While Christianity is the predominant religion in Western Europe, there are more Muslim football players in Europe’s top leagues than people might suspect.
Football is one of the most egalitarian and engaging sport in the world, representing players from all nationalities and with different religious background. Many Muslim football players have been contributing to football over a long history. Their spectacular performance dazzle their fans.
Since the players’ personal beliefs have no effect on how they play football, fans should never discriminate players based on their religious beliefs.
However, Muslim footballers usually face anti-Muslim abuse from fans and sometimes even from other players or coaches. However, most of the time common sense prevails, as with many clubs, like Newcastle United, building multi-faith prayer rooms at their training grounds to facilitate Muslim football players.
According to a study conducted in 2015, Islam has 1.8 billion adherents, meaning that about 24.1 percent of the world population believes in this religion. Muslims definitely have tremendous significance in the world’s history and there is a number of world-class Muslim footballers who have entertained the fans all over the world.
Muslim players come from different countries and even different continents around the world. Some are of French descent and some are of Turkish descent, like many German players whose parents or grandparents immigrated to Central Europe after World War II. Some other notable players have converted to Islam, such as Franck Ribery.
Here is a list of the best Muslim football players in the European Leagues:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
As one of the most popular Muslim football players in Europe, Karim Mostafa Benzema was born on the 19 December 1987 in Lyon. He is a French professional footballer who plays as a striker for Spanish club Real Madrid and the France national team.
Benzema has been described as a talented striker who is both strong and a potent finisher on the pitch.
Benzema secured 3 Champions League won in 2017, 2016, and 2014 in the final match with Real Madrid.
Benzema began his football career with local club Bron Terraillon. In 1996, he joined Olympique Lyonnais, and subsequently came through the club’s youth academy.
In 2009, it was announced that Lyon had reached an agreement with Spanish club Real Madrid for the transfer of Benzema.
The transfer fee was announced to be €35 million with the fee rising to as much as €41 million based on incentives. Benzema successfully passed his medical test and signed his contract, which was a six-year deal.
As a practicing Muslim, Benzema observes fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. His grandfather, Da Lakehal Benzema, lived in the village of Tigzirt, located in the northern town of Beni Djellil in Algeria before migrating to Lyon, where he eventually settled in the 1950s.
Benzema’s father, Hafid, was born in Tigzirt, while his mother, Wahida Djebbara, was born and raised in Lyon. Benzema is the third youngest in the family and grew up with eight other siblings in Bron, an eastern suburb of Lyon.
His younger brothers Gressy and Sabri are also footballers. In 2014, his daughter Mélia was born and his son Ibrahim was born in 2017.
Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, France)
As one of the best Muslim football players in European Leagues, Mahrez is known for his specialty in taking superb set-pieces. He has won the EPL title a couple of times and also helped Algeria winning the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mahrez was born in Sarcelles, France, to an Algerian father and a mother of Algerian and Moroccan descent. His father Ahmed was from Beni Snous, Tlemcen District.
Growing up, Mahrez would regularly spend his holidays in Algeria. Mahrez’s father had played football in Algeria.
When Mahrez was fifteen, his father died of a heart attack. He reflected that, “I don’t know if I started to be more serious but after the death of my dad things started to go for me. Maybe in my head, I wanted it more.”
Mahrez is a practicing Muslim and in June 2017, he made the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca. He married his English girlfriend Rita Johal in 2015. Their daughter, Inaya Mahrez, was born later that year. Mahrez and his wife were reported to have a second daughter, thought to be born in late 2016, but whose name is not known.
Man City ace started dating reality star Dawn Ward’s daughter Taylor after he officially called time on his marriage.
Paul Pogba (Manchester United, France)
Another top Muslim football players in European Leagues is Pogba who was born in Lagny-sur-Marne, Seine-et-Marne, to Guinean parents. His mother practiced Islam but did not raise her three sons to be Muslim. However the Manchester United midfielder connected with religion as an adult through friends, and says Islam is often misunderstood.
