After Muhammad Ali’s remarkable funeral service last Friday, transcripts of some of the eulogies immediately went up online. If anyone wanted to know what Bill Clinton or Billy Crystal had to say, it was easy enough to find. Yet nowhere on the Internet could you find a transcription of what for me was the most historically significant and deeply moving eulogy of the day: the words of Malcolm X’s daughter Ambassador Attallah Shabazz. Her words were more than a heartfelt remembrance. They help provide a crucial puzzle piece to the past. Many write that after Muhammad Ali—literally—turned his back on Malcolm X in 1964 and that marked the end of their relationship. Yet here was Attallah Shabazz writing a counternarrative, one that consisted of a deeply paternal and loving decades long relationship after Malcolm’s death. Ali was there for her and her siblings in a manner that speaks to a bond that couldn’t be broken by any religion or organization.
I contacted Johnny Smith, co-author of the book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, for his thoughts on her words. He said:
Attallah Shabazz made clear that she and Ali shared something important—the loss of Malcolm, a man they both truly loved. Listening to her speak, I could not help but think back to January 1964, when Malcolm, his wife Betty, and their children visited with Ali in Miami. Ali played with Attallah and her sisters, clowning and teasing them with affection. Malcolm said later, “I liked him. Betty liked him. Our children were crazy about him.” They were like family then, and that bond has stood the test of time, a credit to Betty Shabazz who raised her daughters to forgive those who once condemned their father. Yet the bond that Muhammad and Attallah developed long after Malcolm died also demonstrates that Ali sought forgiveness and that she helped him find “the light of understanding” as her father would have liked. In their shared grief, he and Attallah cried together and laughed together. Her eulogy reminds us that Malcolm had forgiven Ali for not speaking to him. Attallah helped relieve Ali of the deep pain that he had buried years after Malcolm died. And in return Ali helped Attallah better understand her father.
All should watch the speech, but here it is as a written document: a resource that should be studied and treasured.
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May peace be unto all of us. As this is a home-going celebration, I find myself balanced between that of celebration and depletion, loss. And somehow or another, my breathing capacity has been weakened this past week so I ask all of you gathered and afar to please muster up and transmit a bit of your air to me.
In the memory of Muhammad Ali, thank you all. [Shabazz then says thank you in numerous languages] and more as the globe centers at this very moment amidst this holy month of Ramadan where every two hours, there’s a time zone praying and including Muhammad Ali and his family in their thoughts. Amidst that are the prayers of all faiths, all those touched, even those that don’t claim a religion are feeling something right now in honor of the family and the memory of their father, husband.
In the spirit of my parents, Malcolm X Shabazz and Dr. Betty Shabazz, in the presence of my five younger sisters, our children and our grandchildren, I would like to first honor his beloved wife, my sister, Lonnie Ali. For all the strengths that you know and that resonate beyond, sometimes you do need a little help, no matter how magnificent you are. And indeed those that were with him that loved him, his family members, sustained that. His nine children, and I will name them—Maryum, Rasheda, Jamillah, Muhammad Jr., Khaliah, Miya, Hana, Laila, and Asaad—as well as their mothers and the third generation of Ali grandchildren who accompany them.