Thousands have traveled from all over the world to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend a traditional Muslim prayer service for Muhammad Ali, the record-setting world heavyweight champion, who passed away last week.
More than 14,000 people bought tickets for Thursday’s service in Kentucky Exposition Center, which will also be broadcast worldwide and streamed online, according to Ali’s wishes.
Organisers say the service is meant especially as a chance for Muslims to say goodbye to a man considered a hero of the faith.
The Boxing Legend began his transition to become a Muslim in 1964 when he was 22 years old.
Reports say for over 50 years he has been one of the most recognisable Muslims in the US.
Muslims in US, hope the service for the boxing legend will help underscore that “Islam is fully part of American life”.
According to Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent US Muslim scholar who will lead the Thursday’s prayers, “Muhammad planned all of this, and he planned for it to be a teaching moment. A global representative of the faith.”
Ali’s casket was wheeled into the service shortly after it began, with a short steel barricade separating it from mourners. The brown wooden casket was covered with a cloth with Islamic inscriptions. Throngs of people swarmed it, forcing police to intervene as it passed through the hall, and shouting, “Step back! Step back!”
Thursday’s service will be followed Friday by a morning funeral procession through the streets of Louisville (see route on map, above), followed by a public memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center arena. Former President Bill Clinton, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel and comedian Billy Crystal are among those expected to deliver eulogies.
Demand for tickets is high. Authorities are going after ticket scalpers trying to profit off selling funeral tickets, said Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell, who called their attempts to cash in “despicable.”
Ali is reported to have who planned his own funeral. True to his giant character, he wanted it as open as possible with a chance for his fans to say goodbye. Three days of funeral proceedings began Wednesday with a downtown festival called “I Am Ali.”
Ali, who died on Friday at 74, joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, as a young boxer, then embraced mainstream Islam years later, becoming a global representative of the faith and an inspiration to Muslims.