Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Ali remembered as an icon who pushed for unity

Published:Friday | June 10, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Mourners hold photos of Muhammad Ali after his Jenazah, a traditional Islamic Muslim service, in Freedom Hall yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP):

Thousands of fans, dignitaries, and faithful from across the globe filled a Kentucky arena yesterday to honour Muhammad Ali at a traditional Muslim prayer service, where he was remembered as a global icon who used his celebrity to promote unity among faiths, races, and nations.

The service, known as Jenazah, began two days of remembrances for the boxing legend, who died last week at age 74. Ali designed his final memorials himself years before he died and intended them to be in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and open to all.

"He was a gift to his people, his religion, his country, and ultimately, to the world. Ali was an unapologetic fighter for the cause of black people in America," said Sherman Jackson, a leading Muslim scholar who spoke at the service. "Ali was the people's champion, and champion he did the cause of his people."

More than 14,000 got tickets for the service, and millions more were able to watch by live stream. Tickets for Friday's memorial were gone within an hour. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, boxing promoter Don King, and Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, were among the high-profile guests in attendance yesterday.

EMBRACING ISLAM

Ali joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, in the 1960s, but left after a decade to embrace mainstream Islam, which emphasises an embrace of all races and ethnicities.

The attendees at the service were young and old; black and white; Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Some wore traditional Islamic clothing, others blue jeans or business suits. Outside the arena, the term "Jenazah" trended on Twitter as the service started and the world began to watch.

"We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community," Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent US Muslim scholar, told the crowd. "We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters.

"All were beloved to Muhammad Ali."

The service lasted less than an hour and included prayers and several speakers, including two Muslim women, who described Ali's impact on their own lives, on the world's acceptance of the Islamic faith, and as a champion for civil rights.