The Egyptian forward represents a public face of Islam which sits in stark contrast with many contemporary media portrayals of Muslims. His characteristic goal celebration in which he kneels on the pitch to perform sujud – the Islamic act of thanksgiving to Allah – has been immortalised in football computer games. Comedian John Oliver recently described him as ‘a better human being than he is a football player and he’s one of the best football players in the world.’ Salah has spoken about his support for women’s equality and the need for cultural change in the way women are viewed in the Middle East. His toddler daughter delighted the crowd at Anfield when she scored a goal in front of the Kop on the last day of the season, before being scooped up and hugged by her hijab–wearing mother. She is named after the holy city of Mecca.
That these are all details rather than the story itself is testament to a normalisation of religious faith among players and fans to which Salah has contributed.
This phenomenon is not limited to Mo Salah and Islam. At full time in Saturday’s final, Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson – a practicing Catholic – took his jersey off to reveal a vest decorated with hand drawn symbols proclaiming, ‘cross equals love’. He subsequently posted a photo of himself holding the Champions League trophy aloft and looking to the sky, with the caption ‘God is love’.
The Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has frequently discussed his Christian faith in public and in media interviews. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in his native Germany, he took on the role of Reformationsbotschafter or ‘reformation ambassador’ in a publicity campaign for the Bible in which he cited Martin Luther as one of his role models:
“Luther fought for faith and justice, so people could live their faith in a mature way and without fear… I like Luther because he took the path of the less privileged on the margins. He risked a great deal, so we could have a positive image of God: the loving god in whom I believe, who welcomes everyone regardless of race, background or education.”
My piece on Mo Salah, Jürgen Klopp & personal faith on a public pitch – huge thanks to @Theosthinktank colleagues for humouring me & letting me write about almost everything I love all in one go: https://t.co/Rwq55d9f9z
— Hannah Rich (@hannahmerich) June 4, 2019