Muhammad Ali laid to rest: Boxing legend’s family joins thousands of mourners for traditional Muslim prayer service
Muhammad Ali laid to rest: Boxing legend’s family joins thousands of mourners for traditional Muslim prayer service
Somber: Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie (left), and daughter, Laila Ali (center), attend his Jenazah, a traditional Islamic Muslim service, in Freedom Hall on Thursday
The family of boxing legend Muhammad Ali joined thousands of mourners for the traditional Muslim prayer service at Kentucky’s Freedom Hall on Thursday to celebrate the sporting legend’s extraordinary life.
More than 14,000 thousand mourners are in attendance at the traditional Muslim Jenazah service for the three-time world champion boxer who died Friday at age 74.
His wife, Lonnie, daughter, Laila, and granddaughter Sydney, were photographed inside looking somber at the service, which marks the start of two days of ceremonies honoring the Muslim-convert sports star who died one day after being taken to hospital with breathing problems linked to his lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Muslims have traveled from all over the world to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a Kentucky arena for a final tribute to Ali.
Imam Zaid Shakir presides over Muhammad Ali’s Jenazah inside Freedom Hall on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky
Farewell: The coffin of late boxing champion Muhammad Ali arrives for a Jenazah, which is an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky on Thursday
The three-time world champion boxer’s body was wheeled into Freedom Hall by officials for Thursday’s Jenazah service
Muhammad Ali (pictured above in 1966) died on June 3 in a Phoenix-area hospital. His funeral service will be live streamed.The champion fighter is pictured above in November 1970 as he pounds away at the bag in Miami Beach, Florida
He died after being taken to hospital with a respiratory condition complicated by his long-term struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Above Ali and his wife, Lonnie, attend the 4th Annual Life Changing Lives Gala honoring the legend in 2011
A black hearse carrying the body of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was led by a police escort from a funeral home on Thursday
Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent US Muslim scholar, is leading the Jenazah prayer service.
He told the crowd: ‘We welcome all of you here today. We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community. We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters.’
‘All were beloved to Muhammad Ali.’
In an introductory prayer, Shakir said: ‘Oh God, Almighty God, don’t deprive us of his reward, don’t cast us into tribulation after his departure. Forgive us and forgive him.’
Sherman Jackson, a member of the Muslim American community, offered condolences to Muhammad Ali’s family at the prayer service for the boxing great, saying his death has taken something away ‘from the sweetness of life itself.’
Jackson said Ali belonged to everyone but was ‘an unapologetic fighter in the cause of black people in America — and not just the classes among black folks, but even more especially the masses.’
‘Ali was the people’s champion, and champion he did the cause of his people,’ Jackson said.
He added that Ali ‘did more to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States,’ exceeding the achievements of scholars and clerics because he demonstrated the religion’s generosity and power.
He also said that Ali put the question of whether you can be a Muslim and a proud American to rest.
‘Indeed, he KO’d that question,’ Jackson said.
A fellow Muslim who shares the boxing great’s name traveled from Bangladesh. Mohammad Ali arrived with no hotel reservation, just a belief that this pilgrimage was important to honor the global icon in a traditional Islamic service.
The Ali from Bangladesh said he met the boxer in the early 1970s and they struck up a friendship based on their shared name. The Champ visited his home in 1978 and always joked he was his twin brother, he said.
Ali insisted the service be open to all. Mourners began trickling in shortly after the doors opened at 9am.
The attendees were young and old; black, white and Arabic. Some wore traditional Islamic garb, others blue jeans or business suits.
Organizers say the service is meant especially as a chance for Muslims to say goodbye to a man considered a hero of the faith.
Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard attended the Muslim prayer service for his friend, Muhammad Ali, whom he called ‘a man of great character and courage.’
