New Muslims Society

Egypt’s 2019 AFCON: Here Are Teams with Key Muslim Players

The 2019 continental Africa Cup of Nations will start in few days, precisely on June 21, in Egypt.

The 32nd edition of the biennial competition will be the first enlarged version to be contested between 24 teams.

Because of the massive number of Muslim players and countries participating in the tournament, it was moved from its original dates of 15 June – 13 July because of Ramadan as hundreds of religiously devoted players were fasting during the holy month.

Half of the teams come from Muslim countries in different regions of Africa. Here are some facts on some prominent Muslim players in some of the participating teams.

Egypt, the Host Nation

Mohamed Salah

The host nation Egypt, where Muslims represent 90% of its population, is the most successful country in the cup’s history, winning the tournament a record of seven times. Egyptian winger and forward Mohamed Salah is considered by experts to be one of the best players in the world.



Wahbi Khazri

Another Muslim country participating in the competition is Tunisia where Muslim form 98% of its population. The Tunisian team won one African Cup of Nations in 2004 and it has been runner-up twice in 1965 and 1996.

Wahbi Khazri, who plays for French Ligue 1 side Saint-Étienne, is one of the most prominent players in the Tunisia national team.





Sadio Mane

Senegal is a country where Muslims constitute 92% of its total population.

Established in the early 1960s, the Senegalese national football team has been a regular competitor in the Africa Cup of Nations, where their best performance was  being a runner-up in 2002.

Sadio Mané, 27, is the captain of the Muslim West African country of Senegal. Mané has earned 60 caps for Senegal since his debut in 2012 and represented the national team at the 2012 Olympics, 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. A few days ago, Mané won the 2019 Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals.


Ahmed Musa

The most populous African country, Nigeria, where Muslims form the majority by 55%, has also qualified for the Nations cup. Nigeria is three-time winners. In 1994, it was ranked 5th as the highest FIFA ranking position ever achieved by an African team.

Ahmed Musa is one of the best players in the Nigerian national team. Born in Nigeria in October 1992, the Muslim player was  among the key players who played for Nigeria in the World Cup 2014. The forward player currently plays for Saudi Arabian team Al-Nassr.


Sékou Koïta

Sékou Koïta

Hailing from the Muslim country of Mali where 90% of its population adhere to Islam, the Malian team was the runner-up of the 1972 edition. It has qualified for the cup eleven times, finishing as 3rd twice, and 4th three times.

19-Year-old Sékou Koïta is one of the most important players in the Malian national team. He plays for forward for Austrian Football Bundesliga club Wolfsberger AC and the Mali national team. He is on loan from FC Liefering.


Hakim Ziyech

Morocco has also qualified to the awaited tournament. In fact, about 99% of Moroccans are Muslim. As one of Africa’s most prestigious football teams, Morocco is the winner of the 1976 African Nations Cup. The team was also the runner-up of 2004 edition.

Hakim Ziyech, who plays as an attacking midfielder for Ajax and for the Morocco national team, is known for his finishing, dribbling, speed, technique and free kick ability.



Naby Laye Keïta

About 85% of Guinea’s population believes in Islam. Their Guinea national football team was the runner-up of the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations. It reached the quarter-finals in four editions 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2015.

Naby Laye Keïta, 24, is a Guinean professional footballer who plays as a central midfielder for Premier League club Liverpool and captains the Guinea national team.



Islam Slimani

Another participant team is Algeria where 99% of the country’s population adheres to Islam. The Algerian football national team won the African Cup of Nations once in 1990 when they were the hosts.

Algerian team puts hopes on many starts including Islam Slimani who plays as a striker for Süper Lig club Fenerbahçe on loan from Leicester City.



Cheikh El Khalil Moulaye Ahmed

As a newcomer in the cup, Mauritania made history on November 18, 2018, when they succeeded in qualifying to their first ever African Cup of Nations. About 99% of Mauritanians adhere to Islam.

