Mourners honoured boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a Muslim funeral ritual held on the eve of daylong memorial events in Louisville, Kentucky, the hometown of the three-time heavyweight world champion.

Thousands of people streamed Thursday into a Louisville sports arena, where they heard prayers and readings from the Koran, and speakers talked about Ali's legacy.

The once-loquacious boxer, who called himself "The Greatest," died June 3 at his home in Arizona after suffering for some 30 years from Parkinson's syndrome, which made it difficult for him to speak in recent decades.

Ali joined the black separatist Nation of Islam sect in 1964 - changing his name from Cassius Clay - but later left the group to practice orthodox Islam. Current National of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan attended Thursday's funeral along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who is a Christian minister, was among the mourners, along with boxing promoter Don King and retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

British singer Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, was among the pallbearers who carried Ali's casket out of the arena, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper reported.

Hundreds of thousands of people were expected Friday morning along a funeral procession including a hearse carrying Ali's body through Louisville past his boyhood home, the city's Muhammad Ali Centre and the Kentucky Centre for African-American Heritage, concluding with a private burial ceremony at Cave Hill Cemetery.

Some 22,000 people were expected to attend a public memorial service Friday afternoon. A Muslim imam will preside, with eulogies to be given by former president Bill Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and broadcaster Bryant Gumbel.

President Barack Obama is not attending because of his daughter's high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, is to read a letter on his behalf.

Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan were expected Friday.

Other prominent mourners are to include actor Will Smith, who portrayed the boxer in the 2001 film Ali, former Ali opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes, both world champions, retired heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

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