Liverpool’s Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah is continuing his positive influence in the English Premier League, with a formerly Muslim-hating Nottingham Forest fan saying that Mo has inspired him to convert to Islam.
"I have gone from hating Islam to becoming a Muslim – and the Liverpool forward is the principal reason for that," Ben Bird said in an article published in The Guardian on Thursday.
Bird revealed that he used to blame Muslims for his misfortunes at a young age, and would frequent right-wing media pages online. He also said that he had a “horrible” impression of Islam despite not knowing any Muslims.
The turning point for Bird came when he was considering a dissertation topic for a degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds. According to Bird, his dyslexia tutor posed the question: “What about Mohamed Salah’s song?”
“I was aware of it and I thought it was fantastic but I hadn’t considered it in those terms,” Bird says, adding that the decided to address the question; "Is the performance of Mohamed Salah igniting a conversation that combats Islamophobia within the media and political spheres?"
"The Liverpool fans’ song – to the tune of Dodgy’s hit Good Enough – includes the line “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too”, and I literally took that to heart," he added.
A study published on 31 May 2019 conducted by Stanford University has found that hate crimes and Islamophobic behaviour have dropped significantly in Merseyside since the arrival of Salah at Liverpool in 2017.
Ben also said that when he first met students from Saudi Arabia, he expected them to be “evil people who carried swords,” but soon found them to be “the nicest people I’ve met.”
"Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to. It’s the way he lives his life, how he talks to people. The other week he posed for a picture with a Liverpool fan who suffered a broken nose chasing after him. I know some other footballers would do that but you expect it now from Salah," Bird explained.
Bird also interviewed some Egyptian students, who sat with him for hours once they learned that his dissertation was titled 'Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah', which is another Liverpool song.
"One of the Egyptians I talked to told me that Salah encompasses what being a Muslim is, following Islam correctly. He believed that Salah is making people love Muslims again," Bird revealed.
"That really resonated with me. When Salah scores I think he’s scoring for the faith. When he won the Champions League I said to my friend that was a victory for Islam.
"Salah showed me that you can be normal and a Muslim, if that’s the right phrase. You can be yourself. He’s a great player and is respected by the football community and his politics, his religion, don’t matter – and to me that’s what football can do," he said.
Bird also said that if he could speak to his younger self, “I’d give him a smack, to be honest,” and advise himself to “start talking to people. You need to start asking the questions.”
Bird says he was angered when Salah was the target of hateful chants from Chelsea fans last season during a Liverpool-Chelsea game in the Premier League.
"Last season Chelsea fans were singing 'Salah is a bomber'. That’s the first time on my social media that I had a right go. I was livid because I’m for football banter but you know when things are just not true," Bird said.
Bird also urged Muslim kids to go to football matches and interact with the community without fear.
"I was afraid of being segregated. I don’t want to lose my mates because I look at them as brothers to me. Now I’ve got a fifth of the world’s population as brothers and sisters.
"The community has to branch out, play football, go to football. It’s up to us to realise that we’re in this together. And the best spokesman for that could be Mohamed Salah," Bird concluded.
In 2015, some Premier League clubs announced that they would provide multi-faith prayer rooms, after the increase in the number of Muslims attending matches.
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