Who are the 20 greatest Muslim athletes in the world of sports?

Who are the 20 greatest Muslim athletes in the world of sports?

Ciku Njuguna
updated at August 16, 2023 at 3:58 AM
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A healthy society is represented by individuals who take up a variety of identities, including religious identity. In a world of thousands of religions, many athletes share deep beliefs. Discover the most famous Muslim athletes around the world.

What famous athletes is Muslim?
Shahid Afridi of Pakistan, pictured batting during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match against India at Adelaide Oval on February 15, 2015, in Adelaide, Australia. Photo by Morne de Klerk.
Source: Getty Images

How many male and female Muslim athletes are there? With over 1.9 billion Muslims around the world, the actual number of Muslim athletes remains unknown. Take a deep dive into the world of religion and sports.

Who is the most famous Muslim athlete?

As one of the greatest sports figures ever, Muhammad Ali proudly defended his faith after his conversion in 1961. Following his conversion, the boxer who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee held an all-time high record of 56 wins and five losses, becoming one of the most famous black Muslims in history.

Who are the best Muslim athletes?

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, Muhammad Ali changed his name after the 1961 conversion from Christianity to Islam. Like him, numerous sports people have publicly confessed their Islamic faith and openly partake in religious practises such as making du'aa and fasting during Ramadhan. Here is a list of more famous Muslim athletes who later converted to the religion or were born into it.

Who is the most famous Muslim athlete?
Boxer Muhammad Ali was pictured standing over boxer Sonny Liston after knocking him down during the first round of their match. Ali won the May 25, 1965, fight and retained his title as Heavyweight Champion. Photo by Bettmann.
Source: Getty Images

20. Moeen Ali

British-Palestinian cricketer, Moeen Munir Ali, has represented England on the world stage and several other cricket teams. A devout Muslim, Moeen prays five times daily and fasts every Ramadan. He also passionately advocates for issues facing Arab nations, such as the Palestinian cause.

19. Paul Pogba

Pogba, who was introduced to the religion by his mother, Yeo, was one of the best Muslim players at Manchester United alongside Amad Diallo. The French playmaker, who has played in the Serie A, Premier League and Ligue 1, has vehemently condemned bomb attacks in the past, distancing the faith from terrorist acts.

18. Franck Ribery

The French winger converted to Islam after marrying his French-Algerian wife, Wahiba Belhami. In an interview with Anadolu Agency, he said,

"I am a believer. Since I converted to Islam, I have become stronger mentally and physically. Religion did not change my personality or my perception of the world."
Are there any Muslim athletes?
Franck Ribery (Front) of US Salernitana fights for the ball against Junior Messias (Centre) of AC Milan during the Serie A match between US Salernitana and AC Milan at Stadio Arechi on February 19, 2022, in Salerno, Italy. Photo by Ivan Romano.
Source: Getty Images

17. Shahid Afridi

Born in the Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, the former right-handed batsman hails from the Afridi Tribe of Pashtuns. Shahidi played for the Pakistani national cricket team, the Karachi Kings, Jamaica Tallawahs and St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, among other teams, between 1995 and 2023.

16. Naseem Hamed

Popularly known as Prince Naseem, the British Yemeni took the boxing world by storm in the 1990s. The 2015 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee shook up the sport by setting the stage for multiculturalism. A devout Muslim who unashamedly stood for minorities said in his biography, Prince of the Ring.

“I am proud to be British, Arab, and black.”

15. Bernard Hopkins

Ten-time boxing World Champion Benard Hopkins converted to Islam in 1988 after completing an eighteen-year sentence in the Graterford Prison. After his release, 2001 Fighter of the Year returned to the ring and became one of the oldest boxers in history to win and defend the IBF World and USBA Middleweight titles.

What famous athletes is Muslim?
Bernard Hopkins (Right) punches Karo Murat (Left) during their light heavyweight fight in Boardwalk Hall Arena on October 26, 2013, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo by Maddie Meyer.
Source: Getty Images

14. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem is an NBA heavyweight who matched Shaquille O'Neal in dominance during his active playing years. A practising Muslim, he played 42 games during Ramadan between 1995 and 1997, including his last career game, where he was officially named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list.

