LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Mourners began to gather Thursday morning to honor boxing great and humanitarian Muhammad Ali at an Islamic funeral in his hometown.
Thursday’s funeral, or Janazah, is being held at Freedom Hall, a multipurpose arena on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. Janazah is intended to be a simple, modest Muslim service for the deceased and his or her loved ones and friends.
The service is scheduled to begin at noon and last about 30 minutes. It is free and open to the public. Organizers have made 14,000 tickets available. It will be streamed live on the website for the Muhammad Ali Center, www.alicenter.org.
Mustafa Abu Shwiemeh, 54, of Louisville, was among the gathering mourners. He said he was there because it is every Muslim’s duty to attend another Muslim’s Janazah, for which Muslims are rewarded by Allah.
Ali “was always proud to be a Muslim,” and helped showcase a positive view of the religion, Abu Shwiemeh said.
He said he recalls watching Ali as while living in his native Jordan. He was a fan because of his prowess as a boxer and “because he carried the name of Muhammad.”
“Muhammad Ali was not like a regular person,” Abu Shwiemeh said. “He was like a superhero... Superhero in his beliefs, superhero in his power, superhero in his speech.”
Brazilian native Rick Ary, 64, a real estate agent living in Louisville, said he came to honor Ali because the boxer was “someone who did great works in supporting others.”
“It’s a very special moment in time, especially for this country where we’ve got such extreme polarization going on, and we need healing,” said Ary, an aspiring Presbyterian minister.
He said maybe it was “a divine act for Muhammad to die not only at this point in our history in the U.S. but also in the middle of Ramadan to be symbol of that sort of healing that could take place.”
Imam Zaid Shakir, a Muslim American scholar and co-founder of the Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, will lead Thursday’s service.
“To be properly prepared for burial, prayed over and then buried is a right owed to every single Muslim,” Imam Shakir said in a statement. “If no one fulfills those rights, then the entire community has fallen into sin. In the case of Muhammad Ali’s stature, to leave any of those rights unfulfilled would be a crime.”
The Janazah will be held at Freedom Hall to commemorate Ali’s last fight in Louisville, a win over Willi Besmanoff on Nov. 29, 1961.
Ali’s funeral will take place Friday at the KFC Yum! Center, a multipurpose sports arena also in Louisville best known for hosting college basketball. The service, which is also free and open to the public, is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and last about two hours. The KFC Yum! Center has a seating capacity of 22,090.
Friday’s funeral will be broadcast live on ESPN.
Former President Bill Clinton will deliver a eulogy during the service. Billy Crystal, a native of Long Beach, and Bryant Gumbel, the host of HBO’s “Real Sports,” are also among those who will deliver eulogies.
Imam Shakir will read from the Quran and introduce numerous speakers, which include Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan also will speak.
Will Smith, who portrayed Ali in the biopic film “Ali,” and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis are among the eight pallbearers. Ali family members and friends also will be pallbearers.
President Barack Obama will reportedly not attend Ali’s funeral on Friday because of a scheduling conflict with the high school graduation of his oldest daughter, Malia. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett will attend the funeral and read a statement.
Ali died late last Friday at the age of 74 after a brief hospitalization for a respiratory problem. Ali had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1984.