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Can Soccer Star Mo Salah Kick Anti-Muslim Sentiment?

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Can Soccer Star Mo Salah Kick Anti-Muslim Sentiment?
Rising soccer star Mohamed Salah helped his team reach the UEFA Champions League final, but he's also sparked conversations about inclusion.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Fans call him the "Egyptian King." Soccer star Mohamed Salah, aka Mo Salah, plays for Liverpool, and he's sparking conversations about inclusion, both on and off of the field — an issue the sport has struggled with.

It's widely known that fans of football — Americans call it soccer — have wrestled with racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia throughout history.

The FARE Network, a nonprofit group that studies football discrimination in Europe, found 539 incidents of bigotry during matches from 2015 to 2017. A recent European Islamophobia report found an increase of anti-Muslim far-right political parties and hate crimes in Europe.

But Egyptian-born, Muslim Salah has publicly prayed before games and prays after goals. After he scores, the fans chant in unison: "Mo Salah, Mo Salah running down the wing. Sha la, la, la Egyptian King."

In another chant, fans rewrote lyrics to a 1996 hit "Good Enough" by Dodgy. Fans say, ""If it's good enough for you. It's good enough for me. If he scores another two, then I'll be Muslim, too." 

Salah says he can hear the chants on the field. 

"I love, I love, I love them, because I play here, and I'm feeling it," he says. "I hear that every game. And I feel the love in the city, in the club, in the train."

Sports host Paul Machin says: "It's something that's been done off the cuff, and it's something that you know, and what it's led to is a bunch of lads, who are from all kinds of different denominations and backgrounds and ages and, you know, and social classes, whatever, and basically singing about, you know, it's good enough for me, and I'll be a Muslim, too. And I love the positive naivety about that."

Salah is the first African to ever receive the Footballer of the Year by the English Football Writers' Association after scoring 43 goals in 48 games. Salah's prolific goal-scoring this season led his team, Liverpool, to its first Champions League final appearance in 11 years. They will face Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, winners of last year's title. Salah also led his national team, Egypt, to its first World Cup appearance in nearly 30 years.

While he's considered a hero, both in his home country and in England, his current manager at Liverpool calls him something else: ambassador.

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said: "We all had kind of ambassadors, and sometimes, we we fit to that role and sometimes not. And in the moment, obviously, the most perfect ambassador for Egypt, for the whole Arabic world, well so that's really nice. And I love that."

Salah isn't the only footballer who publicly practices his Islamic faith. Superstars Paul Pogba and Mesut Özil also outwardly display their beliefs.

The championship game this May 26 falls during Ramadan, a holy Islamic month of fasting — which means no food or water from sunrise to sundown. Even though the Grand Mufti of Egypt had given Muslim players the option to postpone their fast, Salah will have to choose if he'll observe it or not. While the chants and attention aren't necessarily a cure for anti-Muslim sentiment, others argue it at least opens the discussion about inclusion and religious tolerance.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated information about Salah's public prayers. This story has been updated.