By Canberk Yuksel
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AA) -– Thousands of mourners from around the world on Thursday converged on Kentucky to perform the janazah funeral prayer for the soul of the “people’s champ”, Muhammad Ali.
The service attracted throngs to the legendary boxer’s hometown of Louisville and gathered them in the hall where Ali fought his first professional fight.
Attendees included the Ali family, world and religious leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hamza Yusuf and Turkey's religious affairs president Mehmet Gormez.
Other dignitaries included Yusuf Islam and boxing promoter Don King, who promoted several of Ali’s legendary fights, including his 1971 match against Joe Frazier billed at the time as the “Fight of the Century”.
Before the prayer, there was a recitation of the Quran inside Freedom Hall, with corresponding verses from the Islamic holy book adorning Ali’s coffin.
The prayer was led by Imam Zaid Shakir, who has been involved with the Ali family for the past decade while preparing for the service.
Ali was “like a brother to us all”, Yusuf Islam, the legendary British Muslim singer, activist and philanthropist, told Anadolu Agency before the prayer.
“Especially to a new Muslim like me who never had a model, he was like a model. And he made things possible where they were impossible before,” Islam said. “This is a duty. Those who are here are blessed. There are many who I’m sure would love to be here but you know he carries the hopes of many in our hearts,” according to Islam, who famously converted to Islam in 1977. “May Allah bless him.”
Hamza Yusuf, cofounder of the U.S.’s first accredited Muslim college and a leading Muslim preacher and thinker, depicted Ali as “one of the great men of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“He made his mark on the world,” he told Anadolu Agency. "One of the interesting things for me is that at a time when many Americans had very angry attitudes towards Islam, the most beloved American in the world is a Muslim whose name is Muhammad.”
Yusuf said the panorama of citizens and representatives from various nations united in sending off Ali in the best of fashions was a testament to his love for humanity.
“When you love humanity, humanity loves you back. And he loved humanity and so humanity is loving him back.”
Yusuf said Ali embodied a “spirit of service, faith, love, charity and action,” and in that, he was following his Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, who he was named after.
“And in that way he has exalted that name and he honored that name by being an upright person especially in a time when a lot of sports personalities were very profligate, and wayward, they gave bad examples for the youth; he gave a beautiful example for the youth.”
Ali was a means by which the Prophet’s name has come to be known, Yusuf said, “and his name is the only star that rises above all the stars on the boulevard of stars in Los Angeles. Muhammad Ali.”
The grand sendoff for the one known as ‘the Greatest’ will continue Friday with a memorial service at the Kentucky Yum! Center in an event expected to draw nearly 15,000 fans.
It also will feature four eulogists, including former President Bill Clinton, actor Will Smith, who played Ali in the eponymous 2001 biopic, comedian Billy Crystal and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel.