LOUISVILLE – Fulfilling the champ’s old dream to become an ambassador for Islam in America, the Islamic funeral of Muhammad Ali will be aired worldwide on Thursday, offering a window into the faith.
“What’s going to unfold is a very traditional Islamic Jenazah prayer, but it will not in any way preclude people of other faiths to stand in solidarity with the Muslims,” said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic scholar at the University of Waterloo, Canada, who has worked for years with the Ali family to plan the funeral, NBC Bay Area reported on Thursday, June 9.
“That is exactly what Muhammad wanted.”
About 14,000 people are expected to attend the Islamic funeral service Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky, which will be broadcast on TV and streamed live online.
Offering Muslims a chance to say goodbye to a man considered a hero of the faith, the Janazah prayer is open to all faiths.
US Muslims hope the service for the Kentucky native will help underscore that Islam is fully part of American life.
The famed boxer and icon died Friday at the age of 74, after spending 32 years fighting Parkinson’s disease.
His name trended all over social media with hashtags such as the Greatest of All Time or #GOAT for short, and Rest in Power.
Named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr after his father, the sporting champion, who died aged 74, reverted to Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Mohammad Ali, dubbing his former alias, Cassius Clay, “my slave name”.
Battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years, his death was confirmed by his family in a statement who said the family “would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and support” and asked for privacy.
The funeral will take place in Ali’s home town of Louisville, Kentucky.
Along with the Islamic service, an interfaith memorial service is planned for Friday, which will include representatives of three Abrahamic faiths.
Moreover, Muslim organizations are asking mosques around the country to participate by saying a special prayer for Ali this week, as a chance to highlight positive aspects of the religion through the example of the boxing champ.
“One of the most loved, one of the most recognized persons in the world happens to be a Muslim — everyone is coming from all over to celebrate this Muslim’s death,” said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, founder of the Muslim Center in Detroit, who will attend the prayer service.
“They will see the true nature of the religion and the way that Muslims — the majority of Muslims — live.”
Islam calls for respecting human beings whether alive or dead.
A Muslim’s dead body should be immediately taken to a mortuary for washing and preparation.
Two or three adult Muslims should wash the body and then put on the shroud (kafan). Before the burial, the funeral prayer should be done.
The funeral is preferred to be carried out as soon as possible. However, some accommodations are often made, either to follow local customs or, in the case of a public figure like Ali, provide time for dignitaries and others to travel to the service.
“Islam is about accommodating culture,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS, one of the largest mosque communities in the greater Washington, DC area, who will attend the Louisville services.
“The most important thing is that the prayer will be done correctly.”
Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent US Muslim scholar, will lead Thursday’s prayers.
Shakir will lead the service at Freedom Hall, which will include a recitation from the Quran, a talk by an American Muslim scholar and some other remarks.
“I think just the significance of Muhammad Ali, of what he represented, the sacrifices he made, the stands that he took, the grace with which he accepted his illness — all of these things and many, many more — magnified his stature to such an extent that the community loves him,” said Shakir, who has worked with the Ali family for years.
Ali planned the services to reflect his desire that “people come together and have an opportunity to appreciate the love and the peace and the unity that can be generated by a single great soul.”