'I had a hatred of Muslims': English football fan converts to Islam because of Mo Salah
Ben Bird, a supporter of English Championship side Nottingham Forest, told The Guardian that he was like many other young men in the UK who had a negative view of the religion but all of that changed, he said, when he learned more - and it was Salah who provided the impetus for his introspection.
"I'm a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, I can be myself but because I made the declaration of faith I'm a Muslim," Bird said. "I'm still me and that’s what I took from Mohamed Salah. I’d love to meet him, just to shake his hand and say 'Cheers' or 'Shukran'.Also on rt.com Mo Salah poses with young fan who broke his nose trying to greet Liverpool star (PHOTOS)
Bird says that converting to Islam hasn't changed him or his personality in any dramatic way, but he says his 'heart is better' after abandoning the rituals of gambling and drinking which he said dominated his football supporting for years.
"I'm embarrassed to say this but my opinions on Islam used to be that the religion, the culture and the people were backward; that they didn’t integrate and wanted to take over," he explains. "I always looked at Muslims like the elephant in the room. I had a hatred of Muslims."
However, Bird's prejudices melted away when he became friends with students from Arab countries while in university, where he undertook a course on Middle Eastern Studies.
"I was a typical white-boy student who went to a different city, would get absolutely hammered and lived the student life. My degree was the first time I learned about Islam in an academic way."
Bird says that he was given an assignment in which he was asked to study Salah's impact on western thoughts on Islam, and when he spoke to Egyptian students about the player's impact on their society he became immediately impressed.
"At university I interviewed Egyptian students and when they found out my research was about “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah” – which is also another Liverpool song – they would talk to me for hours about how great he is and what he’s done for their country. One million Egyptians spoiled their ballots and voted for him to be president last year.
"One of the Egyptians I talked to told me that Salah encompasses what being a Muslim is, following Islam correctly. He believed that Salah is making people love Muslims again.
"Salah showed me that you can be normal and a Muslim, if that’s the right phrase. You can be yourself. He’s a great player and is respected by the football community and his politics, his religion, don’t matter – and to me that’s what football can do."
It is a stance which Bird says that he is proud to hold and rejects his previous thoughts on the religion and its standing in western society.Also on rt.com Man arrested on suspicion of posting racist Mo Salah tweet
"What would I say to the Ben of old? I’d give him a smack, to be honest, and I’d say: 'How dare you think like that about a people that are so diverse. You need to start talking to people. You need to start asking the questions.' We live in a multicultural, multifaith, multinational society.
"Now, I’d say to Muslim kids: 'Don’t be afraid to go to a football match.' I think that’s an issue we have to look at from both sides. I was afraid of being segregated. I don’t want to lose my mates because I look at them as brothers to me. Now I've got a fifth of the world’s population as brothers and sisters.
"The community has to branch out, play football, go to football. It’s up to us to realise that we’re in this together. And the best spokesman for that could be Mohamed Salah."