“Islam is not the image that everyone sees, terrorism,” Pogba told, Life Times podcast. “What we hear in the media is really something else. It’s something beautiful.”
The Manchester United star made a world record transfer from Juventus and though he initially struggled to make an impact, he soon started showing his quality and became an integral part of Manchester United’s Europa League triumph.
At only 27, Pogba is considered by many to be a future Ballon d’Or winner and his potential and talent is what led to United forking out the huge sum for the Frenchman. Born in Siene-et-Marne to Guinean parents, Paul Pogba along with his brothers Florentin and Mathias are Muslim.
As one of the most valuable players in the world, Pogba is capable of playing as a central midfielder and in a slightly more advanced role.
After going through some difficult personal times Pogba has committed to his faith, and last month was pictured on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
“It made me change, realize things in life. I guess, maybe, it makes me more peaceful inside. It was a good change in my life because I wasn’t born a Muslim, even if my mum was. I just grew up like that, respect for everyone.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich, France)
Franck Henry Pierre Ribéry, born 7 April 1983, is a French professional footballer who plays for Serie A club Fiorentina.
When he was two years old, he and his family were involved in a car accident in his hometown, colliding with a lorry.
Ribéry suffered serious facial injuries that resulted in more than one hundred stitches and which left two long scars down the right side of his face, and another across his brows.
Before starting his football career, Ribéry worked as a construction worker with his father. He always refers to those years as a “learning experience.”
As one of the greatest wingers of all time, Ribery converted to Islam in 2002 after being inspired by his wife Wahiba who is of Algerian descent. He also added the name Bilal after his conversion.
Speaking about his conversion from Christianity to Islam, Ribery said:
“Religion is my personal thing. I am a believer and since I converted to Islam, I think, I became stronger, I became mentally and physically stronger. Religion did not change my personality or my perception of the world. I pray five times a day, I do it because it enables me to be released and I feel better afterwards”
The Frenchman is a staunch follower of Islam and was even reportedly extremely angry with Boateng for dousing him in beer after winning the Bundesliga in 2013.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)
Mohamed Salah, born 15 June 1992, is an Egyptian professional footballer who plays as a forward for Premier League club Liverpool and the Egypt national team. Considered one of the best players in the world, he is known for his finishing, dribbling, and speed.
Many believe that Salah’s presence at Liverpool Football Club has been a direct cause of a fall in Islamophobia in the city.
Salah has been a revelation for the club, winning the Premier League golden boot in both of his campaigns and playing a leading role in their recent Champions League triumph, scoring the opening goal in the final from the penalty spot.
Salah’s goal celebration involves performing Sujood, the Islamic act of prostration to God.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Salah’s characteristics as a friendly figure in the team had helped ‘humanize’ the Muslim community in general and the football community in particular.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool FC, Senegal)
Sadio Mané, born 10 April 1992, is a Senegalese professional footballer who plays as a winger for Premier League club Liverpool and the Senegal national team.
The Muslim superstar was one of the most expensive signings of the 2016/17 season. The Senegal man was one of the best players in the Premier League last season and Mane credited religion with playing a huge role in his success.
In an earlier interview, Mane spoke about the importance of Islam in his life:
“Religion is very important to me. I respect the rules of Islam and I pray five times a day, always. I won’t touch alcohol. There was no conflict between religion and the fact that I wanted to play football. I was brought up correctly and in the right way and my parents are proud of the fact that I am a footballer.”
Mane’s father was the Imam of a local mosque at his home country in Senegal. A true superstar in Africa, Mane is determined to give back to the region he came from and make it a better place.
He is a practicing Muslim and occasionally is seen making du’a before the start of each match.
Emre Can (Liverpool FC, Germany)
Emre Can, born 12 January 1994, is a German professional footballer who plays as a central midfielder for Borussia Dortmund on loan from Italian club Juventus, until June 2020, and the Germany national team.
