Beyond EPL: How Mohammad Salah Helped Change the Image of Central Asian Immigrant Muslims in the UK
By: Aviral Sharma
“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wings,
Mo Salah la-la-la la-ahh, The Egyptian King!
If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me,
If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too.”
This is how a popular chant from Liverpool FC fans went during February 2018. The club marched towards success during that season, marking a Champions League trophy against a lacklustre Tottenham in the finals and followed it up with a Premier League the following year.
They had a constant throughout all of this: Mo Salah, their fast=paced winger who just could not stop scoring. Since joining the Reds in 2017, Salah has played more than 150 games and has scored 106 goals for the club. During 2019-20, he became Liverpool’s talisman when he helped end their three-decade-long trophy doubt, and in doing that, he managed to extend his positive influence far beyond the pitch.
A London-based Immigration Policy Lab study found Merseyside county, home to Liverpool FC, experienced an almost 19% decline in prejudicial crimes after 2017 when Salah joined. The think tank had analysed 15 million tweets for Islamophobic sentiment and found a similar “Salah effect”. The number of anti-Muslim tweets sent by Liverpool fans dropped from 7.3% to 3.8%. Even more, researchers found that exposure to Salah’s religious practices resulted in a 5% uptick in the sense that Islam is compatible with white British majoritarian values.
Muslims in Britain have over the years experienced bias in daily life and employment. Even if most of them do not face physical violence, some have lamented that they are often stared at in public places or ignored in shops.
The findings of the Salah study, the authors conclude, “Salah’s popularity suggests that positive exposure to out-group celebrities can reveal new and humanising information about the group at large, reducing prejudiced attitudes and behaviours.”
Liverpool’s legendary manager Bill Shankly once said, “If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.” But the club Shankly once led hasn’t been English champions since 1990, and it’s been a long and agonising period of nothing at times.
This is a club looking for a hero. A club that has seen other heroes — Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez — pass through without bringing that elusive Premier League title. Salah got it home, but more importantly, he carries a far more precious promise every time he is on the pitch: Next year will be Liverpool’s year.
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