“If he scores a few, I’ll also be a Muslim. He’s sitting in the mosque, and that’s where I want to be… Mo Salah la la la la la.” In 2018, white football fans were chanting that song in Liverpool’s stadiums and bars about Mohamed Salah, the Afro-haired Egyptian footballer at their club in the Premier League.
The juxtaposition of the theme of that song and the people singing it stunned the world and astounded four researchers from Stanford University—Alaa Alrababeh, William Marple, Salma Moussa, and Alexandra Siegel—who moved to study the phenomenon. “What is it, I remember wondering. The song piqued our curiosity,” Marple told the Indian Express.
The result — after months of hard work, analyzing 15 million tweets, 8,000 people surveyed and dissecting crime statistics — astounded the world.
“We found that hate crime in Merseyside (the home of Liverpool FC) fell by 16 per cent…Liverpool FC fans halved the rates of anti-Muslim tweets compared to fans of other First Division clubs. Our survey experience indicates that the prominence of Salah’s Islamic identity has enabled Positive sentiments toward Salah are more likely to generalize to Muslims more broadly,” the report states.
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On Saturday night, thousands were chanting the spirit behind that song as Salah was tearing up the right wing at Stade de Saint-Denis in Paris in the Champions League final as Liverpool chased a famous hat-trick, having already won the league. Cup and FA Cup.
The results of the study were remarkable, especially in the context of what was happening in the pre-Salah era of Liverpool when lawyers Abu Bakr Bhola and Asif Boodai descended under a ladder at Anfield, the club’s headquarters, to pray. Another fan tweeted their photos with the slogan “Shame” – this has become very popular in right-wing groups.
Two years later, the bearded Salah joined Liverpool as a publicly devout Muslim footballer prostrating himself on the ground in “prostration” after the goals, and raising his index finger in the “shahada”, whose daughter Mecca was named, and his wife was veiled – whose social media posts were filled with pictures religious.
“That was what was special. Here was a man, by all accounts, humble, a philanthropist, a great footballer who was himself. By being himself, he evoked something in others,” said Marple, the scholar. Politics, he doesn’t even talk about his religion, he’s just himself.”
“We highlighted Salah’s Islamic identity in part of our survey and found people saying there was no clash between Islam and British values. The seamless integration would have been possible. The people we surveyed responded with that angle of religiosity by saying they were more tolerant of Islamic values.
Or in other words, there was no clash of civilizations. “We had a lot of people saying it was important to understand the culture of the players who represent their club. This openness was very inspiring.
But Marple and his colleagues wanted to know if the people surveyed had walked in on that talk. They sought police records for hate crimes.
“What we saw is that in Merseyside there was a decrease in hate crimes right after Salah signed, compared to the rest of the country, and that continued in his first few seasons with the club. We did different statistical models to see if that big drop would happen even if Salah didn’t sign and we found That this was not the case, he said, and said that there appears to be a direct effect of goodness from evidence from behavioral data that correlates in extreme outcomes with bigotry.
One of the tests was to check if there was a decrease in other crimes, not related to hate crimes. “What we found was that the biggest decrease was in hate crimes, not in other crimes. It assured me that we are on the right track with the Salah effect,” Marple said.
The researchers then analyzed 15 million tweets as part of their philosophy to examine several different clues to arrive at a conclusion. “We coded their tweets where they mentioned Islam/Islam and categorized them as positive/negative/neutral. We found that the proportion of anti-Muslim tweets from Liverpool followers decreased by half, based on what we found in fans of other clubs,” the researcher said.
Asif Boodai, one of the fans targeted for prayer in the stadium, spoke to digital network Middle East Eye about the changes that occurred after Salah. “Some fans may be more conservative and afraid to show their faith but because of the impact Salah has had, they feel emboldened to show their faith.” Multi-religious prayer rooms appeared in the stadiums.
Ben Baird, who once admitted he “hated Muslims”, wrote in the Guardian about how Salah’s existence changed him – he even converted to Islam.
“Like that song ‘If he scores a few, I’ll also be a Muslim,’ and I took that very seriously…Salah showed me that you can be normal and a Muslim, if that’s the right phrase. You can be yourself.” Baird wrote: “He’s a great player and he’s respected by the football community, his politics and his religion doesn’t matter – and for me that’s what football can do.”
But the British-born Pakistani poet, Suhaima Manzur Khan, warns of the danger of portraying the “good Muslim immigrant” and the need to respect all Muslims. “Love us when we are lazy, love us when we are poor, love us high like kites, unemployed, fun rides, waste time, fail at school, love us dirty,” he said.
But then, that is not up to Mohamed Salah.