Thousands of people, chanting “Ali” are lining the streets of the hometown of the “most famous American Muslim ever” Friday to say goodbye to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died last Friday at the age of 74.
Ali’s cherry-red casket, draped in an Islamic shroud, was placed in a hearse that is taking the body past sites that were important to him.
Ali will be buried in a private service at the Cave Hill Cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Former heavyweight boxing champions Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis are among the pallbearers for a memorial service which will be televised from a sports arena in Louisville Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell said Tyson was a late addition after finding out a prior commitment would not prevent him from attending.Grunnell also says Tyson was very emotional after learing of Ali’s death and was not sure whether he could cope with the emotions surrounding Ali’s funeral. Actor Will Smith, who was nominated for an Oscar for a movie portrayal of Ali, is one of the pallbearers as well.
Former president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal will eulogize Ali. Crystal’s accurate impersonation of Ali often left the champ doubled over with laughter.
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett will read a letter from President Barack Obama, who will remain in Washington to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.[xyz-ihs snippet=”adsense-body-ad”]
Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cut short his visit to the United States amid reports of a rift with funeral organizers. Erdogan attended a prayer ceremony Thursday and planned to attend the funeral; but, reports say he left the U.S. Thursday night after funeral organizers denied his requests to lay a piece of cloth on Ali’s coffin and have a Turkish religious official recite part of the Quran.
Bodyguards of the Turkish president also clashed briefly with U.S. Secret Service agents during Erdogan’s brief visit to Louisville.
The man who called himself “The Greatest” was also remembered and mourned by 14,000 in a traditional Muslim Jenazah prayer service Thursday.
“People did not know there is Islam in America before Muhammad Ali,” said Mohamed Magid, imam of one of the largest mosques in the United States. “They didn’t know how many Muslims are there – who are they – but Muhammad Ali brought that yearly to the front.He is the most famous American Muslim ever.”
Worshippers and admirers called Ali the true face of Islam — one that promotes peace and tolerance of people of all faiths.
“I think as an advocate for justice and an advocate for truth, (Ali) always served as an ambassador of our faith, and it’s fitting that now even in his passing, he is serving in that capacity,” says Roula Allouch, chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“So many people from around the country and across the world will be able to see an Islamic prayer service and see Muslims in this country and around the world to pray for him.”
Civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson said the service reaffirmed that Islam is a religion of peace.
“The three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – are religions of peace, and in the name of these religions, there have been some ugly things that happened.But these religions matter so much to so many people around the world.To affirm Ali is to affirm his religion.”
Ali was born Cassius Clay, but he cast off what he called a “slave name” when he embraced Islam in 1964.
His conversion came with a price. Many sportswriters and the conservative boxing community were slow to embrace his new name, and still called him Clay well into the late 1960’s, infuriating him.
Ali also refused induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War because of his faith, saying he had “no quarrel” with the Viet Cong.
This cost him his heavyweight titles in 1967 and he was banned from professional boxing until the Supreme Court overturned the ban in 1971.
Source: VOA [xyz-ihs snippet=”Adversal-468×60″]