UK: Mohamad Salah biggest legacy is off the pitch

Source: The Middle East Eye

By Kieron Monks

Stars such as Mohamed Salah portray favourable images of Muslims, helping to reduce stereotypes and break down barriers within communities

On 6 May, around 3,000 people gathered outside the seat of government in London for what they called a “day of freedom”.

A succession of speakers from hard-right groups took turns denouncing a perceived threat to British values. One described Islam as a “filthy cult”; another called it “satanic”. A passing Asian family was heckled with racial abuse. A Muslim vlogger was punched several times before being removed by police.

The rally marked a new peak of an Islamophobic wave sweeping Britain. We have seen attacks on mosques double in the past year, the creation of “Punish a Muslim” day, and a barrage of dishonest attacks on Muslims from the largest national newspapers. A recent report found the majority of respondents believed “Islam poses a serious threat to Western civilisation”.

But while Muslims are demonised in the media, on the streets and in their places of worship, they are also icons of Britain’s national obsession – football.

Salahmania

A few days after the rally, a very different crowd gathered across town at the plush Landmark Hotel to watch Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah receive the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year award.

Salah had already won the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year prize, and would go on to scoop the Golden Boot with a record-breaking 32 league goals. His dream season concludes with the Champions League final against Real Madrid on 26 May.

Millions of Britons cheer on Muslim players every weekend, and anti-racism campaigners and academics are hoping for a ripple effect on wider society

The Egyptian has rapidly earned legendary status at Anfield and in the famously progressive city of Liverpool, and that appreciation extends to his heritage. He is serenaded with a song that includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too” – a sentiment that echoes around social media on match days. Young Scousers have taken to mimicking his goal celebration prostration.

Salah is a bona fide phenomenon, but he is surrounded by a galaxy of Muslim stars that light up the Premier League. At Liverpool, he has fellow hitman Sadio Mané and midfielder Emre Can for company. Manchester United and Arsenal’s top talents are Paul Pogba and Mesut Ozil. The last two Player of the Year winners were Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté and Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez.

Millions of Britons cheer on Muslim players every weekend, and anti-racism campaigners and academics are hoping for a ripple effect on wider society.

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