Today the streets around the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville were flooded with more than 14,000 mourners who gathered to pay their final respects to the late Muhammad Ali. The "Greatest of All Time" died last week after a courageous 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 74.
The site holds importance because it is where Ali held his last fight in 1961.
A black hearse carried the body of the legendary boxer, led by a police escort into Freedom Hall. The ceremony was a traditional Muslin Jenazah Ceremony. Zaid Shakir, a Muslim scholar and the co-founder of California's Zaytuna College led the brief service which is meant to give Muslims the opportunity to say goodbye to a member of their faith as well as to mourn.
Ali crafted his own funeral plans years ago before his disease took hold. He wanted the prayer service to be open to members of all faiths and backgrounds, something he believed would help to heal the relationships between religions. He strongly believed in his role as a representative of the Nation of Islam, which he joined years ago as a young boxer.
While the service was only a few moments, members stood in line to recite prayers near Ali's coffin, which was set to face Mecca. The mixed crowd was separated in order to be separated by gender, a Muslim tradition.
Ali had many family members and friends in attendance, including boxing promoter Don King and champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.
"Muhammad planned all of this. And he planned for it to be a teaching moment," Shakir said, per the Associated Press, implying the ceremony could help U.S. Muslims be more understood. One reason Muhammad Ali touched so many hearts, he was willing to sacrifice the fame, the lights, the money, the glamour, all of that, for his beliefs and his principles," Shakir added. "That's moving and that touches people."
The service will be broadcast worldwide and streamed online and marks the start of the 2-day ceremony to honor the life of the legend.
On Friday, he will be laid to rest in his Louisville hometown after a funeral held at the KFC Yum! Center at 2 p.m. that is open to the public.
According to People, Former President Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel will give eulogies.
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"Muhammad's extraordinary boxing career only encompasses half his life. The other half was committed to carrying a message of peace and inclusion to the world. Following his wishes, his funeral will reflect those principals and will be a celebration open to everyone," spokesman Bob Gunnelll said last week.