Mohamed Salah — red talisman, record-breaking goalscorer, “Egyptian King” — has already lived several lifetimes of memories with the Liverpool fans who revere him.
Like his beloved trademark sujood — meaning a show of subservience to god — in celebration of each of the 54 goals he’s scored since he joined in June 2017; or the pained recollections of that tackle in Kiev which broke hearts and shattered dreams; before a vengeful penalty struck against Tottenham a year later made amends and crowned Liverpool as European champions once again.
But as one of the world’s most famous footballers who happens to be Muslim, his legendary popularity has seemingly led to an unexpected result: Islamophobic hate crimes have reportedly fallen since he became a Liverpool player.
A viral tweet did the rounds in the aftermath of Liverpool’s Champions League final victory on Saturday. Aside from the video of club captain Jordan Henderson cry-hugging his dad or manager Jurgen Klopp rapping Salt-n-Pepa in a post-match interview, a US political scientist shared an academic paper from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab.
It’s called “Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice?” — and it went in hard on whether Salah’s faith had influenced Islamophobia in Merseyside, the British county home to Liverpool Football Club.
The paper was published on May 30, having surveyed 8,060 Liverpool supporters, investigated 936 hate crimes from 25 police departments in the region, and examined 15 million tweets sent from football fans in the UK since Salah signed for the club.
The results were positive: a 18.9% drop in hate crime — while anti-Muslim tweets fell by half, from 7.2% 3.4%.
What happened when @MoSalah joined @LFC?— John B. Holbein (@JohnHolbein1) June 1, 2019
Hate crimes in the surrounding area declined by 19%.
The # of anti-Muslim tweets sent by Liverpool fans was cut in half.
Evidence (by: @wpmarble@a_alrababah@salma_mousa_@aasiegel ): "Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice?" pic.twitter.com/ue9QhduB1Z
From the rise of race hate crimes during the referendum campaign to leave the European Union to the terror attack on Finsbury Park mosque, Islamophobia is rife in modern Britain.
A report from Tell Mama UK, an Islamophobia monitoring group, found that anti-Muslim attacks hit record highs in 2017 — and increased by over a quarter from the previous year. Indeed, YouGov found that between 2015 and 2018, almost two-thirds of people surveyed believed that Islam clashed with British values, according to data presented in the Stanford study.
So why has the arrival of Salah sparked a reverse trend in Merseyside?
“The survey experiment suggests that these results may be driven by increased familiarity with Islam,” the Stanford paper stated. “These findings suggest that positive exposure to outgroup celebrities can reveal new and humanising information about the group at large, reducing prejudiced attitudes and behaviours.”
The study also pointed to several chants from supporters, including one to the tune of britpop band Dodgy’s "Good Enough": “If he’s good enough for you he’s good enough for me/he’s sitting in the mosque that’s where I wanna be”, preceded by the lyric “if he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too.”
Believe, work hard, and it’ll happen. pic.twitter.com/F11eKYgZgK— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) June 2, 2019
Salah, 26, was named alongside pop star Ariana Grande and former first lady Michelle Obama as one of the world’s most influential people on the annual list for Time magazine.
He has also previously used his platform to advocate for gender equality, urging men in "[his] culture and in the Middle East" to treat women with more respect.
"We need to change the way we treat women in our culture," Salah told TV host and Liverpool fan John Oliver for Time. "That has to be, it's not optional."
"I support the woman more than I did before, because I feel like she deserves more than what they give her now at the moment,” he added.
It’s a vital intervention in the wider context of gendered Islamophobia too. It’s important to note that women often bear the brunt of anti-Muslim attacks.
The Tell Mama report detailed that women were the victims in six out of 10 cases — while men were the perpetrators in 8 in every 10 cases.