end of the day we are going to be judged by our character and Allah is the best judge, but if we are instructed to dress modestly then we should, to please Allah and because Allah knows what is best for us, since he is the One who created us.

  22. Sebastian says:

    The comment on Ali following Inayat Khan is interesting because I recently read elsewhere that Ali’s poem on ‘truth’ is actually Inayat Khan’s. This would imply blatant plagiarism by Ali because he seems to say on a tv interview that it is a poem he wrote himself.

    This is quite suprising considering how honest Ali always used to be. I mean, we are talking about a man who performed magic tricks and then all but forced his audience to stick around and learn the tricks because he felt it is wrong to decieve them.

    Further, in his penultimate fight he says he was approached by a man who offered him the chance to win by cheating: putting a strong liquid on his gloves that would burn his opponent’s eyes upon contact, something actually done to Ali in his fight against Liston. Ali, refused the guy’s offer and lost fairly.

    …It just seems totally out of character for him to plagiarise.

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