Louisville - Muhammad Ali will be laid to
rest on Friday, the culmination of a two-day farewell for the beloved boxing
legend and civil rights hero who electrified crowds the world over.
Thousands from near and far are expected to
line the streets of Ali's native city of Louisville in the southern US state of
Kentucky to bid goodbye to the three-time heavyweight world champion who died
last week at 74 after a decades-long battle with Parkinson's.
Starting at 15:00, the funeral procession
will wind through the city of 600 000 where Ali was born at a time of racial
It will pass sites that were important to
"The Greatest": his childhood home, the Ali Centre, the Centre for
African American Heritage - which focuses on the lives of blacks in Kentucky -
and, of course, along Muhammad Ali Boulevard before arriving at the Cave Hill
Cemetery for a private burial.
Actor Will Smith - who earned an Oscar
nomination for his portrayal of Ali on the silver screen - and former
heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will be among the pallbearers.
An anonymous individual has pledged to
cover the path to the grave with red rose petals.
Friday afternoon, Ali will be honoured at
an interfaith memorial service at a large sports arena that will bring together
heads of state, VIPs and fans alike.
Some 15,500 people are expected to attend -
with free tickets given out in a half-hour and a black market for the coveted
tickets sprouting online.
Former president Bill Clinton and comedian
Billy Crystal will eulogize Ali, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
will be in attendance.
Barack Obama will not be present at the
funeral of the man he calls a "personal hero" since it coincides with
his daughter Malia's graduation.
But the president published a video message
Thursday in which he displayed two mementoes gifted to him by "The
Champ" - a book of photographs and a set of gloves -- which have
accompanied him through his time in the White House.
"This week we lost an icon,"
Obama said in the Facebook message. "A person who for African Americans, I
think, liberated their minds in recognising that they could be proud of who
"I grew up watching him. I grew up
having my identity shaped by what he accomplished," he said.
"The incredible gestures of love and
support that he showed me was one of the great blessings of my life."
On Thursday, thousands came together across
creeds and nationalities for a Muslim prayer service in remembrance of Ali.
The brief ceremony brought together
dignitaries and ordinary fans, honouring a man known for both his tenacity in
the ring and his social activism outside of it.
"It was fabulous, seeing all the
different nationalities, cultures, races, religions come together, even though
it's a very sad situation that he passed, it's very inspirational," said
Makeeba Edmund, a city employee, who is Muslim.
Muslim men and women prayed in separate
rows, most of the latter with their heads veiled.
One of those paying his respects was
Babacar Gaye, a 54-year-old native of Senegal who remembers watching Ali fights
at a house in Dakar as a teenager.
"There would be at least 60 people
watching it on a small black and white television," Gaye said.
Born Cassius Clay, the boxer converted to
Islam in 1964, changing his name to Muhammad Ali and shocking America.
Thursday's prayer service was held at the
site of Ali's last fight in his hometown, where he defeated Willi Besmanoff on
November 29, 1961.
"Muhammad Ali has a very, very special
significance for the Muslim community," Imam Zaid Shakir, who helped
organise the prayer service, said earlier.
"This is about... sending him off in
the very best of fashion," said the Muslim cleric, adding that Ali would
want his supporters to "honour his memory, live his legacy and love each
For millions of Muslims around the world,
Ali symbolised the true face of Islam, promoting peace and tolerance.