LIVERPOOL – Mohamed Salah’s goal celebration routine is familiar now. The “Egyptian King”, as nicknamed by Liverpool’s fans, raises his hands to the sky and then kneels on the field, prostrating himself in a deeply personal demonstration of his Muslim faith.
His efforts are appreciated not only by his teammates, but almost by all football fans in and outside the UK.
“The crowd goes a little quieter, allows him that moment of reflection,” Neil Atkinson, host of The Anfield Wrap told New York Times. There is another roar as he stands up, “and then everyone celebrates again.”
It’s a quite strange gesture from the British hooligans, who are known worldwide for their fanatic xenophobia.
The devoted Muslim player is now the star of football in the UK, scoring 43 goals in 49 games in his first season with Liverpool. Songs in his honor boom out at Anfield, Liverpool’s home stadium, and fans carry Egyptian flags bearing his image, complete with Pharaonic headdress.
Astoundingly, Salah, who has now successfully led the English football club to its first Champions League final in more than a decade, has been voted England’s player of the year both by his fellow players and by the Football Writers’ Association.
His Islamic faith has also made him a figure of considerable social and cultural significance.
At a time when Britain is fighting rising Islamophobia and hostile environment for immigrants, he’s a North African and a Muslim who isn’t just accepted in Britain but adored.
Descending from a major Islamic Country, “he’s someone who embodies Islam’s values and wears his faith on his sleeve,” said Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
“He isn’t the solution to Islamophobia, but he can play a major role,” Versi believes.
Salah’s popularity isn’t just the result of his prowess on the field; just as important is his philanthropy which is triggered by Islamic Shari’ah that asks every Muslim to contribute to humanity for better societies.
“He’s constantly donating money to charities and to his hometown,” said Said Elshishiny, the coach who discovered his talent as a child in Nagrig, a town in the Nile Delta.
“Every Muslim is proud of him,” said Ali Aden, selling groceries and a surprisingly large range of perfumes from his stall outside Al Rahma Mosque in Liverpool.
Radwan Albarbandi, a Syrian doctor who moved to Britain a decade ago and who has lived in Liverpool since 2010, says “most Muslims feel safe and comfortable in this English city specifically. It’s home to one of England’s oldest Muslim communities and was the site of the country’s first mosque.”
“He gives more confidence to the younger generation especially,” Dr. Albarbandi said.
“You can see and feel the impact. They are more active, more outgoing, their morale is higher. He has shown that if you engage, if you work hard and prove yourself, nobody is going to stop you praying, nobody is going to stop you wearing a beard. People will respect you, whoever you are.”