13. Bilqis Abdul-Qadir

From New Leadership High School Abdul-Qaadir's athletic prowess shone through her minority status as a hijabi-wearing Muslim basketball player. As a Division I college basketballer, she played for three years for the University of Memphis and one with Indiana State University.

A rule that banned basketballers from playing with headgear put Bilqis' career at risk. However, continued advocacy led International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to lift the ban allowing female Muslim players, Sikh and Jewish male players to play competitively in religious dress.

Are Muslim girls allowed to play sports?
Bilqis Abdul Qaadir, a PE teacher and Athletic Director at the Pleasant View School, photographed for NCAA Photos via Getty Images Champion Magazine on March 02, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos.
Source: Getty Images

12. Nawal El Moutawakel

What did Nawal El Moutawakel do? In 1984, El Moutawakel won her inaugural Olympic 400m event, becoming the first African, Moroccan, and Muslim woman to win the award.

Being the first athlete from an Arab nation to achieve the award, she has remained active in the field on the International Association of Athletics Federations, the International Olympic Committee, the IOC Marketing Commission and the IOC International Relations Commission. In 2012, she became the first Muslim and Arab woman elected Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee.

11. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq's full name, Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal, has Islamic origins. In an interview, he revealed that Shaquille is an Islamic name that means 'little', while his middle name, Raushaun means 'warrior.' Although he has not exclusively claimed the religion as his, he has previously identified himself as a Muslim, a Jew, and a Buddhist.

What famous athletes is Muslim?
Shaquille O'Neal (#34) of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Staples Center on January 12, 001. Photos by Robert Mora/NBAE.
Source: Getty Images

10. Sadio Mané

Al Nassr's latest acquisition, Sadio Mané, grew up Muslim in a small village in Bambali, Sédhiou Region, Senegal. Alongside 90% of the country's population, the Pride of Senegal is a practising Muslim whose pre-game and scoring rituals include making a du’aa.

9. Indira Kaljo

Kaljo's basketball journey began at Montclair Prep High School, where she was a regular starter. She would later join the Utah State University basketball team as a freshman and a sophomore with the Ventura team. Unfortunately, FIBA laws placed a stopper on her budding professional career as a Division I basketball player at Tulane University.

In 2014, her efforts to remove FIBA law gathered 70,000 signatures, forcing the organization to soften its position on headdresses. In September of the same year, FIBA relaxed the laws permitting female Muslim players to wear head coverings in domestic basketball games for a two-year provisional period.

Who is the most famous Muslim woman?
Bosnian professional basketball player Indira Kaljo, 27, who received approval from FIBA to wear her headscarf during the matches, poses ahead of an exclusive interview in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 11, 2016. Photo by Elif Ozturk/Anadolu Agency.
Source: Getty Images

8. Mohammed Salah

One of the most religious footballers in the Premier League is Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly. A devout and observing Muslim, he is often seen celebrating goals by performing Sujūd, an Islamic act of prostration.

7. Marat Safin

Marat is a retired World No. 1 tennis player who belongs to the Tatar ethnic group that is mainly Muslim. Towards the end of his career, the famous Muslim tennis player's on, and off-court behaviour was less erratic. In an interview with USA Today, he owed his behaviour to his Russian Muslim roots, saying,

"You can not fight your genes. I am Russian, and I am 100% Muslim. All the Muslim people are passionate, stubborn. We have hot blood."
Who is the most famous Muslim athlete?
Russian former tennis player Marat Safin presented the Davis Cup trophy during Day Seven of the 2019 Davis Cup at La Caja Magica on November 24, 2019, in Madrid, Spain. Photo by David Aliaga/MB Media.
Source: Getty Images

6. Yusra Mardini

One of the youngest female athletes taking the sporting world by storm is Syrian-born swimmer Yusra Mardini. The Olympian, who uses her sporting stage to advocate for fleeing refugees and her homeland, heroically saved a boatful of Syrian refugees on a voyage to Germany alongside her sister. Her heroic story has been adapted into a film by Netflix, The Swimmers.

5. Karim Benzema

Karim Mostafa Benzema is an acclaimed professional football player with numerous achievements, including the 2022 Ballon d'Or and the UEFA Best Player in Europe award. The striker who led Real Madrid to five Champions League victories and five FIFA Club World Cup wins is a practising Muslim who owes his skill and focus to his religious beliefs.

