Muhammad Ali funeral: Thousands gather for traditional Muslim service

Laila Ali speaks to her husband Custis Conway during Muhammad Ali's Jenazah, a traditional Islamic Muslim service, in Freedom Hall, Thursday, June 9, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Picture: AP

Laila Ali speaks to her husband Custis Conway during Muhammad Ali's Jenazah, a traditional Islamic Muslim service, in Freedom Hall, Thursday, June 9, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Picture: AP

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Thousands of people gathered to celebrate Muhammad Ali’s life at a traditional Islamic prayer service in the boxer’s home town ahead of his funeral tomorrow.

Ali’s former manager Don King and Reverend Jesse Jackson were among those to attend the Jenazah at the Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, where Ali made his professional debut with victory over Tunney Hunsaker in 1960.

Muslims arrive for the beginning of an Islamic prayer service for Muhammad Ali at the Kentucky Exposition Center on June 9, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Picture: Getty Images

Muslims arrive for the beginning of an Islamic prayer service for Muhammad Ali at the Kentucky Exposition Center on June 9, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Picture: Getty Images

Around 14,000 people had tickets for the event, with Ali fans travelling from around the world to honour the three-time world heavyweight champion.

Briton Abi Ajram, 48, said he had made the 4,000-mile trip from London to pay respect to “a great man”.

“I feel Muhammad Ali deserved the world turning up for him. I thought it’s the least I can do and I wanted to do it the moment I heard he had passed away.

“He was the number one. I wanted to show my respect to a great man and an even greater humanitarian. He meant a lot to me. I met him at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000. I shook his hand. I didn’t know what to say.”

Ali’s coffin was wheeled into the building for the Jenazah service, which was attended by members of Ali’s family.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis, who will be one of pallbearers at the funeral today, were also among the mourners.

Lewis said: “It’s such a privilege and such an honour to be able to send the greatest and say farewell to him. He’s in a better place. He will never be forgotten.

“He was absolutely the greatest. He was the only one that floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.”

Addressing the service, Muslim scholar Sherman Jackson said: “For millions of people around the world of every race, religion and political persuasion, the passing of Muhammad Ali has made us feel a little more alone in the world.

“I can hardly begin to imagine the depths of his family’s sense of loss.

“Ali was an unapologetic fighter in the cause for black people in America.”

Ali died in Phoenix, Arizona, last Friday aged 74. The three-time world heavyweight champion had been admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition having suffered with Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.

A procession will take place through the streets of Louisville before a private burial at Cave Hill Cemetery. The service will be live-streamed on the internet and at London’s 02 Arena.

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