Khalilah Ali's mission to empower Muslim women

  • Report by Granada Reports Sports Correspondent Mike Hall

The former wife of boxing icon Muhammad Ali pulled no punches during a speech to Muslim women in Manchester.

Khalilah Ali appealed to a 400-strong audience to follow her example and be strong, independent women.

Ali was a guest at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Whalley Range.

After meeting members of the local community she spoke to an all-female audience during a fundraising dinner.

"Being a Muslim my entire life I've heard so many negative things like 'a woman can't do this' and 'a woman can't do that,'" she said.

"Women have been oppressed. Instead of Islam they've been ingrained in Hislam. And the Hislam is what made people reject the Islam."

Khalilah posed for pictures with fans at the city's Muslim Heritage Centre Credit: ITV Granada

Ali, who is an actress, a pilot and a black belt in karate, added: "I know how to sew and know how to cook - and I do that very well. But I'm going to get out. I want to search the world. I want to fly a plane. When they say what women can't do, that's when I react."

Khalilah was married to Muhammad Ali from 1967 to 1977, during which time they had four children.

She shared stories from their time together and recounted the first time they met, at a local mosque when she was just 10 years old and he was still Cassius Clay.

Khalilah and Muhammed had four children together

"He said 'I'm going to be the heavyweight champion of the world before I'm 21 years old so get your autographs now because I'm going to be famous,'" she said.

"And I stopped and said, 'Oh, your name is Cassius Marcellus. And you know, Cassius Marcellus is a Roman name? And Clay...that is dirt.'"

She went on to tear up the autograph and sent the new Olympic champion away.

She added: "I said until you get a name of honour, until you get a name of respect, until you get a Muslim name, you're not going to be famous. You take that with you."

Four years later, Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

The couple married in 1967

Another three years later, he and Khalilah were married.

It was during their marriage that Ali made his first visit to Manchester. He appeared at a supermarket in Stretford to promote Ovaltine and was interviewed by Bob Greaves for Granada Reports.