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Ali remembered in prayer as an icon who pushed for unity

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thousands of fans, dignitaries and faithful from across the globe filled a Kentucky arena Thursday to honor Muhammad Ali at a traditional Muslim prayer service where he was remembered as a global icon who used his celebrity to promote unity among faiths, races and nations.

The service, known as Jenazah, began two days of remembrances for the boxing legend, who died Friday at age 74. Ali designed his final memorials himself years before he died, and intended them to be in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and open to all.

“He was a gift to his people, his religion, his country, and ultimately, to the world. Ali was an unapologetic fighter for the cause of black people in America,” said Sherman Jackson, a leading Muslim scholar who spoke at the service. “Ali was the people’s champion, and champion he did the cause of his people.”

More than 14,000 got tickets for the Thursday service, and millions more were able to watch by live stream. Tickets for Friday’s memorial were gone within an hour. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, boxing promoter Don King and Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, were among the high-profile guests in attendance Thursday.

Ali joined the Nation of Islam, the black separatist religious movement, in the 1960s, but left after a decade to embrace mainstream Islam, which emphasizes an embrace of all races and ethnicities.

The attendees at the service were young and old; black and white; Muslims, Christians and Jews. Some wore traditional Islamic clothing, others blue jeans or business suits. Outside the arena, the term “Jenazah” trended on Twitter as the service started and the world began to watch.

“We welcome the Muslims, we welcome the members of other faith communities, we welcome the law enforcement community,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar, told the crowd. “We welcome our sisters, our elders, our youngsters.”

“All were beloved to Muhammad Ali.”

The service lasted less than an hour and included prayers and several speakers, including two Muslim women, who described Ali’s impact on their own lives, on the world’s acceptance of the Islamic faith and as a champion for civil rights.

Mustafa Abdush-Shakur leaned on his cane as he limped into the arena. He came 800 miles from Connecticut despite a recent knee replacement that makes it excruciating to walk.

“This is a physical pain,” he said. “But had I not been able to come and pray for my brother, it would have caused me a spiritual pain and that would have been much deeper.”

A fellow Muslim who shares the boxing great’s name arrived in Kentucky with no hotel reservation, just a belief that his 8,000-mile pilgrimage was important to say goodbye to a person considered a hero of his faith.

Mohammad Ali met the boxer in the early 1970s and they struck up a friendship based on their shared name. The Champ visited his home in 1978 and always joked he was his twin brother, he said. He stood weeping at the funeral, a green Bangladeshi flag draped over his shoulder, holding snapshots he took of the boxer during his visit, one standing with his family, another of him sprawled on a bed in his home.

The service began with four recitations of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” with silent prayers between of a reading from the first chapter of the Quran, a blessing for Abraham, a general prayer for the well-being and forgiveness of the deceased for the next life and a prayer for everyone at the funeral.

The memorials are taking place after a burst of assaults on U.S. mosques and Muslims following the Islamic extremist attacks last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the presidential election.

Organizers of Ali’s memorials say the events are not meant to be political. Still, many Muslim leaders say they are glad for the chance to highlight positive aspects of the religion through the example of Ali, one of the most famous people on the planet. The global nature of the service – and because it was streamed – offered a window into a religion many outsiders know little about.

“In this climate we live in today, with Islamophobia being on the rise and a lot of hate-mongering going on, I think it’s amazing that someone of that caliber can unify the country and really show the world what Islam is about,” said 25-year-old Abdul Rafay Basheer, who traveled from Chicago. “I think he was sort of the perfect person to do that.”

Muslims typically bury their dead within 24 hours, but the timeline is not a strict obligation, and accommodations are often made, either to follow local customs or, in the case of a public figure like Ali, provide time for dignitaries and others to travel. Ali died in Arizona and time was needed to transport his body to Louisville, said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic scholar at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Gianotti said by phone that he and three others – two Phoenix-area Muslims and Imam Zaid Shakir, a prominent U.S. Muslim scholar who will lead Thursday’s prayers – washed, anointed and wrapped Ali’s body within a day of his death. The body is typically wrapped in three pieces of simple fabric.

“Muhammad planned all of this,” Shakir said. “And he planned for it to be a teaching moment.”

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AP religion reporter Rachel Zoll contributed to this report from New York. Reporters Jeff Karoub contributed from Detroit and Claire Galofaro from Louisville.

Pacquiao wins 60th career fight with seventh-round knockout

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Manny Pacquiao clinched his 60th victory with a seventh-round knockout Sunday of Argentinian Lucas Matthysse, his first stoppage in nine years.

Pacquiao said he worked hard but was surprised by the swift win in the World Boxing Association welterweight title fight.

Pacquiao rebounded from his disappointing loss last year to Australian Jeff Horn and his victory could extend his boxing career that had taken a backseat to his political life as a Filipino senator.

“This is part of boxing. You win some, you lose some,” Matthysse said. He hailed Pacquiao as a “great legend” and said he will take a break after his loss.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also attended the fight, the biggest boxing match in the country since the 1975 heavyweight clash between Muhammad Ali and Australian Joe Bugner.

Duterte said: “I would like to congratulate Senator Manny Pacquiao for giving us pride and bringing the Filipino nation together once more.”

‘It’s about time’: Trump pardons late boxer Jack Johnson

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a rare posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, clearing Jack Johnson’s name more than 100 years after what many see as his racially-charged conviction.

“It’s my honor to do it. It’s about time,” Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony, where he was joined by boxer Lennox Lewis and actor Sylvester Stallone, who has drawn awareness to Johnson’s cause.

Trump said Johnson had served 10 months in prison for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice and described his decision as an effort “to correct a wrong in our history.”

“He represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” Trump said.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes, for traveling with his white girlfriend.

Trump had said previously that Stallone had brought Johnson’s story to his attention in a phone call.

“His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted in April. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson is a legendary figure in boxing and crossed over into popular culture decades ago with biographies, dramas and documentaries following the civil rights era.

He died in 1946. His great-great niece has pressed Trump for a posthumous pardon, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been pushing Johnson’s case for years.

The son of former slaves, Johnson defeated Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908 at a time when blacks and whites rarely entered the same ring. He then mowed down a series of “great white hopes,” culminating in 1910 with the undefeated former champion, James J. Jeffries.

McCain previously told The Associated Press that Johnson “was a boxing legend and pioneer whose career and reputation were ruined by a racially charged conviction more than a century ago.”

“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a stain on our national honor,” McCain has said.

Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, and Bush pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949.

Linda E. Haywood, the great-great niece, wanted Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to pardon Johnson, but Justice Department policy says “processing posthumous pardon petitions is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

The Justice Department makes decisions on potential pardons through an application process and typically makes recommendations to the president. The general DOJ policy is to not accept applications for posthumous pardons for federal convictions, according to the department’s website. But Trump has shown a willingness to work around the DOJ process in the past.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.