An Olympic writer, model, humanitarian, and professional boxer- many words describe Ramla Ali.
Born in Somalia but raised in England, Ali mainly relies on modeling and boxing to build her career. Moreover, she works as an ambassador with UNICEF UK.
She also started her non-profit organization, the Sister’s Club. Recently listed on the 2023 TIME Women of the Year list, Ramla Ali is making history in nearly all fields one can think of.
This article dives deeper into the events of Ramla’s life and what made her into the confident, daring self that Ramla is today.
Ali’s Early Life
Ali was born in Somalia, and the best guess on her birth year is 1989. She does not remember her birth date or year since she has three different dates written on the three passports under her name.
The documents with her birth date details were lost while fleeing Somalia. However, after talking to her relatives and gathering every piece of information she could about her past, her best guess at her birth year is 1989.
Therefore, when asked about her age, she tells everyone that she is 21.
Her family details are also a haze in her mind. She can recall a few details, such as her family fled Somalia when her older brother, Abdul Kadir, died at 12 during Somalia’s civil war. At that time, Ramla was just a toddler.
Moreover, with this decision to flee Somalia, her family took an overcrowded sailboat from Kismayo, a port city in Somalia, to Mombassa, Kenya.
They then stayed in Kenya for a few months and managed to raise enough finances to secure fake Kenyan passports.
Using those passports, they flew to Great Britain, where a chance to get a new start in life awaited them. In November 1982, they reached England and applied for asylum.
A New Start in England
The Ali family spent the first few months of their stay in London in temporary housing, a basement of a flat in Paddington, London. During this time, their asylum application was being processed.
After six months, they settled in publicly owned housing in Newham, East London. At that time, Ramla’s elder sister, Faiza, changed Ali’s birth date to enroll her in a school by a few years.
Ramla could not speak English yet, but Faiza did this in an attempt to get her free meals. After around four years, her family shifted to a second-floor flat in Whitechapel. It was after this shift that her journey into the boxing world began.
Introduction to The World of Boxing
In her early teens, Ramla was bullied for being overweight. This continued until she decided to get herself back in shape one day.
While finding a way to build her self-confidence and grow herself to accept her body, she joined a local gym. After learning that the gym offers exercise boxing classes, she joined them.
As a beginner, Ali was not good at boxing, but it eventually grew on her. From finding joy in camaraderie, pad work, and the wrapping of hands, she had unknowingly discovered her passion.
Ali then enrolled in boxing classes at Trinity Centre without bringing in knowledge of her family. She feared that her family would stop her from pursuing her passion for religious reasons.
However, recently her mother revealed that she was not supporting Ali in pursuing boxing as her career due to the violence attached to the sport.
Especially given their history of violence and danger in Somalia, her mother was wary of allowing Ramla to be exposed to getting hurt again.
This continued even when she started taking up fights and advancing as an amateur. However, her younger brother, Yahya, soon found out about this and offered his complete support to her. He used to help her sneak out to train during her amateur days.
Later, in 2014 another one of her brothers saw her fighting on television and informed her parents about it. Her mother was against the idea of Ramla continuing her career as a professional boxer.
After this incident, Ramla fell into depression and did not box for another six months.
Getting Back Up After The Fall
In 2015, Ramla took a turn for the better and returned to boxing, again keeping it a secret from everyone in her family. In 2016, Ali took another step forward that altered her life.
After meeting Richard Moore in a gym in London and knowing him for four months, Ramla Ali decided to marry him.
Moore met her parents at an Eid family gathering and informed her family of their intentions to get married. At first, no one from her family thought about it seriously enough until they realized how serious Moore and Ali were with their relationship.
They had a religious ceremony at the house, followed by a huge party thrown by Ali’s mother to celebrate Ali’s wedding.
A New Chapter, A New Coach
Before her marriage, Ali thought about her life without boxing. Keeping her training hidden from her family took a mental toll on her. Until one day, she left her coach and started considering the option of a life without boxing.
However, Moore knew Ali and her passion for boxing. He also knew that, deep down, Ali wanted to continue with her career. This was all it took him to start encouraging her to carry on with her training routine.
Soon he started watching her fights and training videos on YouTube and giving her bits of advice to help her with her training. It was not much later when he also took the spot of her new coach.
Later in April 2016, a few weeks after their marriage, Ali achieved another milestone by winning the Elite National Championships, the English Title Series, and the Great British Elite National Championships.
These provided her with immense motivation to continue pursuing her passion to this day. However, even then, her family was unaware of her return to boxing.
According to her brother, Imran, it eventually became known to her siblings when she used to come home with bruises all over her body. However, Ali somehow managed to hide it well from her parents.