As a versatile player, Can has also played as a defensive midfielder, center back, and full back.
Can is a practicing Muslim who opened up about sickening racist abuse he and his family have suffered.
Can was born in Frankfurt but his parents are Turkish and he explained how they had been left hurt by a recent experience when he flew with them to Germany from the UK. His mother was wearing a hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women.
“Two months ago I had a day off and I wanted to fly to Germany. I had to book at the last minute,” Can said.
“My mum was wearing a hijab. She was here with my dad. We couldn’t sit together on the plane.
“There were two seats next to each other. My mum and dad wanted to sit together but they had other seats.
“My best mate was there too and he asked the man ‘can they sit there please?’ He said ‘no, show me your ticket’.
“My friend said ‘please, they just want to sit together’ and the man said ‘no’ again. The reason he said no was because my mum was wearing a hijab. It was a bad thing. It was racist.
“It was actually a former player but he didn’t see me as I was at the back of the plane.”
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal, Switzerland)
Arsenal and Swiss midfield star Granit Xhaka is one of the Muslim team stars at the North London side. Bought from German side Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee of around £35 million, the Swiss star has had a decent first season. He has an estimated net worth of $65 Million.
Xhaka was born in the city of Basel, Switzerland into an Albanian family from Kuršumlija, then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, now Serbia.
His father Ragip was a political prisoner. At the age of 22, as a student at University of Pristina, he was arrested for participating in a 1986 student demonstration against the central government in Belgrade, and served three and a half years of a six-year prison sentence before being released in 1990. Their family moved from Podujevo, District of Pristina to Switzerland that year.
His older brother, Taulant Xhaka, is a professional footballer and plays for FC Basel and the Albania national team.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal, Germany)
Mesut Özil, born 15 October 1988, is a German professional footballer who plays for Premier League club Arsenal as an attacking midfielder, but can also be deployed as a winger.
He is well-known for his technical skills and creativity, agility, finesse, and versatility as an attacking midfielder.
Özil was born in Gelsenkirchen on 15 October 1988. He played, at youth level, for various clubs in Gelsenkirchen during 1995-2000, before a five-year stint for Rot-Weiss Essen.
On 2 September 2013, Özil agreed to join English side Arsenal. The fee paid for Özil was believed to be around £42.5 million (€50 million) for a five-year deal.
The transfer made him the most expensive German football player of all time. Özil was assigned the number 11 shirt and the center-attacking midfield role by the team.
Özil is a practicing Muslim. He recites from the Quran before his matches. He said, “I always do that before I go out [on the pitch]. I pray and my teammates know that they cannot talk to me during this brief period.”
He observes fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, but he has admitted that: “Because of my job I cannot follow Ramadan properly. I do it only the few days I can, only when I have a free day. But other than that it’s impossible, because you have to drink and eat a lot to stay at peak fitness.”
In May 2016, he performed Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca.
During a Europa League match in 2018 against Atlético Madrid, an Atlético fan threw a piece of bread at Özil while he was preparing to take a corner. Özil picked up the bread, kissed it, and brought it to his forehead to express gratitude towards the food given to him, which is important in Islam, which was widely applauded throughout the stadium.
Edin Dzeko (Roma, SFR Yugoslavia)
As another top Muslim footballer, Edin Džeko is born on the 17thg of March 1986. The Bosnian professional footballer plays as a striker for Serie A club Roma and the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team, captaining both teams.
The Bosnian striker has been successful wherever he has played especially for Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, Premier League side Manchester City and his current side AS Roma. A prolific goalscorer, Dzeko had a stunning 2016/17 season where he scored 39 goals in 51 appearances.
An absolute superstar in his home country of Bosnia, Dzeko is also multilingual and capable of speaking 4 languages – Bosnian, Czech, German and English fluently. He is also involved in plenty of charitable ventures and even became his country’s first UNICEF ambassador.
The 34 years old Dzeko is still determined to add some more chapters to his already storied career