In Arabic, “Salah” means “righteousness,” “goodness” and “peace,” and Mohamed Salah has brought the peace, goodness and righteousness out of football fans across the United Kingdom and instantly become an Egyptian and Muslim icon in Great Britain.
In English, “Salah” refers to the Muslim prayer, which is fitting considering the Liverpool forward unapologetically drops to his knees and bows in the style of the Muslim prayer after every goal —even the ones he did not celebrate against his former club, Roma.
In all, Salah scored 32 goals in the Premier League, which set a new record for a 38-match season in the most famous league on the planet, but his impact this season has spread far beyond the pitches in England or the red half of the city that celebrates the Egyptian’s striking speed and educated finishing.
“This acquisition brings the British Museum’s world-famous Egyptian collection right up to date,” Neal Spencer, the British Museum’s keeper of ancient Egypt and Sudan, said in a statement after adding Salah’s boots to one of the most famous museums and collections on Earth. “The boots tell a story of a modern Egyptian icon, performing in the UK, with a truly global impact.”
In one season with Liverpool, Salah has seemingly won all of the trophies: PFA Player of the Year, FWA Player of the Year, CAF African Footballer of the Year, Arab Footballer of the Year, Liverpool Player of the Season, Premier League Golden Boot winner, and many, many more.
His impact, though, has been far more notable in society and in bridging an ever-deepening divide for a European Muslim community that often feels shunned rather than embraced in the West. In biblical terms, Salah’s name means “mission,” and the manner in which football and sport are the language of people from all colors and creeds, Salah has been a “good” and “righteous” missionary.
The 25-year-old’s outstretched arms during his goal celebrations put a notably unshaven yet friendly face that unquestionably serves to ease pressure on a community in desperate need of a hug. The running joke is that the mosques will be packed with Liverpool supporters on Friday, the traditional day to gather for prayer, before the Champions League final.
There’s even a chant with lyrics that highlight the phenomenon:
If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me.
If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too.
Sitting in the mosque, that’s where I wanna be!
Mo Salah-la-la-la, la-la-la-l-la-la-la.
Salah has been so good that he has drunk, debaucherous Liverpool supporters singing about going to the mosque.
Living in London, not much of a football supporter and married to an Arsenal supporter, my sister-in-law has no business caring about Salah. But for Muslims in the U.K. and for sports fans in general, Salah has become must-see. Nine months pregnant and due her first child, she joked with my brother that the baby would come when they’d be home watching “Mo Salah,” which is the shorthand name most use to refer to the Liverpool forward. As luck had it, the baby started kicking the night Liverpool qualified for the Champions League Final, but Amina Sophia Ahmed did not dare debut until the day after Liverpool booked passage into the Champions League Final.
After collecting all of the awards, scoring all of the goals and even sending his boots to the British Museum, Salah now faces the biggest match of his career with an unrivaled support base backing him to snap Real Madrid’s unprecedented Champions League streak.
The fact that the final is taking place during the month of Ramadan only heightens the attention and support Muslims worldwide are heaping on the 5-foot 9-inch football giant.
Whether or not he’ll fast on the day of the final is a point of discussion. Will he have enough energy after fasting?
Of course, Salah is not the first high-profile Muslim in the sport. Salah’s Senegalese club teammate Sadio Mane is also a devout Muslim, and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, is Muslim and a World Cup and Champions League winner as a player. Yaya Toure, Paul Pogba and several other prominent players identify as Muslim, but Salah’s impact has been notably more pronounced and more unifying off the pitch.
With the perfect storm of a Ramadan Champions League final writing the final pages of a magical season for the Egyptian, Salah may currently be the most important and unifying athlete on the planet. If he scores in the Champions League final, Salah’s name will somehow mean even more than it already does — and that’s before he leads Egypt in the 2018 World Cup.
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