Cheikh El Khalil Moulaye Ahmed, more commonly known as Bessam, who currently plays for Ligue 1 Mauritania club FC Nouadhibou, is one of the Mauritanian team stars.

Countries with Predominantly Muslim Population

The national football team of Côte d’Ivoire which qualified to the cup has previously won two editions in 1992 and 2015. It achieved the 2nd place twice and the 3rd place four times. Islam is the most followed religion in Côte d’Ivoire as Muslims form the plurality religious group by 43%.

Guinea Bissau succeeded in returning to the cup after their first participation in the previous 2017 edition. Islam is the most followed religion in Guinea Bissau as Muslims form the plurality religious group by 45%.

After 39 years from their debut in the 1980 edition, Tanzania succeeded on March 24, 2019, to qualify to the cup. About 50% of Tanzania’s total population adheres to Islam.

As a newcomer in the cup, Mauritania made history on November 18, 2018, when they succeeded in qualifying to their first ever African Cup of Nations. About 99% of Mauritanians adhere to Islam.

Moreover, several Muslim players can also be found in the other 12 participating teams.



Conversion Stories New Muslims

How Mohamed Salah Inspired Me To Become A Muslim!

I have gone from hating Islam to becoming a Muslim – and the Liverpool forward is the principal reason for that

Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to.

Mohamed Salah really and honestly inspired me. I’m a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, I can be myself but because I made the declaration of faith I’m a Muslim. 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”.

I don’t think my mates quite believe that I’m a Muslim because I’ve not really changed. I just think my heart is better. I’m really trying to change on match days. Normally it’s pub, put a bet on, then after the game back to the pub and realise you’ve lost a lot of money. It’s hard when you’re used to such a culture and it’s part of football for a lot of people.

How Ben used to think about Islam?

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. I always looked at Muslims like the elephant in the room. I had a hatred of Muslims.

When I was in sixth form it was a period where I think I needed someone to blame for my misfortunes. Unfortunately Muslims got the brunt of it and I quickly discovered right-wing media pages. They sort of groomed me by sending me long propaganda pieces and suchlike.

Even though I had these horrible ideas of Islam, I would never say them to a Muslim. At this point I didn’t know any Muslims. My degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds changed everything.

The Academic Study of Islam

We had to do a dissertation and I wanted to do something a bit different. I remember my dyslexia tutor telling me: “What about Mohamed Salah’s song?” I was aware of it and I thought it was fantastic but I hadn’t considered it in those terms.

I finally got the question: “Mohamed Salah, a gift from Allah. Is the performance of Mohamed Salah igniting a conversation that combats Islamapobia within the media and political spheres?”

The Liverpool fans’ song – to the tune of Dodgy’s hit Good Enough – includes the line “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too”, and I literally took that to heart.

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.

University gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of students from Saudi Arabia. I thought they were evil people who carried swords but they’re the nicest people I’ve met. The conceptions I had about Arab countries completely dissolved.

Mohamed Salah was the first Muslim I could relate to.

It’s the way he lives his life, how he talks to people. The other week he posed for a picture with a Liverpool fan who suffered a broken nose chasing after him. I know some other footballers would do that but you expect it now from Salah.

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.

That really resonated with me. When Salah scores I think he’s scoring for the faith. When he won the Champions League I said to my friend that was a victory for Islam. After each of his goals Salah practises the sujood (prostration) and exposes a very Islamic symbol to the world. How many people watch the Premier League every week? Millions globally.

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.

True Islam is not portrayed in the media

When people read the Quran, or read about Islam, they see something different that is not always portrayed in the media. I’m new to the Islamic community and I’m still learning. It is hard. It’s a lifestyle change.

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.

Last season Chelsea fans were singing “Salah is a bomber”. That’s the first time on my social media that I had a right go. I was livid because I’m for football banter but you know when things are just not true.

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.

Ben Bird was speaking to Tusdiq Din


Source: The Guardian