Presidential candidate Donald Trump has inquired about Friday's memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali, indicating that he wants to attend, according to a volunteer with funeral organizers. Trump was a longtime friend of the boxer but has also been outspoken in wanting to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S. — and Ali was a Muslim.
When the request came in, some Ali supporters argued against Trump's presence at the Louisville, Kentucky, event, said Ali friend Saliha Shakir. But she said Islam preaches inclusiveness.
"None of us care for [Trump's] rhetoric, but this is what Ali would have wanted," Shakir said. "He would not have turned him away."
Ali, a world heavyweight boxing champion, Olympic boxing gold medalist and humanitarian, died Friday at age 74 of complications from Parkinson's disease. Family spokesman Bob Gunnell said, "Everything we're doing here was blessed by Muhammad Ali and was requested." He said Ali wanted multiple religions at the public service, in an ecumenical event. Gunnell said he wasn't preparing for Trump on Friday, but "he would be welcome to attend."
Calls to the Trump campaign to confirm his appearance were not returned.
Rebuke to Trump?
The presumptive Republican nominee has used anti-Muslim rhetoric in his speeches and has called for surveillance of mosques and a national Muslim database. In December, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” five days after a mass shooting by two Islamic extremists in San Bernardino, California.
Two days later, Ali said in a statement that "we as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda." The statement has been seen as one of reproach toward Trump.
Ali went on to write: "I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."
Spokesman Gunnell said the statement was not directed at Trump.
Friendship between the outspoken boxer and the flashy, wealthy businessman extended more than 30 years. Ali attended Trump's second wedding in 2005. Trump brought in $350,000 for an Ali fundraiser to fight Parkinson's disease. Ali presented Trump with an award at his "Celebrity Fight Night XIII" in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2007. After Ali's passing, Trump issued a statement calling him "a truly great champion and a wonderful guy."
Ali will be remembered in his hometown of Louisville with a service Thursday open only to family and then a traditional Islamic prayer service open to 14,000 members of the public. On Friday, the public funeral will be held in a 22,000-seat arena and include a procession through city streets.
Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan and Jordan's King Abdullah II plan to attend, according to Gunnell, but their embassies would not confirm those plans.
Former President Bill Clinton will speak at the service, along with comedian Billy Crystal, who has done famous impressions of Ali. Representatives of the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and Mormon faiths also will speak.