10 footballers you did not know were Muslim
Football is one of the most popular sports in the world and footballers are some of the most high-profile public athletes. However, there is still so much we do not know about our favorite footballers.
Religion is one of the most sensitive and salient features of a person. While some are extremely open about their personal beliefs, there are some famous footballers whose religion of choice is not so well known.
Without much ado, let us take a look at 10 footballers who you might not know were Muslim: (First let us take a look at the most famous Muslim footballers)
Some well known Muslim footballers
One of the most well-known active footballers on this list, Mesut Ozil is often seen bestowing his thanks to the Almighty on the football pitch. The German footballer recites from the Quran before his match.
"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."
One of the greatest footballers of all time, Zidane is probably the most famous Muslim footballer to ever play the game. A once-in-a-generation player, Zidane has made an extremely successful transition to management, even winning the Champions League twice in two years with Real Madrid. The Frenchman is not overtly religious though and does not publicly show or speak much about his personal beliefs.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is another star who practices Islam. One of the biggest stars in Los Blancos squad, Benzema is a devout Muslim who follows fasting in the holy month of Ramadan.
We are sure most of you would have known about the above three footballers. Now let us take a look at names that might surprise you:
#10 Emmanuel Adebayor
One of the greatest African players of the last generation, Emmanuel Adebayor has had a successful career at various top clubs across Europe including Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Adebayor converted to Islam in July 2015. The former Tottenham striker is seen wearing white robes taking part in the Shahada, a ceremony in which one declares belief in 'the oneness of Allah and acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet' in a video on YouTube.
The below video shows Adebayor converting to Islam in July 2015:
#9 Nicolas Anelka
One of the most talented strikers to emerge from France, Nicolas Anelka converted to Islam from Christianity when he was just 16. Another not so well known fact is that Anelka even adopted the Muslim name Abdul-Salam Bilal in 1994. Speaking about his conversion, Anelka said:
“I was sixteen when I converted to Islam, beyond the fraternal aspect, my conversion did not change my life. I was already living by the same principles — being righteous, having values. I used to fast during Ramadan because I admired the people fasting around me. What made me convert was that I had that certainty that Islam was for me.
“I felt this relationship with God, and that enlightened my life. I had that conviction in my heart that that was my religion. I am pleased to be a Muslim, a religion of peace and I learned a lot from Islam.” – he was quoted saying.
Anelka had a stint as the manager of Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC.
#8 Marouane Fellaini
Former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is a Muslim by birth. Born to Moroccan parents from Tangier and brought up in Brussels, Fellaini had successful spells at Standard Liege and Everton before securing a big-money move to Premier League giants Manchester United.
The combative midfielder had a mixed spell at Old Trafford, but he managed to win an FA Cup and a Europa League title with the Red Devils.
Used by Jose Mourinho to bully players in the air, Fellaini’s physical presence on the pitch often broken stubborn defences.
The Belgian left United in 2019 and joined Chinese club Shandong Luneng.
#7 Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal is a fighter. The Barcelona legend came back from cancer to play at the very highest level again. A supremely decorated footballer, the former Monaco left-back has won plenty of trophies all over Europe.
Abidal converted from Christianity to Islam in 2007 after marrying Algerian-born former gymnast Hayet Kebir. Speaking about his conversion, Abidal said:
“All the natural progress. Options converted to Islam, not because of my wife, but a gift that had suddenly appeared. It really happened there. Flowing away made me feel happy. I embraced Islam with full confidence,” he was quoted saying.
One of the game’s premier left-backs, Abidal had a long and successful career at Barcelona before finally calling time at Olympiacos after the end of the 2014-15 season.
#6 Granit Xhaka
Arsenal and Swiss star Granit Xhaka has been a vital part of the North London side's midfield. Bought from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee of around £35 million, the Swiss star has had a decent first season.
Capable of breaking up play and setting up attacks with equal ease, Xhaka, after a tough settling period, has become a very important player for the Gunners in recent seasons.
Not afraid of crunching into tackles, Xhaka’s physical presence in the centre of the field coupled with his ball-playing skills gives Arteta's side a new dimension.
#5 Edin Dzeko
One of the most underrated strikers in world football, Edin Dzeko has practiced Islam since he was born. The Bosnian striker has been successful wherever he has played, especially for Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, Premier League side Manchester City, AS Roma and now with Inter Milan. 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 four 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.
Dzeko will be determined to add some more chapters to his already storied career. The Bosnian Diamond will be determined to guide Inter to back-to-back Serie A titles.
#4 Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane is a devout Muslim and a teetotaler. The Senegalese forward has been one of the most consistent players in the Premier League and Mane credited religion with playing a huge role in his success.
In an earlier interview with the Daily Mail, 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 even the Imam of a local mosque in 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.
#3 Miralem Pjanic
Bought by Juventus as a replacement for Paul Pogba, Pjanic quickly settled into his role as the chief playmaker for Bianconeri. Gifted with amazing technical ability, playmaking skills and tactical versatility, Pjanic is also exceptional at taking free-kicks.
Having moved to Luxembourg before the start of the Bosnian war, Pjanic quickly grew up to be one of the best ball-playing midfielders of this generation. Now representing Bosnia, Pjanic, like his compatriot Dzeko, is a Muslim from birth.
Known for his calm and composed style on the ball, Pjanic’s incisive passing and vision are his hallmarks. Pjanic currently plays for Besiktas, on loan from Barcelona.
#2 Franck Ribery
One of the greatest wingers of all time, Franck 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. A true Bayern Munich legend, Ribery is currently playing in Serie A with Salernitana.
#1 Paul Pogba
One of the most marketable footballers in the world, Paul Pogba is a devout and practising Muslim from birth. 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.
Born in Siene-et-Marne to Guinean parents, Paul Pogba along with his brothers Florentin and Mathias are Muslim.
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. He could be on the move again after the 2021-22 season, as his contract with Manchester United comes to an end.