Thousands honor Muhammad Ali in Louisville prayer service

Citizens of Louisville gather to remember boxing legend Muhammad Ali. (Photo by Krandall Brantley/Cronkite News)

LOUISVILLE – More than 14,000 paid homage to Muhammad Ali, the Louisville native son and decade-long Phoenix resident who was revered as a champion inside and outside the boxing ring.

Celebrities and fans, those who knew him and those who never met him, from nearby neighborhoods and from across the world, stood next to one another at Freedom Hall for the Jenazah, a traditional Islamic prayer service.

Jesse Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan were among the prominent newsmakers who attended the service. Ali, a three-time heavyweight champion who battled Parkinson’s for 32 years, died Friday in a Phoenix area hospital. The Paradise Valley resident had lived in the Phoenix area since 2005.

Two-time heavyweight world boxing champion Hasim Rahman and former American boxer Sugar Ray Leonard also attended the service.

“We said goodbye to a legend, one of a kind,” Rahman said. “There’s never going to be nothing like him…in my lifetime.”

Abraham Khan, a fan of Ali’s boxing career, said he believes Ali was a pioneer for American Muslims.

“He was there at a time when people heard of Islam and thought of something completely different, something completely un-American,” Khan said.

“Muhammad Ali shows how this country truly should have been and the potential it has going forward,” Khan said “He showed that out of America depression that we can actually form multi-cultural communities and goodness can come out of this.”

Zakiyyah S. Muhammad, who traveled from Chicago for the Jenazah service said Ali’s mentors, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, enhanced Ali’s courage.

“He fought against (oppression) because black people were being mistreated worse than the way were being mistreated now,” Muhammad said. “We were still second-class citizens and Muhammad Ali spoke out against it. He didn’t mind because he was brave.”

Dr. Sherman Jackson, who spoke to the crowd, praised the boxing legend’s work outside the ring.

“Ali did as much to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any Muslim in U.S. History,” Jackson said.

On Friday, a procession through Louisville streets will end with a public memorial service at the at the KFC Yum! Center arena.