An alleged former Islamophobe English national named Ben Bird, a season ticket holder at Nottingham Forest, told The Guardian the full story of how the iconic Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah inspired him to declare himself a follower of the Islamic faith.
“I’d love to meet him, just to shake his hand and say ‘cheers’ or ‘shukran’ (thanks),” Bird told The Guardian. He pointed out that many of his friends hardly believe that he has become a Muslim man, explaining that he has not externally changed much, but his “heart is getting better,” a development he attributes to Mo Salah.
Bird used to be an Muslim-hating extremist, but his mistaken ideas about Islamic culture have been erased by Salah’s inspirational behavior.
“I’m new to the Islamic community, and I’m still learning. It is hard. It’s a lifestyle change,” he stated.
He further told the English newspaper about the first time he met a Muslim during college. He had thought Muslims were devil people with swords, but later found them to be among the most genuine people he has met.
“Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to. It’s the way he lives his life, how he talks to people,” he said, referring to a popular picture featuring a fanboy with a broken nose next to Salah.
Full of love for Mo Salah, an 11-year-old fanboy broke his nose while running to meet his idol and take a picture with him in August. The boy managed to snap his dream photo despite his bloody nose. Bird was touched by the story.
Bird decided to do his research in college about his role model, Salah. The research project was titled “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah”, a song sung by Liverpool fans. His love for Salah increased after interviewing Egyptian students as part of his research work.
“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,” he mentioned during the interview.
Salah donated US$3 million towards the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to help restore its facilities after a terrorist attack took place near the building on Sunday, August 4 at midnight.
Salah also donated LE5 million to the Tahya Masr Fund in January 2017. Salah has showed deep loyalty to his home village Nagrig in Basyoun, to which he donated five acres of land to establish a sewage station, granting his village a stable source of fresh, clean water, according to a previous tweet by Dave Connell, Irish soccer player.
One of Salah’s most well-known practices right after he scores any goal is “sujood,” thanking God, which influenced Bird, who now believes that the Egyptian striker succeeded in making people love Muslim.
Last June, Stanford University’s Immigration Policy lab (IPL) released a study on soccer star Mohamed Salah’s constructive social impacts at many levels during his stay with Liverpool. The study mainly shows that since the Muslim Egyptian footballer arrived in Liverpool’s Merseyside, the area has witnessed a noticeable decline in hate crimes of 18.9 percent.
Notably, hate crimes are the only subcategory of crimes that saw this decrease in Liverpool.
The study paid tribute to Salah’s contribution in reducing race hatred among citizens in Meryside. Since Salah joined the Reds’ club two seasons ago, he has not only made international headlines, but has also fascinated fans with his compassionate behavior, which has earned him iconic fame.
The study’s introduction raised one preeminent question: “Can exposure to successful celebrities from stigmatized groups reduce prejudice toward that group at large?”
When asked what he would do for his old self, Ben answered, “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.”
He stated that the racist Chelsea incident against Salah infuriated him last April.
A discriminatory video against Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, which featured six individuals in a bar aggressively chanting that Salah was a terrorist, appeared on social media.
Ben further asserted the importance of diversity in any community, adding that that diversity should be demonstrated in football. “And the best spokesman for that could be Mohamed Salah,” he said.