By Mustafa El-Ga'fary, IOL Correspondent
TRIPOLI — Egypt's soccer legend Mohamed Aboutreika, also admired for his piety and good manners, has never imagined that his match against Congo in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers would draw many Congolese to the fold of Islam.
"Many Congolese were curious to know why Aboutreika prostrated after he scored," Sheikh Abdulla Mingala Lwaba, the mufti of Congo, told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.
Aboutreika, nominated for the CAF African Footballer of the Year award in 2006 and running for the title this year, scored the winner goal in Egypt's clash with Congo in the World Cup qualifier last September.
To the surprise of the thousands of Congolese fans, he immediately kneeled to the ground before being joined by fellow teammates. "Many fans came to us wondering why the Egyptian players did that," said Lwaba.
"We explained to them that the prostration was meant to thank God for his blessings, an act encouraged by Islam," he explained. "Many of them developed a curiosity about Islam that eventually led them to embracing the Muslim faith."
Aboutreika enjoys a huge popularity in Egypt, the Arab world and Africa for his amazing skills and good manners.
He was named the world's most popular soccer player in 2007, according to the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS).
Envoy of Islam
The Congolese mufti describes Aboutreika and his like him as ambassadors of Islam.
"They are preachers of Islam," he told IOL.
Lwaba said many people look up to famous stars as role models.
"When a Muslim sets a good example in his work and actions, many follow him. And when he abides by his religious values, he guides many people to his faith."
Born in 1978 in the city of Giza, Aboutreika led Egypt to win the African Cup of Nations in 2006 and 2008, earning him the "Africa's Zinedine Zidane" nickname.
He has also been dubbed "The Smiling Assassin" by foreign media because of his two main trademarks: goal-scoring and glamorous smiling.
Off the pitch, Aboutreika is a player known for his good manners with a personality as great as his silky skills.
In 2005, Aboutreika joined UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors Brazilian Ronaldo, French Zidane and 40 other international soccer stars for a "Match Against Poverty."
His stardom increased across the Arab and Muslim worlds because of his support of Muslims causes.
After scoring a goal during the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Aboutreika revealed a T- shirt bearing the slogan "We Sacrifice Ourselves for You Prophet Muhammad" in response to the blasphemous Danish cartoons.
He also made headlines in January of this year during Egypt's Africa Cup of Nations match against Sudan, when he lifted his jersey after scoring his first goal to show a white T-shirt emblazoned with "Sympathize With Gaza."