Sugar Ray Leonard says Ali ‘impacted the world’

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Photo: ZUMA Press / MGN

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – The Latest on memorials for boxing great Muhammad Ali (all times local):

11:15 a.m.

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Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard is attending a Muslim prayer service in Louisville for his friend, Muhammad Ali, whom he called “a man of great character and courage.”

He said Ali’s most important contributions were as a humanitarian and a fighter for civil rights and social justice. Leonard said Ali “impacted the world.”

Leonard believes Ali’s most memorable moment as a boxer was when he defeated George Foreman to reclaim the world heavyweight boxing title in 1974. Leonard said he “was so afraid that George was going to kill him.”

He said Ali “meant the world” to him: “He was my idol, my friend, my mentor. He was someone that I looked up to and someone who I tried to emulate during my boxing career.”

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10:20 a.m.

Mourners began trickling in for Muhammad Ali’s funeral shortly after the doors opened at 9 a.m. Thursday, three hours before the traditional Muslim service.

Ali insisted it be opened to all. The attendees were young and old; black, white and Arabic. Some wore traditional Islamic attire, others blue jeans or business suits.

Twenty-five-year-old Abdul Rafay Basheer came from Chicago for the service. He called Ali an ambassador for Muslims, particularly important at a time of terrorist attacks, incendiary political rhetoric and global fear of the faith.

Ali’s Muslim service will be broadcast around the world. Basheer said he hopes it serves to demystify his religion. He thinks Ali designed his own funeral as a vehicle of unity and meant “to show his religion to the world and to America.”

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8:40 a.m.

There are still a few tickets left for Thursday’s Muslim prayer service to honor Muhammad Ali. But there are none left for the interfaith memorial on Friday.

Muslims have traveled from all over the world to pay tribute to Muhammad Ali. A fellow Muslim who shares the same name traveled from Bangladesh to honor the boxing great, who stayed at his home during a visit in the 1970s.

Mohammad Ali arrived in Louisville on Wednesday with no hotel reservations and found a local family to take him in.

The other Ali from Bangladesh says The Greatest stayed at his home in 1978 and always referred to him as his twin brother.

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8:30 a.m.

Nearly 14,000 people are expected to be in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday for a Muslim prayer service to honor Muhammad Ali.

Organizers say the service, or Jenazah prayer, is open to all, but meant especially as a chance for Muslims to say goodbye to a man considered a hero of the faith. It will be streamed live online.

U.S. Muslims hope the service for the Kentucky native will help underscore that Islam, so much under attack in recent months, is fully part of American life.

Ali famously joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, as a young athlete, then embraced mainstream Islam years later, becoming a global representative of the faith and an inspiration to other Muslims.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.