Local Time

Sunday, April 02, 2006

ISLAM TUNES TURN SINGER INTO POP STAR

03-14-06 15:22

By Mariam Fam Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt –The audience, mostly young Muslim women in veils, clapped, swayed and sang along as Sami Yusuf belted out a love song.
The object of his adoration? Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

With a British accent, Islamic lyrics and trendy video clips, 25-year-old Yusuf has become a music idol to a young generation of Muslims eager to reconcile their religious impulses with the appeal of modernity and pop and to proudly display an Islamic identity many feel is under attack. He rejects the “clash of civilizations” theories fueled by the current angry exchanges over cartoons of prophet Muhammad. He seeks to dispel stereotypes and to show that the Western and Muslim cultures he straddles can coexist.

“I don’t call it a clash of civilizations. I call it a clash of the uncivilized,” Yusuf said of the cartoon controversy. “On one hand, you find these extremist people who are anti-religion. They’re really creating Islamophobia. … On the other hand you find these other extremists who are burning flags.”

Islam and the West have much to offer each other, he said in an interview at the British Embassy in Cairo, wearing a beige suit, trendy striped scarf and trim beard. “I am an example of that. I am a British Muslim. I am a proud Brit who is also proud of his religion.”

Yusuf was born to Azerbaijani parents and raised in London where he has non-Muslim friends, including Christians and atheists. “The diversity that exists in the United Kingdom is close to the Islamic understanding of tolerance,” he said.

The British government, contending with the extremism that spawned the bombings of a London bus and subway trains in July, appears happy to help spread the message; its embassy is listed on Yusuf’s Web site as a supporter of his Egypt tour.

Yusuf learned music from his father, himself a musician, composer and poet, and studied with composers from the Royal Academy of Music. His lyrics and music are mostly in English, with some verses in Arabic, Turkish and Hindi. Yusuf said he didn’t have the mainstream West in mind when he worked on his first album. “I wanted to do something for the minority Muslims living in the West, especially in the U.K., to bring up their morale a bit. They need to be proud of their religion,” he said.

But the Arab world has been listening, too, especially to “Mualim,” or Teacher – his song about Muhammad:

“We once had a Teacher,

“The Teacher of teachers,

“He changed the world for the better.

“And made us better creatures.”

His appeal was evident at a recent concert in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. “I just feel psychologically calm when I listen to his music and when I praise God and the prophet with him,” said Fairouz Yaseen, 34.

“He shows that Islam is not about (Osama) bin Laden or terrorism.”

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