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Mo Salah of Liverpool Breaks Down Cultural Barriers, One Goal at a Time

Mr. Salah, though, has helped “turn that pressure off,” Mr. Atthababi said. Songs in his honor boom out at Anfield, Liverpool’s storied home stadium, and fans carry flags bearing his image, complete with Pharaonic headdress. Mr. Salah is mobbed wherever he goes, asked for selfies at filling stations and at fish-and-chip shops.

That is natural in a city defined as much by its two soccer teams as it is by its musical heritage, the hometown of the Beatles. “He is the quiet, unassuming kid who puts on his Liverpool shirt and becomes a superhero, the embodiment of every fan’s dream,” said James McKenna of Spirit of Shankly, a Liverpool fans’ group.

But the fact that it is a Muslim being feted is significant, too. “Every Muslim is proud of him,” said Ali Aden, selling groceries and a surprisingly large range of perfumes from his stall outside Al Rahma Mosque in Liverpool. “Sometimes, we are made to feel like second-class citizens. For someone to come from the Middle East to our city is a great source of pride.”

One song in his honor has the lyrics, “If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim, too,” and it has not gone unnoticed. Though the chant has attracted some criticism, Anwar Uddin, a former player who now works for the Football Supporters’ Federation on its diversity programming, says he thinks it is well intentioned.

“Things like that can break down barriers,” he said, pointing out that the simple sight of seeing Mr. Salah bow and reflect after scoring a goal can help to “remove the stigma” that some may attach to the sight of a Muslim praying.

“He can help to bridge the Muslim community and the rest of the city,” Mr. Atthababi said. “He can show people that we are closer to Salah than we are to extremists.”

To others, though, the message that Mr. Salah’s success sends to Muslims is just as important, because he made his triumphant return to England four years after being buried on the bench for a season at Chelsea.

“He gives more confidence to the younger generation especially,” Dr. Albarbandi said. “You can see and feel the impact. They are more active, more outgoing, their morale is higher. He has shown that if you engage, if you work hard and prove yourself, nobody is going to stop you praying, nobody is going to stop you wearing a beard. People will respect you, whoever you are.”

Outside Al Rahma mosque, Abdul Aziz and Mohamed Yaffe were hurrying to Friday prayers. Mr. Yaffe was happy to talk about Mr. Salah; Mr. Yaffe is a Liverpool fan, enamored as anyone with the team’s star. Mr. Aziz, though, demurred a little. “These are difficult questions to answer,” he said.

Mr. Yaffe looked at him sympathetically. “He’s an Everton fan,” he said, by way of explanation, referring to Liverpool’s city rivals. Mr. Aziz smiled. As long as Mr. Salah does not score against Everton, he said, he is happy for him, happy for what he is doing for the community.

That is one gap Mr. Salah has already bridged. “Faith comes first,” Mr. Aziz said.

Source: NYT > World

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