Ali’s daughter, Hana, shared the image above of her father that was taken in March showing him blowing her a kiss
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took part in Ali’s Jenazah service on Thursday. He was scheduled to speak at the champion boxer’s service on Friday, but was cut due to lack of program space
US boxing promoter Don King reacts as he attends Ali’s Jenazah in Freedom Hall on Thursday in Kentucky
Former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard, center, is greeted by former two time heavyweight world champion Hasim Rahman before Muhammad Ali’s Jenazah on Thursday
He said Ali’s most important contributions were as a humanitarian and a fighter for civil rights and social justice and that Ali ‘impacted the world.’
Leonard believes Ali’s most memorable moment as a boxer was when he defeated George Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight boxing title in 1974. Leonard said he ‘was so afraid that George was going to kill him.’
He said Ali ‘meant the world’ to him: ‘He was my idol, my friend, my mentor. He was someone that I looked up to and someone who I tried to emulate during my boxing career.’
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Ali set an example for athletes to ‘use the high platform of championships’ to make a difference beyond sports.
Jackson was interviewed before the Muslim prayer service Thursday in Louisville for Ali. He said Ali’s ‘dignity in the ring and his sense of heroism beyond the ring made him a living legend.’
The civil rights leader said Ali will be remembered not only as a boxing champion but also as a human rights activist.
‘He never stopped winning battles, whether it was in the ring or outside the ring,’ Jackson said.
US Muslims hope the service for the Kentucky native will help underscore that Islam, under attack in recent months, is fully part of American life.
‘Muhammad planned all of this,’ said Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent US Muslim scholar who will lead Thursday’s prayers. ‘And he planned for it to be a teaching moment.’
Ali famously 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.
‘One reason Muhammad Ali touched so many hearts, he was willing to sacrifice the fame, the lights, the money, the glamour, all of that, for his beliefs and his principles,’ Shakir said. ‘That’s moving and that touches people.’
Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic scholar at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has worked for years with the Ali family to plan the remembrances.
He said the service will consist of short, standing prayers said over the body, which in this case will be in a coffin facing Mecca.
‘What’s going to unfold is a very traditional Islamic Jenazah prayer, but it will not in any way preclude people of other faiths to stand in solidarity with the Muslims,’ Gianotti said. ‘That is exactly what Muhammad wanted.’
The Jenazah service lasts only a few minutes, with people customarily standing in lines as they recite prayers. At Ali’s service, Muslims lining up to join the recitation will be separated by gender, but the wider audience will not, Gianotti said.
The faithful will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, row after row, Gianotti said. They expect so many they will fill the massive north wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center and spill over onto the main court of Freedom Hall.
The service is composed of four recitations of ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is Great,’ with silent prayers in between of a reading from the first chapter of the Quran, a blessing for Abraham, a general prayer for the well-being and forgiveness of the deceased for the next life, and a prayer for everyone at the funeral, Gianotti said.
It will take about 15 to 20 minutes, with additional remarks from prominent Muslims in attendance.
An interfaith memorial service is planned for Friday, which will include representatives of several religions, including Jews and Christians. Muslim organizations are asking mosques around the country to participate by saying a special prayer for Ali this week.
Tickets are still available for the Thursday service at the Kentucky Exposition Center. But all 15,500 tickets for Friday’s memorial at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville were claimed within an hour.
The memorials are taking place after a burst of assaults on US mosques and Muslims following the Islamic extremist attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the presidential election.
Above the former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, left, is greeted by Moroccan King Hassan II, right, as he leaves the King Hassan Palace in Rabat, Morocco in 1998
Organizers of Ali’s memorials say the events are not meant to be political. Still, many Muslim leaders say they welcome the chance to highlight positive aspects of the religion through the example of the boxing champion, one of the most famous people on the planet.
‘One of the most loved, one of the most recognized persons in the world happens to be a Muslim — everyone is coming from all over to celebrate this Muslim’s death,’ said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, founder of the Muslim Center in Detroit, who will attend the prayer service.
