Muhammad Ali Remembered for Contributions to Islam -- On the Scene

(ATR) More than 14,000 people paid respects to Muhammad Ali today at a traditional Islamic prayer ceremony in the Kentucky Expo Center.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 09:  Police stand guard during an Islamic prayer service for Muhammad Ali at the Kentucky Exposition Center on June 9, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Jenazah service was held for the four-time world heavyweight boxing champion, who died on June 3 at age 74, A procession and memorial service are scheduled for Friday.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 09: Police stand guard during an Islamic prayer service for Muhammad Ali at the Kentucky Exposition Center on June 9, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Jenazah service was held for the four-time world heavyweight boxing champion, who died on June 3 at age 74, A procession and memorial service are scheduled for Friday. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(ATR) More than 14,000 people paid respects to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali today at a traditional Islamic prayer ceremony in the Kentucky Expo Center.

The larger than expected crowd caused the Jenazah ceremony to be moved from the Freedom Center – locale of Ali’s last professional fight in his hometown of Louisville – to the Expo Center in the same complex.

Thousands of people lined up at the doors of the center as early as 9:00 am to get a better view of the ceremony that did not begin until noon. Many clamored over one another and raised cell phones and cameras high in order to get a glimpse of Ali’s casket once the ceremony began.

Due to the change of venue, sight lines of the ceremony were hard to come by because it was not elevated above the throngs of people. The general public had better views of the ceremony than those of the media as television crews and photographers were confined to the back corner of the venue.

The event drew several high-profile guests including Reverend Jesse Jackson, boxing promoter Don King, Turkish president Recep Erdogan and Elijah Muhammad – the man often credited with helping Ali convert to Islam. Ali’s wife Lonnie, daughter Laila and several other family members were also in attendance.

The prayer service was led by Zaid Shakir and welcomed people from all religious faiths to gather as one to remember the legend who died last Friday at the age of 74. The ceremony was designed by Ali himself with the help of family and friends.

"Muhammad planned all of this," Shakir told the Associated Press. "And he planned for it to be a teaching moment."

Shakir led the ceremony, which featured traditional Islamic hymns and chants prior to Ali’s casket entering the center. He ordered the crowd to gather into organized lines with men of Islamic faith at the front followed by women of Islamic faith, a tradition at these ceremonies. Those with other religious beliefs were asked to move to the back of the lines.

The actual ceremony lasted only a few minutes while the Muslim attendees recited brief prayers over Ali’s coffin in unison. Following the Jenazah, speakers took to the podium to remember the man who changed the notion of Islam in America.

"Ali did more to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States," said Islamic scholar Sherman Jackson. "Ali made being a Muslim cool, Ali made being a Muslim normal, Ali made being a Muslim dignified."

The ceremony lasted no more than an hour, the first of two memorials. Friday a city-wide procession and funeral takes place.

The procession begins at 9:00 am and travels through downtown Louisville, passing the Ali Center, his childhood home and the street named in his honor before ending at the Cave Hill Cemetery for a private funeral.

The memorial service at the YUM! Center will begin at 2:00 pm and is expected to draw more than 18,000 spectators and foreign dignitaries from around the world. IOC president Thomas Bach will be on hand at the memorial along with U.S. Olympic Committee president Larry Probst.

Written by Kevin Nutley in Louisville, Kentucky.

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