Suburban Muslims pay respects to Ali as a hero and role model

  • Muhammad Ali's casket arrives Thursday at Freedom Hall for his jenazah, a traditional Islamic funeral prayer service, in Louisville, Kentucky.

    Muhammad Ali's casket arrives Thursday at Freedom Hall for his jenazah, a traditional Islamic funeral prayer service, in Louisville, Kentucky. Associated Press

  • In this photograph from 1989, Muhammad Ali distributes gifts to Chicago's South Side poor at Masjid Al-Fatir with help from Abdul Malik Mujahid. Masjid Al-Fatir was built by Ali.

    In this photograph from 1989, Muhammad Ali distributes gifts to Chicago's South Side poor at Masjid Al-Fatir with help from Abdul Malik Mujahid. Masjid Al-Fatir was built by Ali. Courtesy of Sound Vision

  • Muhammad Ali, seen here in this June 1996 photograph, and wife Lonnie adopted a son, Asad, who was raised on "Adam's World," a children's educational series produced by Sound Vision.

    Muhammad Ali, seen here in this June 1996 photograph, and wife Lonnie adopted a son, Asad, who was raised on "Adam's World," a children's educational series produced by Sound Vision. Courtesy of Sound Vision

 
 
Posted6/10/2016 5:15 AM

Dozens of suburban Muslims were among the throngs of 14,000 people of all shades who snaked their way into Louisville's Freedom Hall Thursday for the largest Muslim funeral in American history -- for Muhammad Ali.

Taking buses and cars, they left Chicago early Thursday morning to partake in Ali's jenazah (Islamic funeral prayer) in his Kentucky hometown where the three-time heavyweight champion grew up and began his amateur career at age 12.

 

Though a global boxing icon with a larger-than-life persona, Ali -- for Muslims -- was primarily a "brother in Islam" and represented something far more profound.

"Muhammad Ali's greatness was certainly due to his boxing talents, but more than that, it was his willingness to sacrifice it all for his principles," said Tabassum Haleem of Naperville, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. "No one else would have given up a heavyweight championship title nor his earnings at the peak of his career simply to stand up for what he believed in. That, to me, is the true definition of a hero."

Ali, who converted to Islam in 1961, refused to serve in the Vietnam War because it went against his faith and was stripped of his boxing title.

As a civil rights advocate, Ali appealed to a wide cross-section of groups. That was apparent in the diversity of faiths, ethnicities and nationalities represented at his funeral, Haleem said.

In Ali's spirit of inclusiveness, the jenazah, in which traditionally only Muslims participate, was open to people of all faiths.

Silence fell over the chattering crowds when Ali's casket was brought before the imam leading the prayer service. People began chanting "Allah is Greatest" before a solemn recitation from the Quran, Islam's holy book.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was very surreal," said Haleem, who had seen Ali from a distance during a community Eid prayer at McCormick Place in Chicago. "It was almost like the crowd moved as one. I felt very timid. It's very hard to explain. There was an instant connection. It was an incredible experience, once in a lifetime, truly."

Tabassum Haleem, of Naperville, holds up a ticket for the jenazah for Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky.
Tabassum Haleem, of Naperville, holds up a ticket for the jenazah for Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky. - Courtesy of Tabassum Haleem

Arguably the world's most famous Muslim in America, Ali was an ambassador for his faith in life, and in death, said longtime friend and Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, 64, of Hazel Crest.

Mujahid, president of the nonprofit Sound Vision, interviewed Ali several times over the years and traveled to Kentucky for the funeral.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's very difficult to talk to people about him," said Mujahid in a choked voice. "He marched with me against Bosnia war. He marched with me against Israeli (occupation) of Palestine. He was ahead of me in marching against the Vietnam War."

In this June 1996 photo, Abdul Malik Mujahid, of Hazel Crest, mock punches Muhammad Ali, a longtime friend, during a visit to Ali's home. Ali had been struggling with Parkinson's disease for 10 years when he started relying more on practical humor as he could not talk much, Mujahid said.
In this June 1996 photo, Abdul Malik Mujahid, of Hazel Crest, mock punches Muhammad Ali, a longtime friend, during a visit to Ali's home. Ali had been struggling with Parkinson's disease for 10 years when he started relying more on practical humor as he could not talk much, Mujahid said. - Courtesy of Sound Vision

Mujahid said Ali wore his faith proudly, and that in turn stirred pride in younger Muslims. Azam Akram, 33, of Chicago, agreed.

"It gave us some sense of pride as Muslims and Americans," said Akram, an imam for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has mosques in Chicago and Glen Ellyn. "Growing up in this country, for young Muslims who had no ties to their so-called home countries, he was one of those inspirations, a very principled man, a great role model to follow as young Muslims."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.