A singer who has
shot to fame in the Middle East with songs
about Islam and the Prophet Mohammad says
his music is quenching a thirst for spirituality
Sami Yusuf combines
English, Arabic and Turkish lyrics with
Middle Eastern and Western instruments in
Brought up in London
but of Azeri descent, 25-year-old Yusuf
has achieved celebrity status in Middle
Eastern countries including Egypt, where
his CDs sell alongside traditional pop and
are played in shops and cafes. 'Spirituality
is missing in the vast majority of most
songs,' Yusuf said. 'The art
world has been hijacked by the commercial
environment. That's why we have a
vacuum in producing positive art with positive
messages, promoting good values.'
'I'm not a preacher,'
Yusuf made his first
album, 'Al-Muallim', for Muslim
minorities in the West, who he says are
in need of role models from their own faith.
'In the West, we don't have
enough Islamic celebrities who would make
minority Muslims proud,' he said.
'In my father's time we had
Cat Stevens, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. Now
you find that a lot of people think: ëIslam.
Ah, Osama bin Laden,' You find some
youth who are confused, who might feel disillusioned,'
Although it was mainly
aimed at Muslims in the West, 'Al-Muallim'
has sold widely across the Muslim world.
The title is the Arabic word for teacher
and is a reference to the Prophet Mohammad.
'We were shocked when we realised
it had become a success in Egypt, and not
just in Egypt, in the whole Muslim world,'
Yusuf said in Cairo, during a recent tour.
He says his work is popular in Arab countries
because both the arrangement and lyrics
offer listeners something new and different
from Arabic pop, which typically deals with
love and romance.
Signing for headscarves,
civil rights: 'We need something
different - new concepts in the Arab
world. I feel that a lot of the messages,
if there are any messages, are just a blind
imitation of the West,' he said.
Yusuf plays several
instruments including the violin, piano
and the Arabic lute. His style at times
evokes a traditional form of Islamic chanting
called nasheed. 'What genre is it?
I don't know. We're blending
Western harmonies with Eastern modes. You'll
find a lot of Turkish influences, Arabic,
Western and Indian. I want to show that
Islam represents a huge amount of people
and cultures,' he said.
album 'My Ummah' - a
reference to the Islamic nation -
was released last year. It includes a song
called 'Mohammad' condemning
violence in the name of Islam. The song
is dedicated to people killed in 2004 in
a bloodbath at a school in the Russian town
of Beslan. Chechen Islamist separatists
seized hundreds of hostages in the school
and 331 people were killed, more than half
of them children, when security forces tried
to free the captives. 'My Ummah'
also includes 'Free', which
defends Muslim women's right to wear
the Islamic headscarf, or hijab. French
state schools banned the veil along with
other religious symbols in schools in 2004.
'I was doing a concert in France
and a girl approached me and said: ëPlease
do something on the hijab, you don't
know how much we're suffering.'
It's not just for people who are
wearing hijab. It's for civil liberties,'
© Daily Times