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Muhammad Ali farewell gets underway with prayer service

By The Sports Xchange
Muhammad Ali farewell gets underway with prayer service
Thousands came out during the Muhammad Ali Jenazah prayer service at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky on June 9, 2016. The Louisville native and legendary boxer died at the age of 74 on Saturday, June 4th 2016. Photo by Aaron Borton/UPI | License Photo

The two-day sendoff to boxing legend Muhammad Ali began Thursday in his hometown and included a Muslim prayer service designed to unite religions and races.

Ali died last Friday at age 74 and requested years before his death that the service -- known as Jenazah -- be held in his birthplace of Louisville, Ky., and open to all people.

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The multiple-day remembrance includes Friday's 19-mile procession that will take Ali's body through the streets of Louisville and conclude with a memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center.

Thursday's service lasted less than an hour at a convention hall near the Freedom Hall arena. People such as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and boxing promoter Don King were in attendance.

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"He never stopped winning battles, whether it was in the ring or outside the ring," Jesse Jackson told reporters.

Numerous prestigious Muslims were in attendance and praised Ali for being more than a boxer and a person interested in helping conditions improve for African-Americans.

"He was a gift to his people, his religion, his country, and ultimately, to the world," Muslim scholar Sherman Jackson said during the service. "Ali was an unapologetic fighter for the cause of black people in America. Ali was the people's champion."

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More important, Ali knocked down barriers and helped gain acceptance for Muslims.

"Ali made being a Muslim cool. Ali made being a Muslim dignified. Ali made being a Muslim relevant," Sherman Jackson said. "Ali put the question of whether a person can be a Muslim and an American to rest."

As for Friday's memorial, former President Bill Clinton will deliver the eulogy. Among the speakers will be sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, comedian Billy Crystal and Ali's wife, Lonnie.

Actor Will Smith and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will serve as pallbearers, along with other family members and friends -- including Jerry Ellis, the brother of Ali's former sparring partner and heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis. Smith portrayed the legendary boxer in the 2001 movie "Ali" that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Free tickets were distributed Wednesday and all of the approximately 15,000 tickets were gone 65 minutes later.

Ali died of septic shock due to unspecified natural causes at a Scottsdale, Ariz., hospital not far from his home.

Ali, known as "The Greatest" who became a global symbol of peace and hope as a humanitarian, had battled Parkinson's disease since being diagnosed in 1984 at age 42.

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