Middletown resident attends service for Ali in Louisville

Michelle Novak, an American-Muslim from Middletown, said she owed it to Muhammad Ali to attend his Muslim prayer service to honor the legendary boxer in his hometown of Louisville, Ky.

“He was so significant to so many people,” Novak said after today’s service at Freedom Hall. “He was so important to me throughout my religious journey.”

Novak said the prayer service was a way to say good-bye to the three-time heavyweight champion, who died June 3. He was 74.

“Really incredible experience,” said Novak, a Middletown school board member. “There was a lot of reflection. He was a legend, a role model.”

Before the service, attended by more than 14,000 people, Novak talked to several people outside Freedom Hall. Those people gave Novak another impression of Ali.

“I knew him as a boxer and friend of Malcolm X,” she said. “But I got to know the man, the person. He was never too big for people. He was for the masses. I have respect, I have love for him.”

Ali wanted the Muslim prayer service, known as a Jenazah, to be “a teaching moment,” according to Imam Zaid Shakir, who led the service.

In 1964, Ali famously converted to Islam, changing his name from Cassius Clay, which he called his “slave name.”

He first joined the Nation of Islam, a controversial black separatist movement, before later converting to mainstream Islam.

The funeral will continue Friday with an interfaith memorial service and procession through Louisville passing key locations such as Ali’s childhood home, and a museum dedicated to him.

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