Thousands bid farewell to boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Louisville

Muhammad Ali’s hometown of Louisville in the southern US state of Kentucky will host the tributes that will bring together VIPs and huge crowds of ordinary fans in the city of 600,000. Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion of the world, died last week age 74.

Safih Amed, left speaks with former boxing champion "Sugar" Ray Leonard before Muhammad Ali's Jenazah, a traditional Islamic Muslim service, in Freedom Hall, Thursday, June 9, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Darron Cummings / AP Photo
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LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY // Two days of ceremonies bidding a poignant last farewell to Muhammad Ali got underway Thursday in his American hometown with thousands set to attend a Muslim prayer service for the late boxing legend.

Ali’s native city of Louisville in Kentucky is hosting a series of interfaith tributes bringing together VIPs and huge crowds of ordinary fans in remembering one of the indelible figures of the 20th century.

Ali, a three-time heavyweight world champion whose remarkable boxing career and civil rights activism made him one of the indelible figures of the 20th century, died last week at age 74 after a decades-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Born Cassius Clay at a time of racial segregation in the American south, the boxer converted to Islam in 1964, changing his name to Muhammad Ali.

The 30-minute prayer service will be held at Louisville’s Freedom Hall arena, the site of Ali’s last fight in his hometown, where he defeated Willi Besmanoff on November 29, 1961.

“The service is a traditional Muslim funeral,” said Imam Zaid Shakir, who helped organise it.

More coverage of Muhammad Ali’s death:

• Jon Turner: Muhammad Ali: A genius who created a boxing legacy that will never be matched

• Extra Time podcast: Boxer, poet, political activist – a tribute to 'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali, an icon who changed the world – Ep 85

• Dileep Premachandran: Muhammad Ali leaves a shadow that spanned the world, from America to Kerala

• Coming to town: When Muhammad Ali visited the UAE

“Muhammad Ali has a very very special significance for the Muslim community,” he said.

“This is about ... sending him off in the very best of fashion, and honour his memory, live his legacy and love each other as he would wish.”

For millions of Muslims around the world, Ali symbolised the true face of Islam, promoting peace and tolerance.

Thousands are expected to attend the service.

On Friday morning, a funeral procession will wind through Louisville, passing sites that were important to Ali: his childhood home, the Ali Center, the Center for African-American Heritage – which focuses on the lives of blacks in Kentucky – and, of course, along Muhammad Ali Boulevard before arriving at the cemetery.

Actor Will Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ali on the silver screen, and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will be among the pallbearers.

An anonymous individual has pledged to cover the path to the grave with red rose petals.

On Friday afternoon, Ali will be honoured at an interfaith memorial service at a large sports arena that will bring together heads of state, VIPs and ordinary fans.

Former US president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal will eulogise Ali, while Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also expected to attend.

The 15,000 free tickets to the event were given out in half an hour and a black market for the coveted tickets soon sprouted online.

“Anyone selling or buying tickets online at Craigslist, eBay or any of the other sites that have those sales up will be reported to law enforcement,” Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell said, calling the activity “despicable.”

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