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Mo Salah, the World Cup’s “Egyptian King,” explained

Mo Salah will make you care about soccer.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool
David Ramos/Getty Images

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, and all eyes are on rising star Mohamed “Mo” Salah of Egypt as he makes his debut in this afternoon’s game against Russia.

Salah is treasured across the United Kingdom and the Middle East for his outstanding athletic prowess. He is Egypt’s best player, a forward for Liverpool, and the record-holder for the most goals scored in a single premier-league season in England.

Benjamin Koevary

But he is also a beloved Arab Muslim whose stardom has helped counteract Islamophobia in Europe and all over the world. In the UK, which some reports say has seen a 47 percent spike in hate crimes related to Islamophobia in 2016, Liverpool fans love Salah so much, they sing fan chants with lyrics: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too” and “Sitting in the mosque, that’s where I wanna be.”

Rory Smith, the New York Times’s chief soccer correspondent, explains:

After every goal — and there have been a lot of goals — he performed sujud and takes a moment to kneel on the pitch in prayer. He points to the sky. He washes himself before every game. ... I think that is really important at this point in time where there is so much cultural tension about Islamophobia. The fact that he’s not just accepted, not just tolerated, but actively adored by a significant proportion of the population, I think is really significant.

For more about about Mo, the World Cup, and the unfortunate reality of persistent racism in sports, listen to the latest episode of Today, Explained.

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You can get the news we’re reading throughout the day, facts and stats to make you smarter about the world, and behind-the-scenes photos on Twitter at @Today_Explained. You can follow Sean Rameswaram at @Rameswaram, Rory Smith at @RorySmith, and Mo Salah at @MoSalah.

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