Muhammad Ali’s Celebration of Life

For several days, Louisville celebrated its hometown son while hosting the worldwide fans who came to honor him.

Funeral hearse, convered in flowers, drives down a street surrounded by crowds of people

The City of Ali Remembers Its Greatest Son

When Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016, plans that had been made months and years prior were set in motion. Ali wanted to be laid to rest in the place he called home: Louisville, Kentucky. The city, which was at the time enduring a record string of violence, came together in a show of reverence and solidarity rarely before seen. For the eight days following Muhammad’s passing, Louisville authorities reported zero violent crimes, even as authorities were handling an influx of thousands of mourners from around the globe. In advance of Muhammad’s passing, the Ali family planned a slate of homegoing events, including a traditional Muslim Jenazah, a large memorial at the KFC Yum! Center, and a procession through the city.

A traditional religious memorial

Muhammad Ali’s story came full circle when his traditional Muslim memorial service took place at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, where 55 years earlier, his first professional fight and win had taken place. Ali wanted his memorial to be a “teaching moment”, according to the Imam who led the service, Imam Zaid Shakir. Muhammad understood that his influence was an opportunity to educate people about the religion of Islam. More than 14,000 attended the service, from Louisville and around the world. The traditional Muslim Jenazah service lasted only a few minutes, with people customarily standing in lines as they recited prayers. Muslim organizations and mosques around the world participated by saying a special prayer for Ali during the memorial week.

The Muhammad Ali Center has chronicled the story of Muhammad’s traditional Kaffan burial shroud, which Lonnie and Muhammad anonymously arranged to be made years before his passing by a family-owned textile company. Upon Ali’s passing, the family reached out to the artist to deliver the humble, plain shroud and only then was it revealed it was ordered for Muhammad Ali. When the man found out, he asked why it was anonymous, saying if he’d have known, it could’ve been embellished and made more extravagant. But it was important to Muhammad to be buried like any other devout Muslim. Scraps from the burial shroud are housed in the Muhammad Ali Center’s permanent archives.

A homegoing befitting the Greatest

How do you honor a man who was larger than a City, but its most humble son? Someone who meant so much to so many, that only an intimate-feeling goodbye felt appropriate. For a man so globally beloved, the 22,000 seat KFC Yum! Center in the heart of downtown, transformed into a heartwarming gathering of friends and family sharing stories of a champion. It was important to the Ali family that the memorial be accessible to the public. So, tickets were made free to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Admirers and mourners lined up for blocks to claim their shot at the final goodbye. What resulted was a room filled with people of all walks of life, races, classes, and creeds – everyone Muhammad loved.

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