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The Importance of Muslim Role Models

The Importance of Muslim Role Models

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday December 17 2019

Presently, the perception of Muslims that is largely driven by the mainstream media in the UK is overwhelmingly negative – with more than a third of Britons believing that Islam is a threat to the “British way of life”. Indeed, a poll conducted by the advocacy organisation Hope Not Hate found that 35% of British people saw Islam as being incompatible with British values and 32% believed that there are “no-go areas” dominated by Muslims. 

Beliefs like these are heavily due to the misinformation and Islamophobic rhetoric which has dominated the public sphere. The general public is more likely to encounter negative news coverage of Muslims through the media than it is to encounter positive. Indeed, research shows that for every one neutral or positive mention of Muslims within print media, there are around twenty-one negative mentions.

Thus, at a time where misinformation and Islamophobic narratives are prevalent, there needs to be greater emphasis on recognising and promoting positive Muslim role models as a counter-narrative to the Islamophobic rhetoric.

Liverpool FC forward Mohammed Salah has had a significantly positive impact on the image of Muslims within the perceptions of broader society since he joined the club in the summer of 2017. Research conducted by Stanford University found that Islamophobic hate crimes had dropped by 8.9 per cent in Merseyside after Salah signed for Liverpool in June 2017, while anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans halved compared to other major Premier League clubs.

Salah, who is visibly Muslim, is not shy about his faith, as he often celebrates his goals by performing the sujood, the Islamic act of prostration to God. Indeed, Mohammed Salah can be seen as a good role model for Muslims across the UK as well as a source of inspiration for people to start viewing Islam with a more positive outlook.

Likewise, fellow Muslim Liverpool FC footballer, Sadio Mane, attracted media attention and received much praise after a video captured the star forward helping clean the toilets in a local mosque only a few hours after a match. Khalil Laher, the mosque attendant who recorded the video, called the moment “humbling”. With footage of the act of goodwill amounting more than 9,000 retweets and 18,000 likes on Twitter, football fans branded Mane as “class“.

Mane, who also celebrates his goal by performing the sujood, was brought up in Senegal, where his father is the imam in their local mosque. He has previously spoken out about what his faith means to him, saying he prays five times a day and does not drink alcohol.

Moving away from sports, the former Chief Prosecutor in North West England, Nazir Afzal, sets an excellent example of a Muslim who epitomises a passion for justice and community service. Afzal is well known for his outspoken views in favour of women’s rights and against forced marriage and honour killings. Perhaps Afzal’s most notable moment is being the lead prosecutor of the Rotherham abuse cases, something which notoriously tarnished the image of the Muslims via the media. However, Afzal, a practising Muslim, led the charge to justice and was firm in stating how there was neither a religious nor racial basis for grooming. 

Afzal was quoted as saying “So I know that the vast majority of offenders are British white male,” he says, setting the number at somewhere between 80 and 90%. “We have come across cases all over the country, and the ethnicity of the perpetrators varies depending on where you are … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude to women that defines them”.

There are great things being done by inspirational Muslims across the country and it is important that the achievements of these individuals are recognised. In order to do this and to counter the traditional demonising narratives of mainstream media, it is important that policymakers support initiatives by the broadcasting industry to promote positive portrayals of Muslims in the media

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