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Thousands gather to bid Muhammad Ali farewell

A leading Muslim scholar has esteemed Muhammad Ali as "a gift to his people, his religion, his coutry and the world." The traditional Muslim funeral service marks the beginning of two days of memorial services.

An estimated 16,000 people packed the Freedom Hall arena in Louisville, Kentucky for a traditional Muslim funeral service for iconic American boxer and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali, marking the beginning of two days of memorial ceremonies.

"We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community. We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters," prominent US Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir told those in attendance.

"All were beloved to Muhammad Ali," Shakir added.

The brief service was part of Ali's plan, devised years before his death last week at the age of 74. Ali wanted a message of inclusion to be delivered "and he planned it to be a teaching moment," said Shakir.

"He was a gift to his people, his religion, his country, and ultimately, to the world. Ali was an unapologetic fighter for the cause of black people in American," said leading Muslim scholar Sherman Jackson.

"Ali was the people's champion, and champion he did the cause of his people," Jackson added.

The three-time world heavyweight champion died of "septic shock due to unspecific natural causes," a family spokesman said on Saturday. Ali suffered from Parkinson's disease for years, and had previously been hospitalized several times in recent years.

A funeral procession on Friday is expected to pass by places in the city that were significant to iconic boxer, including his childhood home, the Ali Center, the Center for African American Heritage and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

Later on Friday, a private burial service will be held at the city's cemetery, with special guests former President Bill Clinton and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in attendance.

Watch video 02:29

World pays tribute to Muhammad Ali | DW

ls/kms (AFP, AP)

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