Muhammad Ali laid to rest as world pays tributes

Thousands gather as casket carrying boxer and rights activist makes its way through streets of his hometown, Louisville.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been laid to rest in his hometown in the US state of Kentucky, following a funeral procession attended by tens of thousands of fans.  

Ali’s private burial ceremony on Friday at Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, was followed by a memorial, attended by world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton.

As the interfaith service got under way, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, “Ali! Ali!” when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to “the home of the people’s champ”. 

IN PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali’s final journey through his hometown

In his tribute, Clinton said Ali “is a truly free man of faith”.

Lonnie Ali, widow of the boxing legend, said her husband was “proof that adversity can make you stronger”, growing up in a segregated country. 

Kevin Cosby, pastor of a Louisville church, said Ali “dared to love America’s most unloved race”, referring to African-Americans.

Memorable quotes from Ali memorial service
“If Muhammad did not like the rules, he would rewrite them. His religion, his name, his beliefs, were his to fashion, no matter what the cost.”
Ali’s wife Lonnie
“Muhammad Ali was America. Muhammad Ali will always be America.”
Senior presidential aide Valerie Jarrett, reading a tribute from President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle

“He dared to love black people at a time when black people had a problem loving themselves.”
Senior Pastor Kevin Cosby, St Stephen’s Baptist Church
“He may have been a tough man in the ring but he was a compassionate and tender man around those he loved.”
Senator Orrin Hatch, speaking as a member of the Mormon faith

“Having Muhammad Ali in my life somehow sustained my dad’s breath for me just a little while longer – 51 years longer until now.”
Attallah Shabazz, daughter of slain Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X
“At the key moment when he had that recognition, he used it to stand up to an immoral war and say, ‘No, I won’t go’.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner, speaking about Ali’s refusal to serve in Vietnam

Earlier, people lining the streets threw flowers, and shouted, “Ali! Ali!”, as the hearse carrying his body pulled out of the funeral home. Others carried banners and photos of Ali. 

The AP news agency reported that at least 100,000 people lined up the streets to say their final goodbye. 

Ali died last week at the age of 74.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from outside Ali’s childhood home, said hundreds of people waited outside their houses to see the hearse carrying the boxing champion’s body pass by his old neighbourhood.

Lawrence Montgomery, a former neighbour of Ali, told Al Jazeera that he has “mixed emotions”, knowing that Ali, who was suffering from the debilitating Parkinson’s disease for decades, is no longer in pain. 

“He was a marvelous young man. Very cordial and playful,” Montgomery said, recalling that as a child Ali already wanted to be a boxer. 

The funeral procession, which went down Muhammad Ali Boulevard, ended with a private burial ceremony before the public memorial service at a sports arena.

Actor Will Smith, who played the three-time heavyweight world champion in the 2001 film “Ali”, helped carry the coffin, along with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and family members.

US President Barack Obama did not attend the memorial because of his daughter’s high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, read a letter on his behalf.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former Ali opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes were also expected to be in attendance on Friday.

Ali died on June 3 at his home in Arizona after suffering for some 30 years from Parkinson’s disease, which made it difficult for him to speak in recent decades.

A Muslim prayer service in Louisville on Thursday drew thousands of mourners, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ali joined the Nation of Islam sect in 1964 – changing his name from Cassius Clay – but later left the group to practise orthodox Islam.

Muhammad Ali: A symbol of power and hope for Africans

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies