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24 September 2014
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16.05.02

FACTUAL & ARTS TV


Greater than the Greatest


BBC ONE, Sunday 26 May, 10.55pm


With a career spanning over two decades, Muhammad Ali was probably the greatest boxer the world has ever seen and an inspiration to generations of young black men.


But behind the floating and the stinging was something that changed the course of Ali's life as fundamentally as his boxing. In Greater Than The Greatest, narrator Chris Eubank looks at the impact Islam has had on Ali's colourful life and career.


To mark the Islamic festival of the Birthday of the Prophet, this documentary looks at Ali's secret conversion to the Nation of Islam and the impact his conversion had on public perceptions of the faith.


Featuring exclusive interviews with Ali's friends and family, including his first wife Sonji Roi and daughters Maryum, Rasheda and Jamillah, the programme reveals the strong influence the Nation of Islam had over him in the early years.


Ali met Sonji through the Nation - he'd been praying for a wife when she walked in. He proposed immediately and they were married the same day. However the relationship faltered when Sonji refused to follow the Nation's strict dress code.


Sonji says: "Our fighting was never really over clothing - it was a mental fight. I wasn't going to be programmed... I felt like he was programmed sometimes... almost like brainwashing." When Sonji started to ask difficult questions about what was happening to Ali's money, he was persuaded to divorce her.


The Nation of Islam had some unorthodox teachings - Ali refused to buy a house because he'd been taught to believe that a spaceship was coming to save him and God's chosen people. But after the death of the Nation's founder, Elijah Muhammed, in 1975, Ali followed the example of Elijah's eldest son Wallace and changed direction, embracing the teachings of mainstream Islam.


Ali continues to act as an ambassador for Islam and, in recent years, his faith has helped him to cope with the onset of Parkinson's Syndrome.


Daughter Rasheda says: "The Parkinson's has definitely drawn him closer to God... I think it made him more religious... it's a blessing."


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