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Thousands to attend Ali service

LOUISVILLE (AFP) – Thousands of people are expected to attend an Islamic prayer service for Muhammad Ali on Thursday, the start of two days of poignant ceremonies honoring the late boxing legend.

Ali’s hometown of Louisville in the southern US state of Kentucky will host the tributes that will bring together VIPs and huge crowds of ordinary fans in the city of 600,000.

Ali, a three-time heavyweight world champion whose remarkable boxing career and civil rights activism made him one of the indelible figures of the 20th century, died last week at age 74 after a decades-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Born Cassius Clay at a time of racial segregation in the American south, the boxer converted to Islam in 1964, changing his name to Muhammad Ali.

The 30-minute prayer service will be held at Louisville’s Freedom Hall arena, the site of Ali’s last fight in his hometown, where he defeated Willi Besmanoff on November 29, 1961.

“The service is a traditional Muslim funeral,” said Imam Zaid Shakir, who helped organize it.

“Muhammad Ali has a very very special significance for the Muslim community,” he said.