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Boxing legend Muhammad Ali remembered in interfaith service

An interfaith memorial service celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali has taken place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Dignitaries and fans from around the world have paid tribute to the late boxing legend.

Religious and political leaders, as well as numerous famous faces from the sporting world gathered at the interfaith ceremony on Friday which was held at the 20,000-seat KFC Yum! sports arena. Among them were former US President Bill Clinton and English football star David Beckham.

When planning his funeral a decade ago, the three-time world heavyweight champion also decided to open the memorial service to fans. Tickets to the ceremony were snapped up within an hour.

In her first public remarks since his death, Muhammad Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali talked about how Ali wanted to be remembered after his passing.

Burial of Muhammed Ali

The casket bearing the remains of Muhammad Ali being placed into a hearse

"Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment. He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice," she said. "He never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence."

Comedian and friend of Ali, Billy Crystal said: "Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves. This brash young man thrilled us, angered us, confused us, challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace and taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people and not walls."

President Barack Obama was unable to make the trip because of his daughter Malia's high school graduation. But White House adviser Valerie Jarrett read a letter from the president at the service in which Obama said Ali helped give him the audacity to think he could one day be president.

"Muhammad Ali was America. Brash. Defiant. Pioneering. Never tired. Always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit," Obama said.

'Ali! Ali!'

Muhammad Ali died last Friday from sceptic shock after a three-decades long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 74 years old. He will be remembered as one of the most important athletes of the 20th century. Besides his multiple championships, Olympic gold medal and impressive win record, he was an outspoken supporter of many political causes.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali's first-round knockout of Sonny Liston in 1965

As a Muslim leader welcomed the 15,000-strong congregation to the "home of the people's" the crowd burst into applause, chanting, "Ali! Ali!"

Leaders from several faiths spoke at the memorial service, including Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby. The Christian leader praised Ali for his efforts in breaking racial barriers, say that the boxing star "loved everyone" regardless of their background.

Ali "dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans," Cosby said, adding that he infused African-Americans with a "sense of somebodiness."

Jewish Rabbi Michael Lerner also paid tribute to Ali for standing up for what he believed in. Due to his once-controversial conversion to Islam, Ali was temporarily banned from boxing and stripped of his titles after famously resisting to the Vietnam War and refusing to fight.

Street procession

Ahead of the ceremony on Friday, an estimated 100,000 people turned out along a 19-mile stretch in Louisville to see Ali's casket a it passed by on its way to the cemetery.

A 17-car motorcade escorted "the Greatest," to his final resting place as fans tossed flowers and petals in the hearse's path. His nine children, his wife, two ex-wives and pall bearers Mike Tyson and Will Smith made up part of the procession.

Ali was laid to rest around noon local time in a private ceremony, one day after the champion's traditional Muslim funeral, which drew a crowd of 6,000 from all around the world.

ksb/jm (Reuters, AP)

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