LOUISVILLE, Ky., June 9 (UPI) -- Thousands turned out for the start of a two-day memorial service for boxing great Muhammad Ali on Thursday in his hometown of Louisville.
Mourners attended a prayer service, known as a Jenazah, at the Kentucky Exposition Center, which was the site of Ali's last fight in Louisville in 1961. In all, 14,000 people have tickets to attend the memorial Thursday and Friday.
Ali, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist, died Friday at the age of 74 after decades of fighting Parkinson's Disease.
Family members have said Ali had personally planned the traditional Islamic service, in the years before his death.
Among those in attendance at the hour-long service Thursday were the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, boxing promoter Don King, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and fellow boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard.
"We're here to pay our respects," mourner Forrest Dean, from Los Angeles, told the Louisville Courier Journal.
Thursday's service acknowledged the impact that Ali, known as Cassius Clay until 1965, made on the boxing and social climate of the often turbulent 1960s and 1970s.
"In a political climate in which Islamophobia is front and center, his funeral will counter-punch the ridiculous notion that being a good Muslim and a good American are at odds," Dawud Walid, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.
"Ali put the question of whether a person can be a Muslim and an American to rest. Indeed, he KO'ed that question," added Islamic scholar Dr. Sherman Jackson.
Outside the venue, thousands entered and left the hall as some vendors sold merchandise featuring the boxing legend. Security officials shut down some of the enterprises because they did not have the necessary license to sell on the property.
The Courier Journal reported that mourners from all corners of the globe, including Afghanistan and Bangladesh, attended Thursday's service.
The service will continue Friday with eulogies, including one from former President Bill Clinton. A funeral procession will then move through Louisville and conclude with a private burial.