‘They will see the true nature of the religion and the way that Muslims — the majority of Muslims — live.’
‘In this climate we live in today, with Islamophobia being on the rise and a lot of hate-mongering going on, I think it’s amazing that someone of that caliber can unify the country and really show the world what Islam is about,’ said 25-year-old Abdul Rafay Basheer, who traveled from Chicago for the service. ‘I think he was sort of the perfect person to do that.’
Muslims typically bury their dead within 24 hours, but the timeline is not a strict obligation, and accommodations are often made, either to follow local customs or, in the case of a public figure like Ali, provide time for dignitaries and others to travel.
‘Islam is about accommodating culture,’ said Imam Mohamed Magid, of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS, one of the largest mosque communities in the greater Washington, DC area, who will attend the Louisville services. ‘The most important thing is that the prayer will be done correctly.’
Above Muhammad Ali applauds during a speech given by Elijah Muhammad at a convention of the Nation of Islam, in Chicago
Ali died in Arizona, and time was needed to transport his body to Louisville, Gianotti said.
Gianotti said by phone that he and three others — two Phoenix-area Muslims and Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar who will lead Thursday’s prayers — washed, anointed and wrapped Ali’s body within a day of his death. The body is typically wrapped in three pieces of simple fabric.
‘The idea is to remind those who are still alive that when you came to life, you were completely moneyless and you will leave moneyless. What matters is if you live a simple life or do good,’ said Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Ali’s body left the A.D. Porter & Sons funeral home for the short drive to the Exposition Center, led only by a police escort.
A miles-long processional is planned for Friday before the memorial. It will pass many points in the city where Ali left his imprint, including a museum in his honor downtown, a boulevard named after him and his childhood home.
Former President Bill Clinton, a longtime friend of the late boxing legend, is preparing to deliver the eulogy at the 15,000-capacity KFC Yum! Center on Friday for Muhammad Ali’s public funeral services.
Actor Billy Crystal and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, will also deliver eulogies for Ali at the service on Sunday.
Speakers from multiple faiths including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Mormonism will be followed by Ali’s wife, daughter Maryum Ali, Crystal and Gumbel.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan had been scheduled to speak but lost their slots due to lack of program space.
‘It’s not about who they are, it’s about the fact that we just don’t have room on the program for them,’ family spokesman Bob Gunnell said, adding that their representatives were ‘gracious and understood’ when told.
Actor Will Smith, who played Muhammad Ali in the blockbuster movie Ali, and former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis are among the eight pallbearers.
Also serving are Jerry Ellis, brother of Jimmy Ellis, who was Ali’s former sparring partner and former world heavyweight champion, several of Ali’s relatives and a friend from Louisville.
Ali is far from the first major Muslim leaders to be publicly mourned in the United States.
When Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, at least 14,000 people filed through the public viewing of the body, according to estimates at the time, while several thousand more lined the streets for his Islamic funeral, which was broadcast on TV. Organizers distributed a booklet at the service explaining the Muslim ritual, according to a report by The Boston Globe.
His widow, Betty Shabbazz, died in 1997 and was mourned in a funeral at a New York mosque and a memorial service at Riverside Church that drew dignitaries, including a representative from the White House, among the thousands of mourners.
A much smaller funeral was held in 2008 in suburban Chicago for Imam W.D. Mohammed, considered one of the most important Muslim leaders in North America for bringing thousands of blacks out of the Nation of Islam into mainstream Islam.
Still, none had the global stature of Ali, nor access to the technology that will bring his Jenazah service to a worldwide audience.
‘I think just the significance of Muhammad Ali, of what he represented, the sacrifices he made, the stands that he took, the grace with which he accepted his illness — all of these things and many, many more — magnified his stature to such an extent that the community loves him,’ said Shakir, who has worked with the Ali family for years.
Ali planned the services to reflect his desire that ‘people come together and have an opportunity to appreciate the love and the peace and the unity that can be generated by a single great soul.’