This also continued as she competed to win a spot on the British national team for amateur competitions. Even when she first made her Instagram account, she blocked all her family members from her social media to keep the information hidden.
The ordeal, however, did not waver Ali’s passion for the sport. She continued with her career, with her focus shifting to an even bigger dream- participating in the Olympics.
Enroute to Olympics
Adding to her achievements, in 2017, she won the England Boxing Elite National Championships and the African Zone featherweight championship in 2019.
Unfortunately, Ali was unable to make it to the British National team. This rejection, however, worked out in Ali’s favor. She then entered the Tokyo Olympics 2020, representing her birth country, Somalia.
Following this decision, she approached the Somalian Olympic officials in 2017. At that time, Somalia did not have a boxing federation. Along with Moore, she carved her path to the Olympics by creating a boxing federation for Somalia.
From securing Somalian passports to financing every step towards the Olympics, Moore and Ali decided it was time for Ali to go public.
Going public, however, meant that Ali’s parents would likely find out about this sooner or later. It happened in 2018 when Ali appeared in an interview for Dalsoor, a Somali television channel.
Her uncle saw the interview and talked her parents into agreeing with Ali’s career choice. However, this time also, they disapproved of her career choice. It even became a trigger for many arguments between the family.
Later, Ali received a phone call from her mother while on her flight to Denmark for a tournament, wishing her luck. According to her brother Imran, their parents had no choice but to accept it.
Ali was exceptional at what she was doing, which left her parents with no other option, but to support her. Her mother’s support added to her confidence since she believed it gave her career a more profound meaning as she fought for her family’s country.
In 2018, she competed in the New Delhi World Boxing Championship and received much love and support from her Somalian fans. She is also the first boxer to win an international gold medal while representing Somalia.
At the Summer Olympics 2020, held in 2021, Ramla Ali was the first Somalian in history to represent Somalia in the World Championship Boxing.
However, she did not win the featherweight tournament due to her unfortunate circumstances. Yet she was able to leave a mark on the history of the Olympics.
Later in 2022, she also participated in Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female boxing match and secured a win.
The Sisters Club
When asked about the reason behind representing Somalia, Ramla Ali explained how she wants other girls in Somalia or Africa to know there is always a way to achieve their dreams.
It was more about creating a platform for other girls to follow suit, have hope, and believe in themselves.
Moreover, she remembers how uncomfortable she felt during her early training days at the gym. The sport was male-dominated at that time.
The gym she used to train in did not have a separate female changing room either. This drove Ali to form The Sisters Club, which offers free, weekly boxing classes for women only.
It was initially formed with the intention of serving Muslim women only, to give them a safe space to train without their hijabs on.
However, with time it grew as women from backgrounds showed interest in this club, even the domestic abuse survivors. From what started as a class of seven women, it became a whole non-profit organization.
Furthermore, the club now has a sponsorship from Nike and offers classes in four different places in London. It has over 300 women registered, its website, and an excellent social media following.
As Ali now lives in Los Angeles, she sometimes offers virtual classes to the women of The Sisters Club. The club, however, is running successfully in London.
From changing her life as a refugee to a renowned professional boxer, Ramla Ali has also proved to be a source of strength and safety for many other women.
Another Day, Another Opportunity
Gradually, after going public for her Olympics, Ali started gaining more fame and recognition. One day, much to her surprise, she received an offer from IMG for modeling.
After considering the offer, she found herself also interested in branching her career into modeling.
In January 2019, IMG signed her, and she had her first shoot with Amanda Wakeley, a British fashion designer. Later in September 2019, she got a call directly from Meghan Markle for the British Vogue magazine.
The Vogue 2019 issue included a guest-edited list by Meghan. In this issue, Ali appeared on the magazine cover titled “Forces of Change.” Not long after, she had a shoot with Dior as well and is currently a brand ambassador for several high-end brands.
Though her main focus remains on boxing, she also looks forward to prospering in her career as a model.
Ramla Ali has experienced the adversities of being a refugee and the trauma that comes with it. She understands the need to feel seen and heard, which also drives her to make time for humanitarian work.
Ali serves as a UNICEF ambassador alongside running the non-profit organization, The Sisters Club. She also published an Academy Award-nominated book, “Not Without A Fight.”
This self-help book sheds light on her life’s ten most significant fights. Moreover, the BAFTA-winning producer Lee Magiday will be making a film about Ali’s life.
Ramla Ali has come a long way from joining the gym after being bullied for being overweight to making a gym to empower other women around her.
As her career prospers as both a model and a boxer, she has won more people’s hearts than one could think of and has inspired many girls who find themselves where Ali once was.
Her passion, courage, and determination to achieve what she wants to remain unwavering despite any obstacle that comes her way, making her a beacon of hope and strength for many people around the globe.