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Salah made me Muslim

Ben Bird, a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, and former islamophobe, has attributed his conversion to Liverpool forward, Mohamed Salah, saying: “He was the first Muslim I could relate to.”[1]

Like many other men living in the UK, Bird first began to hold a negative view of Islam after coming across “right-wing media pages” targeted at Muslims, which built towards his dismissive perception of the religion. Having thought Muslims were “devil people with swords”, he went on to adopt the notion that “the religion, the culture, and the people were backward; they didn’t integrate and wanted to take over.”

Read More: Study concludes Salah reduces islamophobia

He added:

“I always looked at Muslims like the elephant in the room. I had a hatred of Muslims.”

But he has since called these statements “embarrassing”, saying that his anti-Muslim sentiments quickly steered in the opposite direction when he decided to learn more about Islam. He credited the Egyptian footballer as the catalyst.

Bird said:

“I’m a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder. I can be myself, but because I made the declaration of faith, I’m a Muslim.”

“I’m still me, and that’s what I took from Mohamed Salah. I’d love to meet him, just to shake his hand and say ‘Cheers’, or ‘Shukran’.”[2]

While at university, Bird became friends with students from Arab countries. He then undertook a course on Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds. He was given the assignment to study Salah’s impact on Western thoughts on Islam, a degree he now thinks “was the first time I learned about Islam in an academic way.”

Having spoken to his international friends about the striker’s impact on society for the task, he quickly fell in awe of what they had to say.

“At university I interviewed Egyptian students and when they found out my research was about “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah” – which is also another Liverpool song – they would talk to me for hours about how great he is and what he’s done for their country. One million Egyptians spoiled their ballots and voted for him to be president last year.

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.

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. His politics, his religion, don’t matter – and to me that’s what football can do.”2

Ben added a recent incident involving Mohammed Salah, reminding him of the genuine Muslims he had met in his previous years. When an 11-year-old fan broke his nose while running to meet his idol for a picture, the boy eventually got his dream. Despite picking up a bloody nose in the process, he got his photo – a picture that had gone viral in August 2019.

“Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to. It’s the way he lives his life, how he talks to people.”

The Liverpool fans’ song, which includes the line, “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too” really resonated with Bird. It is a well-known practice of Salah that after every goal he scores, he celebrates by falling into the position of sujood (prostration) to thank Allah, a feat he now thinks has succeeded in making people love him, and by extension, love Islam and Muslims.

“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’. After each of his goals, Salah practises the sujood (prostration) and exposes a very Islamic symbol to the world. How many people watch the Premier League every week? Millions globally.”[3]

After “going from hating Islam to becoming a Muslim”, Ben told the Guardian that he doesn’t think his friends quite believe that he’s become a Muslim, as he hasn’t changed much – but “his heart is better.”

He’s taking active steps to improve as a new Muslim and encourages others to get to know the true message of Islam.

“When people read the Quran or read about Islam, they see something different that is not always portrayed in the media. I’m new to the Islamic community and I’m still learning. It is hard. It’s a lifestyle change.”

And finally, when asked what advice he would give to his younger self, he replied:

“What would I say to the Ben of old? I’d give him a smack, to be honest, and I’d say: ‘How dare you think like that about a people that are so diverse. You need to start talking to people. You need to start asking the questions.’ We live in a multicultural, multifaith, multinational society.

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.”






About Hamza Saleem


  1. Salaam Um Hafsa you raised an important question about the acceptable face of Islam. Incorrectly linking up it with social norms only. There are are Muslim countries where it’s normal to pray and wear Niqab but the government supports Israel. No
    Islam without demolishing false gods.

  2. On the face of it, it all sounds good but I can’t help feeling that there is a deeper, more sinister message underlying this which is that Salah (and other Muslim sports personalities) are the acceptable face of Islam. A few years ago, when Nadiya Hussain won the Bake Off, I remember reading (or watching) something in the western media about her being the ‘acceptable face of Islam’, I suppose as opposed to my niqaab-wearing unacceptable face of Islam. In my defence and in the defence of many Muslim women and men who haven’t bowed to the pressure to dilute down our Islamic appearance to appease the disbelievers, many of us have parents who were invited here and we didn’t choose to be born and raised here. Furthermore, our western teachers taught us that what was important was for us to be law-abiding and hard-working. We, like the rest of society were free to dress as we want, just like the punks of the 70s and 80s, the Hell’s Angels types, the Drag Queens, the Goths and more recently the Emos. However, the goalposts have been unfairly moved for only the Muslims.

    I’ve read messages on here talking about how the West find the niqaab scary but I’m sure most people would rather encounter someone who looked like me on a dark night in a secluded alleyway than someone from the list mentioned above, revealing the fallacy of the argument. In the 90s the agenda was to attack Islam by making Muslim women seem like they were oppressed by their men, which is why the overwhelming attitude towards women in veils was that of pity. The agenda has changed somewhat now and instead the aim is to attack Islam by showing veiled women as scary and inhuman.

    Also, there is the issue that cultures change and what is acceptable today may not be tomorrow, so how much will we continue changing and chopping our religion to fit in with people who have no divine guidance and fear of accountability in the after-life to help them put a brake on their liberal madness. Just over a hundred years ago it would have been perfectly normal to not only see women and girls wearing what looked like jilbaabs and big scarves, but also heavy, black crape face veils (without even the eyes showing); Victorian widows were expected to wear this thick, black veil for a year and a day after the death of their husband. Not all of them did but my point is that is was an acceptable sight to see around the streets of the country (see Today, Muslim women like Salah’s wife are wearing skinny jeans with tight tops and scarves that even show parts of their ears. How long will it be till even the tiny bit of a scarf is seen as unacceptable?

    Finally, if Muslims out there are thinking that showing the face of Islam that the disbelievers currently consider acceptable means that they are safe then they have not understood the nature of the disbelievers that Allah Ta’ala has warned us against in so many places in the Qur’an (al-Baqarah 2:120, Aal ‘Imraan 3:118-120], al-Baqarah 2:109) and nor have they looked into the negative experiences of other disbelievers because of their colour, accent, food, area of country they come from and even football team they support etc. Does anyone remember how the Hindu, tight jeans and tight top wearing, model and actress Shilpa Shetty was treated in the Big Brother house and what about the recent hostile treatment of mixed-race Meghan Markle? You could eventually give up your religion completely to appease them but you will still be an outsider because of any number of reasons (like those mentioned above) because despite their advances in science and technology their fundamental ideas about what is important and how humans should be judged are lacking, and therefore many prejudices will always remain.

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