4. Roqaya Al-Gassra

Bahraini sprinter Roqaya Al-Gassra defied society's objection and participated in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing, respectively. Although she did not win in any Olympic track events, she took the Women's 200m gold medal during the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. This achievement made her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win an international athletics gold medal donned in complete body covering, including a hijab.

Who is the most popular Muslim athlete?
Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain competes in the Women's 200m Heats held at the National Stadium on Day 11 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China on August 19, 2008. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts.
Source: Getty Images

3. Ibtihaj Muhammad

Growing up, the 2016 TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People was an active swimmer, volleyball, tennis, and softball player. However, the hurdle of modesty and not being able to wear a full-body covering pushed her to choose fencing.

Following a successful collegiate fencing career at Duke University, earning her three All-American honours, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first hijabi-wearing African American Muslim athlete to compete for the U.S. national fencing team in several major international competitions.

2. Sara Ahmed

Egyptian weightlifter Sara Samir Elsayed Mohamed Ahmed is one of the few famous female Muslim athletes destroying the assumptions of Muslim women's frailty and disempowerment. Sporting a hijab and a full-length unitard, Ahmed has influenced rule changes in the USA and the International Weightlifting Federations.

1. Sir Mo Farah

One of the greatest Olympic long-distance runners and arguably the most outstanding sportsman of all time, Sir Mo Farah has accumulated over ten world titles, including four Olympic gold medals. Born in Somalia in 1983, Farah is one of the most accomplished Black Muslim athletes and a British joy and pride on the global stage.

Who is the most famous Muslim athlete?
Mo Farah of Newham and Essex Beagles competes during the Men's 10,000 metre Final on Day One of the Muller British Athletics Championships at Manchester Regional Arena on June 25, 2021, in Manchester, England. Photo by Nathan Stirk.
Source: Getty Images

Which Premier League players are Muslim?

With a sizeable number of elite footballers from West and North Africa, the actual number of Islam practising players could be high. Here is a list of some of the best Muslim football players who have played in the English Premier League.


Premier League team

N'golo Kante

Chelsea FC, Leicester FC

Granit Xhaka

Arsenal FC

Wesley Fofana

Chelsea FC

Raheem Sterling

Chelsea FC

Edouard Mendy

Chelsea FC

Kalidou Koulibaly

Chelsea FC

Yves Bissouma

Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton & Hove Albion FC

Ibrahima Konate

Liverpool FC

Naby Keita

Liverpool FC

Mesut Özil

Arsenal FC

Who are the Muslim players in Chelsea?
N'Golo Kante of Chelsea pictured during the Premier League match against AFC Bournemouth at Vitality Stadium on May 6, 2023, in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. Photo by Mark Leech/Offside.
Source: Getty Images

Which NBA players are Muslim?

The NBA consists of the most American Muslim athletes. At the top of this list is NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar one of the most famous basketball players who converted to Islam. Scroll down for a list of the league's top 10 Muslim NBA players.


NBA team

Kyrie Irving

Dallas Mavericks

Omer Faruk Yurtseven

Utah Jazz

Gorgui Sy Dieng

San Antonio Spurs

Ömer Aşık

Chicago Bulls

Ersan Ilyasova

Milwaukee Bucks

Jaylen Brown

Boston Celtics

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Brooklyn Nets

Jusuf Nurkić

Portland Trail Blazers

Salah Mejri

Dallas Mavericks

Al-Farouq Aminu

Portland Trail Blazers

Who is the most famous Muslim athlete?
Aliya Mustafina of Russia competes in the Balance beam during the Women's All-Round Final event on Day Five of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships Belgium 2013 held at the Antwerp Sports Palace on October 4, 2013, in Antwerpen, Belgium. Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos.
Source: Getty Images

Muslim athletes have dominated mainstream and unconventional sports, such as gymnastics and parkour. Female practising athletes such as Aliya Mustafina, Fayrouz Gadalla, and undefeated professional boxer Laila Ali pave the way for previously marginalised young, upcoming athletes.

READ ALSO: Top 20 best Muslim basketball players in the League currently

Sports Brief published a report on the religious diversity represented in the National Basketball League. The article covers some most dominant Islam practising basketball players in the NBA. Click on the link above to discover more about some of the players who have openly confessed their faith and have been seen performing religious activities publicly.

Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.