In Salat ul Janazah, Ali brings faith to hometown who kept faith in him

Published: Jun. 7, 2016 at 8:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2016 at 12:41 AM EDT
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Anthony Hord (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Anthony Hord (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Khalid Abutai (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Khalid Abutai (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Sandra Slater (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Sandra Slater (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Synthia Quinn (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Synthia Quinn (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - From his first professional fight, Freedom Hall always has been the House of Clay; Ali's Alley.

"To be able to know that he's coming back here, and he wanted to come back here, and he made plans to come back here, that says something about us," Portland's Anthony Hord said on Tuesday.

Hord was among the first to line up for a limit of four tickets for Ali's Salat-ul-Janazah, the Islamic Prayer of Funeral, to be held here at Noon Thursday.

"My kid, son, I want him to be able to experience how other people worship and celebrate the life of the Lord," Hord said.

Hord was raised Catholic. As with Ali, Khalid Abutai was raised Protestant; a fellow West-Ender who found his way to Islam.

"He's a revert, I'm a revert," Abutai said, referring to the faith of their African ancestors. "It's something personal to me."

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Whether known as a namesake of Kentucky's great Abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, or by his chosen name - Arabic for "praised, exalted one" - "family" took on extended meaning in his hometown.

Sandra Slater all but bumped into him while running errands for a downtown insurance firm. Clay, then fresh from the 1960 Rome Olympics, was wearing his Gold medal.

"I asked to see it, and we talked," Slater said.

That chance meeting blossomed into a friendship with his mother, the late Odessa Clay.  

"She got backstage and got Tom Jones' autograph for me," Slater said. "Her home in Buechel, oh gosh, Ali got her some of the most beautiful furniture over the years and we stayed close friends 'til the day she died."

Synthia Quinn lived seven doors down from Mrs. Clay. Her daughter taught her the Champ and his mother were more than neighbors.

"I didn't know she had a problem with her self-esteem," Quinn said. "She was sitting with her head down. He said, 'hold your head up,' you're a beautiful little girl."

Quinn, who was on crutches with a broken left ankle, said, "Fell in a hole in my yard - that'll teach me to use the sidewalk."

Her injuries weren't going to keep her from lining up two-hours early, before the ticket windows opened at 10 a.m.

"Found a bench, made some friends," Quinn said. "A good day already."

Freedom Hall will have 14,000 seats available Thursday. The Salut-ul-Janazah itself is relatively short. Muslims will be called to gather on the arena floor and remain standing while facing toward Mecca.

"Seeing is the best way to understanding," Abutai said. "So many times, ignorance causes a lot of problems, but if you just experience things for yourself, you will see the diversity. And you won't have so much....that stuff goes away."

The tickets are general admission. The doors will open at 9:30 a.m., but the lot gates will open at 7:30 a.m.

"It will be regular Freedom Hall accessibility," said Amanda Storment, communications director for the Kentucky State Fair & Exposition Center. "There is no accessibility, but there are certain ramps that are ADA (handicapped)-accessible."

"We will have security in place," Storment said. "Expect to be wanded. Be patient. We want to keep everyone safe."

WAVE 3 News will cover the service live. The world will be watching, via satellite and cable news and sports networks. Quinn has faith in her fellow Kentuckians.

"We can be peaceful," she said. "Show up and show out peacefully. I think it's gonna be very nice. And If it's any problems, it's not us."

Muhammad Ali's funeral events will be livestreamed on the WAVE 3 News mobile app. (Get the app: Apple | Android)

Those events can be viewed at the following links:


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