TASHKENT -- Tens of thousands have bid farewell in Tashkent to Uzbekistan's most prominent Islamic scholar, Muhammad-Sodiq Muhammad-Yusuf.
Muhammad-Sodiq died after a heart attack on March 10 at the age of 63.
"Janaza," the Islamic funeral-prayer ceremony, for Muhammad-Sodiq was performed in Tashkent's Sheikh Zainiddin Mosque on March 11.
Speaking before the janaza prayer, Uzbekistan's grand mufti, Usmankhan Alimov, called Muhammad-Sodiq's death "a great tragedy for the whole Islamic world."
The Tashkent city imam, Anvarqori Tursunov, compared Muhammad-Sodiq's sudden death with "the heavens falling to the earth."
Extraordinary security precautions were undertaken by the city authorities as tens of thousands of the scholar's admirers from across Uzbekistan gathered in the area near the mosque to attend the ceremony.
Thousands of cars filled the streets near the mosque blocking transportation and traffic for hours.
Muhammad-Sodiq became known across the former Soviet Union in 1989 when he was elected the chairman of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in Central Asia and Kazakhstan and later as a deputy of the Soviet parliament.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Muhammad-Sodiq became independent Uzbekistan's first mufti and was the unofficial spiritual leader for the majority of believers in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, including southern Kazakhstan.
In the wake of the Uzbek government's crackdown on religious clerics in 1993, Muhammad-Sodiq fled Uzbekistan for the Middle East where he spent several years before Uzbek President Islam Karimov allowed him to return home in 1997.
The same year, Muhammad-Sodiq was put in charge of Muslim countries and federations of the Commonwealth of Independent States within Rabita al-Islamiya (Muslim World League), an international Islamic organization in Saudi Arabia.
Muhammad-Sodiq promoted moderate Islam and called for more democracy in Islam.
He was also a vocal critic of the Islamic State and other Islamist terrorist groups.