Thousands gather for Muslim funeral
honoring Muhammad Ali
Send a link to a friend
[June 10, 2016]
By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - A Muslim
funeral for Muhammad Ali on Thursday drew thousands of admirers to the
boxer's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where mourners prayed over the
body of a man who battled in the ring and sought peace outside it.
An estimated 14,000 people, representing many races and creeds,
attended the jenazah, or "funeral" in Arabic, where he was
repeatedly feted as "the people's champion."
Ali, a three-time heavyweight champion known for his showmanship,
political activism and devotion to humanitarian causes, died on
Friday of septic shock in an Arizona hospital. He was 74.
"The passing of Muhammad Ali has made us all feel a little more
alone in the world," said Sherman Jackson, a Muslim scholar at the
University of Southern California.
"Something solid, something big, beautiful and life-affirming has
left this world," he said of a man who was forced to give up more
than three years of boxing at the height of his career for his
refusal to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
Jackson praised Ali for advancing the cause of black Americans
during and after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Others
admired him for making Islam more acceptable and giving U.S. Muslims
a hero they could share with the American mainstream.Imam Zaid
Shakir, a founder of Muslim liberal arts school Zaytuna College in
Berkeley, California, led worshippers in prayers such as "Allahu
akbar" ("God is greatest") over Ali's body, which lay in a casket
covered with a black and gold cloth.
Ali and his family planned his funeral for 10 years, making sure it
would honor his Muslim faith while also adapting to the demands of
Western media-driven culture.
U.S. President Barack Obama also praised Ali on Thursday in a
Facebook live broadcast from the White House, showing off a copy of
the book, "GOAT: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali," and a signed pair of
boxing gloves gifted to him by Ali.
"It's very rare where a figure captures the imagination of the
entire world," Obama said. "He was one of a kind and in my book
he'll always be the greatest."
Ali was due to be buried on Friday, after a funeral procession and
before one final goodbye when thousands more will gather for an
Luminaries including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Turkish
President Tayyip Erdogan and comedian Billy Crystal will attend
Friday's event, at the KFC Yum Center.
"Ali will never die. His spirit will live on," boxing promoter Don
King told Reuters from Thursday's venue at Freedom Hall, the complex
where Ali defeated Willi Besmanoff in 1961 in his last fight in
Others on hand to pay respects included U.S. civil rights leader
Jesse Jackson and singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.
[to top of second column]
Worshipers and well-wishers take photographs as the casket with the
body of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali is brought for his
jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Ali rose to the top of the boxing world when black fighters were
expected to be quiet and deferential. His braggadocio, even before
he changed his name from Cassius Clay, startled white America. He
further shocked Americans after he joined the Nation of Islam and
adopted an Islamic name in 1964.
In the 1970s, Ali converted to Sunni Islam, the largest Muslim
denomination worldwide. Late in life he embraced Sufism, a mystical
school of the faith.
Ali's boast of being "the greatest of all time" and his ability to
"float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" stoked controversy at
home, while his criticism of the U.S. war in Vietnam earned him
admiration in much of the developing world.
With time, even his American critics grew scarce, and he achieved
near mythical status as he lit the flame to open the 1996 Olympics
in Atlanta, by then muted and trembling from the Parkinson's disease
that afflicted him over the final three decades of his life.
One admirer, Ali Shah, 45, traveled from California to attend.
"It didn't seem too much to spend a couple days travel to pay
respects for a lifetime of inspiration by my hero, Muhammad Ali, my
namesake and hero," Shah said. "He's just been a positive
inspiration for me for as long as I've had memories."
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Additional reporting by Curtis
Skinner; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.