Imam Zaid Shakir, center, spoke about the importance of the Thursday event. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling
Imam Zaid Shakir, center, spoke about the importance of the Thursday event. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

The Islamic community would be committing a collective sin if they neglected to hold a funeral prayer service for fellow Muslim Muhammad Ali, said Imam Zaid Shakir.

“He was a global figure. He was a giant,” said Shakir, a Muslim American scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkley, Calif.

He, along with Islamic Studies professor Timothy Gianotti, announced the prayer service — called a Jenazah — at a news conference Monday morning in front of media from various parts of the world that have converged on Louisville following Ali’s death Friday.

Memorial outside the Muhammad Ali Center | Photo by Caitlin Bowling
Memorial outside the Muhammad Ali Center | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Gianotti noted the special connection the Muslim community feels to Ali, who converted to the religion in the mid-1960s.

“He belonged to us,” he said.

Shakir will lead the service on Thursday at Freedom Hall, which can hold up to 18,000 people. The event will start at noon, but doors will open at 9 a.m. The public, regardless of their faith, is welcome to attend.

“We want this to be inclusive of everyone,” said Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell, adding that Ali signed off on every aspect of the memorial arrangements, including the Jenazah. “He wanted a memorial service to reflect his life and how he lived.”

Freedom Hall was chosen because of its large capacity, and because it was the site of Ali’s final fight in Louisville on Nov. 29, 1961, when he defeated Willi Besmanoff.

The Council for American-Islamic Relations is asking members of local Muslim communities to travel to attend the prayer service and encouraging those who cannot make it to Louisville to organize their own services in their cities. CAIR also encouraged people to use the hashtag #GenAli on social media to express how they will carry on his legacy.

A public funeral for Ali will be held at 2 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday, and 15,500 tickets will be made available. A news conference is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to detail how the ticketing process will be handled.

Those unable to go can stream the service online at

The eulogists include former President Bill Clinton, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, comedian Billy Crystal, Louisville radio personality John Ramsey, Ali’s wife Lonnie Ali, and his eldest daughter Maryum Ali.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and King Abdullah of Jordan will attend, and other dignitaries may be added to the list. Some have mentioned the possibility of President Barack Obama or someone else from the White House attending, but Gunnell declined to comment on whether that is true.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]