Saturday, June 11, 2016 8:18 am
It was a rousing day on Friday as thousands paid tributes to boxing legend Muhammad Ali at a memorial service in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky in the U.S.
Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other speakers spoke of Ali’s fight for civil rights, while a message from President Barack Obama praised his originality.
The interfaith event took place hours after thousands said farewell as his coffin passed through city streets.
Ali was buried in a private ceremony attended by friends and family.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ex-heavyweight champion and rights activist died on June 3 at the age of 74.
The burial service, attended by dignitaries and by several thousands of people who acquired free tickets, was held at the KFC Yum! Centre.
The recitation included the words: “Truly those who say our Lord is God and are righteous, the angels will descend upon them saying have neither fear nor sadness but rather rejoice in this paradise that you have been promised.’’
Local Protestant minister Kevin Cosby said: “Before James Brown said `I’m black and I’m proud’, Muhammad Ali said “I’m black and I’m pretty’,’’
Rabbi Michael Lerner attacked injustice against black people and Muslims, saying “the way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today — speak out and refuse to follow the path of conformity.’’
Ali’s wife Lonnie told the crowd: “If Muhammad didn’t like the rules, he rewrote them. His religion, his beliefs, his name were his to fashion, no matter what the cost.
“Muhammad wants young people of every background to see his life as proof that adversity can make you stronger. It cannot rob you of the power to dream, and to reach your dreams.’’
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton described Ali as “a free man of faith’’.
“I think he decided very young to write his own life story. I think he decided that he would not be ever disempowered.
“Not his race, not his place, not the expectations of others whether positive or negative would strip from him the power to write his own story.’’
Valerie Jarrett, an aide to President Obama who knew the boxer personally, read a letter from the president.
It described Ali as “bigger, brighter and more influential than just about anyone in his era… Muhammad Ali was America. Muhammad Ali will always be America. What a man.”
Obama was not there, as he was attending his eldest daughter Malia’s graduation.
Comedian Billy Crystal said: “Thirty-five years after he stopped fighting, [Ali was] still the champion of the world. He was a tremendous bolt of lightning created by Mother Nature.
“Muhammad Ali struck us in the middle of America’s darkest night and his intense light shone on America and we were able to see clearly.”
Among those at the service were King Abdullah of Jordan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended Thursday’s prayer ceremony and had been due at the service, but cut short his visit to the US.
The reasons for his departure are not clear, though there are reports of differences with the funeral’s organisers.
The motorcade procession began at about 10:35 local time (14:35 GMT), more than an hour behind schedule.
It took the coffin past Ali’s childhood home, then the Ali Center, the Center for African American Heritage and then down Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
Onlookers lining the roadside waved, took photos and chanted “Ali, Ali” as a cortege led by the hearse carrying his coffin drove through the downtown area.