The streets around Louisville’s Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center were flooded on Thursday as more than 14,000 mourners gathered shortly before 9 a.m. to pay their respects to the late Muhammad Ali. The boxing legend died last week after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.
“There were Muslims from all over and non-Muslims who wanted to come pay their respects to Daddy,” Ali’s daughter, Rashida Ali, tells PEOPLE of the service. “We were so moved by the outpouring of people.”
A black hearse carrying the body of the legendary boxer was led by a police escort to Freedom Hall, where a traditional Muslim Jenazah ceremony was being held. The site is also where Ali’s last fight in Louisville was held in 1961.
“They draped the casket in a special shroud,” Rasheda explains. “The imam told me it held a special meaning in Arabic”
Zaid Shakir, a Muslim scholar and co-founder of California’s Zaytuna College, led the brief prayer service – meant to give Muslims the opportunity to say goodbye to a member of their faith.
“The service was a beautiful statement. It was very spiritual for everyone there,” Rasheda continued.
Ali designed the service – part of funeral plans he crafted years before he died. He insisted the prayer service be open to members of all faith and backgrounds, something he believed in strongly as a global representative to the Nation of Islam, which he joined as a young boxer.
Rasheda says she believes her father was spiritually present for the proceedings.
“Daddy was there. He was looking on and he was smiling ear to ear, I am sure of it,” she says. “It was a true blessing and a testament to who he was as a human being and the millions of lives that he touched.”
While the Jenazah only lasted a few minutes, members stood in lines while reciting short, standing prayers over the Ali’s coffin, which was set to face Mecca. The mixed crowd was split so the Muslim attendees, dressed in Islamic garb, could be separated by gender, as is tradition.
Ali’s family and friends were also in attendance, including boxing promoter Don King and champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. Ali’s widow Lonnie, who is his fourth wife, sat next to daughter Laila and granddaughter Sydney. Ali’s second wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, and his third wife, Veronica Porche-Ali, were present as well. His first wife, Sonji Roi, passed away in 2005.
“Muhammad planned all of this. And he planned for it to be a teaching moment,” Shakir said, per the Associated Press, implying the ceremony could help U.S. Muslims be more understood.
“One reason Muhammad Ali touched so many hearts, he was willing to sacrifice the fame, the lights, the money, the glamour, all of that, for his beliefs and his principles,” Shakir added. “That’s moving and that touches people.”
The service, which was broadcast worldwide and streamed online, marks the beginning of two days of ceremonies set to honor life of the three-time world champion boxer.
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On Friday, Ali will be laid to rest in his Louisville hometown, after a funeral held at the KFC Yum! Center at 2 p.m. local time and will be open to the public. Former President Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel will give eulogies.
A procession throughout Louisville will precede the ceremony, and like Thursday’s prayer service, fans will be able to stream the service online.
“Muhammad’s extraordinary boxing career only encompasses half his life. The other half was committed to carrying a message of peace and inclusion to the world. Following his wishes, his funeral will reflect those principals and will be a celebration open to everyone,” spokesman Bob Gunnelll said last week.