People in Bangladesh on Friday prayed for salvation of the departed soul of the boxing legend Muhammad Ali as he was laid to rest at his hometown, Louisville in the US state of Kentucky. The funeral procession with his body lying in a casket covered with Quranic verses was attended by thousands of fans. It was reported that at least 100,000 people lined up the streets to say their final goodbye.
Ali's private burial ceremony on Friday at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery was followed by a memorial, attended by world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton. A Muslim prayer service drew thousands of mourners, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Instantly after the news of world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali's death hit the headlines, an avalanche of obituaries and eulogies followed - which is more a sign of people coming to terms with their own loss than the enormity of the news itself. "From the heart of Africa to the depths of Latin America, from the Arab and Muslim world to continental divides of Eurasia - he first conquered the heart of his fans and then sat down gently like a caring gardener and planted the seed of justice and fairness inside those hearts", said one report.
Bangladesh has reasons to mourn Muhammad Ali's death as he himself called the country his second home. Immediately after his demise, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, then in Saudi Arabia on a five-day official visit, expressed her deep shock at the death of the boxing icon Muhammad Ali. Ali's name would live forever, she said adding that he was one of the greatest human beings as he was always vocal to realise the rights of the exploited and oppressed people across the world.
On February 18, 1978, Muhammad Ali, the greatest heavyweight boxer ever, came to Bangladesh along with his wife for a five-day visit. During the visit, wherever he went he was greeted admiringly and wholeheartedly by tens of thousands of fans. Ali was also awarded honorary citizenship of Bangladesh and given a passport. Ali, his wife Veronica and his entire entourage were state guests. He was taken to all the important areas and sites of Bangladesh from the tea gardens of Sylhet to Royal Bengal Tiger-fame Sundarbans and the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the fabulous beaches of Cox's Bazar.
Reginald Massey, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London, was the main organiser of Muhammad Ali's visit to Bangladesh. The film crew, accompanying him, filmed the boxing icon enjoying the sheer beauty of the country. It was a life-long desire of Reginald Massey, who was enchanted by art and culture of Bangladesh, to focus the country abroad with Muhammad Ali as the main actor. The film titled Bangladesh I Love You was screened in the United Kingdom cinemas. It was greatly appreciated and well received.
In Mohammad Ali's death, Bangladesh has lost one of its great foreign friends. He projected Bangladesh in the world as a heaven on earth. The government may consider giving a posthumous award to him in recognition of his love for Bangladesh.