Magi “Mo” Salah: The Power of a Counter-Image

Hadeil Ali
4 min readDec 19, 2019

Mo Salah and his wife Magi Sadeq.

Her name is perhaps not familiar to many — but it is a name that invokes the very taboo-breaking behavior that make many Muslim women who they are: Magi Sadeq. Her husband, the Liverpool soccer player Mohammed Salah, is a more common household name. Soccer is part of a collective identity in the Middle East, and Salah’s exquisite soccer skills and applaudable devout Muslim background have captured the media’s attention.

Yet it is his wife that calls for the spotlight. Magi, known to most as Salah’s wife, holds many identities. She is a mother. She is Egyptian. She is a biotechnologist. She is involved in charities in her community. Yet for many audiences, she is first and foremost a modest, veiled woman. No matter how “progressive” you are, you are intrigued. As argued by Robin DiAngelo, a renowned American author and educator, we have been socialized to hold implicit biases related to race, gender, religion, and other social issues. Due to the veil, you may be wondering about her level of conservatism. You are probably comparing her to other athletes’ significant others. A famous video has been circulating after Liverpool’s Champions league win with Magi and her husband on the field with Mecca, their daughter. Magi is seen next to Salah hugging him and expressing affection in a public space. More importantly, she is the one initiating this genuine affection at Anfield Stadium. For a Western audience, a Muslim woman with physical signs of religiosity through her veil may not be expected to express emotions in such public spaces.

Sports outlets such as US-based Soccer Stories published a video to unravel hidden secrets about Salah’s “mysterious” wife. Although probably attempting to be inclusive, the reporter states that, “Magi is not the typical footballer’s wife” showing footage of “normal” celebrities’ wives like Shakira, Georgina, and Antonella. Magi defies society’s image of the “trophy wife.” She also defies society’s stereotypical expectations of a Muslim woman. She is modest yet powerful. She is private but visible. She is conservative yet present. Magi is an educated, powerful, loving, compassionate, and publicly present companion to her husband. Although Magi was briefly under the spotlight, she proved to observers that an athlete’s wife does not need to adhere to certain physical requirements imposed by society. Through her Muslim identity, Magi has constructed a more sophisticated image of herself, which goes beyond the mere visual appreciation of soccer players’ wives.

Liverpool, a team that has been historically followed by British middle-class, has had a long-troubled history with racism and discrimination. Howard Gayle, Liverpool’s first black player’s career was defined by systematic racism in an all-white industry. Despite that, Gayle was seen as a vital member of Liverpool’s 1981 European Cup-winning side. Similarly, Salah has also been adopted as Liverpuldians’ Muslim brother and hero. By default, Magi has been accepted in the family as well. Therefore, Magi’s veil has not sparked debate among British audiences. Many have argued Salah has been a positive ambassador for Islam, as the Liverpool chant goes “if he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.” Brits’ acceptance of Salah and his family is linked to his professional service to the team.

But Muslim exceptionalism is a dangerous trap for Western observers. That is, Westerners should not embody Magi and Mo’s Muslim identity solely because they are “serving” a Western love for soccer. So, while I wish to recognize the beautiful warmth Salah has received from millions of fans, I hope this will not be short lived. I fear that, unconsciously, Salah and Magi’s story is a story of exception rather than a genuine effort to revisit Western views of the Muslim community. Western audiences may accept Magi and Salah but also need to commit to accepting millions of other Muslims’ narratives who may not benefit them but are also openly devout, open-minded, worldly, and complex human beings.

I urge us to think of Magi’s story as a story of empowerment and liberation. Her story is a counter-narrative to the Western construct of women’s empowerment in the Middle East. The only stories heard and embraced in the West are those of Muslim women letting go of religious values and symbols. A woman who is highly educated, religious, and devout does not need to be saved. While I do not believe Magi’s intention is to openly present herself as such, she naturally offers a counter-narrative that we are not used to seeing in Western spaces such as sports celebrities. Magi’s story thus deconstructs a narrow image of agency for Muslim women.

I urge soccer fans and others living in the West to learn from their own genuine humanization of Magi and Salah. Guide your minds to utilize this humanistic approach beyond famous figures. Don’t make Gayle, Salah, or Magi’s stories mere exceptions. Most importantly, use Magi to broaden your preconceived notions of Muslim women. Women’s narratives in the Middle East are highly diverse and relate to many layered issues like social, cultural, and economic capital. I invite you to use Magi’s story and the wide support her family has received as a counter-narrative to perceptions and expectations the West has of Muslim women.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hadeilali

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Hadeil Ali

Deputy Director at CSIS in Washington, D.C and a former researcher at Georgetown University. For questions and inquires please email me at: haa51@georgetown.edu