It's no mere coincidence that Ali numbered these note cards up through 47 and stopped there. The 47th chapter (or surah) of the Quran is none other than the one titled Muhammad, and it revolves largely around fighting, war and defending the faith. Although those themes fit with the Greatest's legacy in the squared circle, they are far from the central content here. Ali mostly waxes philosophical on the meaning of existence, with 21 references to variations on the word "limit" (limits, limited, limitations, etc.) and 11 mentions of "poverty." Perhaps his message can best be summarized as the pursuit of enlightenment. Rising above everyday complaints and disappointments in the physical world in order to focus on the spiritual realm where everyone can live beyond their station in life. Take this excerpt, for example:
"There is an old saying, When you have ten or twenty or fifty. or a hundred, you will still want a Thousand. If you obtained them you would still want more. In fact some want the Whole World. and even if they get the World the desire Would not come to an end. The reason for this is that whatever man desires is always limited. Whereas his desire itself knows no limits. It goes on and on. Man's desire remains much greater and vaster and wider than every object that can be desired. And since the one who desires does not know his own value. nor the value of the objects sought by him, he remains in a state of poverty. This poverty degrades his life, the degradation of all human life proceeds from this one thing."
It's rare for an intact Ali speech to be offered as a complete set, because typically the note cards are broken down and sold individually for hundreds of dollars apiece—which may be the ultimate fate for this one. An accompanying vintage typewritten scrap states the origins: "This is written by Muhammad Ali - designated a 'sermon' and given to Wayne Smith - September, 1977." Smith co-founded the Friendship Force International organization with Jimmy Carter, and his 2004 obituary specifically mentions Ali: "The Rev. Smith forged friendships with boxer Muhammad Ali, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and many others, including former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who became influential supporters of the Friendship Force from its inception." Smith interviewed Ali at length on at least one occasion (linked here), and in that fascinating conversation the pair even discussed a 12-minute speech that could in all likelihood be these 47 note cards. VG-EX condition with "8-10" handwriting strength. Full LOA from JSA.
In full, the note cards read as follows (with misspellings corrected): "When we look around we Cannot but notice how every one has something to Complain about. Lack of Wealth, lack of Comfort, lack of Love or kindness from those around them, from his relatives. Everywhere there are heart-breaks. disappointments of one kind or another. In the Holy Quran this is expressed by the saying, God alone is rich Everyone else is poor. People may live in palaces or Cottages. they may enjoy Wealth and fame. Money or good positions. No matter what they possess. With all of this they are still poor. The more we study life, the more we see how poverty is everywhere. How is this, What is the Meaning of it. only one thing can explain this situation. And that is limitation. This one word limitation explains the reason for the gradation from King to Peasant. limitation separates the very great from the most insignificant ant. There is the limitation of Poor physical health and of mental Power. the limitation of Wealth. And so forth. Nothing but limitation explains the real Cause of all these grievous things. A seer or thinker may well find it amusing to watch how the whole world is busily active from morning till night. in body as well as in Minds. Everyone is trying to get relief from this poverty. trying to overcome all the things he has to Complain about. trying to gain the means of conquering all those Conditions of poverty. So he who watches all this sees the people always striving. striving for this. striving for that. Yet in spite of all their striving they only find still more poverty. The objects they desire are limited. but their desire is unlimited. In any Case limited objects Can never satisfy never Ending desires. There is an old saying, When you have ten or twenty or fifty. or a hundred, you will still want a Thousand. If you obtained them you would still want more. In fact some want the Whole World. and even if they get the World the desire Would not come to an end. The reason for this is that whatever man desires is always limited. Whereas his desire itself knows no limits. It goes on and on. Man's desire remains much greater and vaster and wider than every object that can be desired. And since the one who desires does not know his own value. nor the value of the objects sought by him. he remains in a state of poverty. This poverty degrades his life. the degradation of all human life proceeds from this one thing. A Persian Poet once said. Though I see myself in the greatest and highest and most perfect Being. yet I find myself in Poverty. All I see is limitations. And more and more distress. The reason for this is just my own ignorance of myself. of my true self. It is the delusion of the limitation of Life. So many people are constantly trying to get relief from this limitation which is Called Poverty. the Wise man strives to overcome the source of the Poverty, hidden within the life of everyone. The source of this poverty is lumination. And he breaks this limitation by raising his Light. In the Bible we are advised to raise the light. When we raise the light We remove the poverty. You may ask, How do we raise the light. The answer is that the intelligence is light. Raise the intelligence. And when the intelligence experiences life through the body and mind, then no doubt it remains limited. If we could see that this body and mind occupy two different planes. then we will understand that there is more limitation on the one than on the other. for example, if we want to go to a particular street or place with our body it will take a certain time. But if we go there in our mind we Can get there in a moment's time. that is the difference between the two planes in regard to the accomplishments of things. It may take much time and effort to accomplish something in the physical world. But through the mind less effort, less work, less time is needed. Whereas when it works through the physical body, more time and effort are needed. This is because the physical world has more limitations and the mental world has fewer. So when the intelligence Can be raised above and beyond the mental world. Then we gain interest on all planes of existence. Two of the principal sources of pleasure in the Physical World are good food and bodily Comfort. yet one single Beautiful thought. or one Charming mental image may provide more Pleasure and Joy, than all the beauty there is in the whole physical world. So we can see that when we raise the intelligence from the physical plane. And then even higher, we will come to a state of realization where we see that life is not really limited at all. It is when our experience is Confined to the lower phases of existence that we find that our life is limited. Herein lies the whole trophy of Life. So if we want to see happy people, full of Joy and Peace. People who are generous minded. People with a desire to serve, a desire for generosity and Charity, . We will find them if we look among those who do not Love Worldly Wealth, or fame, or a great name. We will find them among the people who do not Care for the world and its spirit. here we will find those who are Kings & Queens themselves. In the East they are called 'Holy Men and Saints.' All these have lifted their intelligence above the sphere of limitation."