By Fatima Muneer — MUSCAT — Islam’s biggest rock star. International sensation. Muslim pop star. These are just some of the handful of phrases that have been attributed to Sami Yusuf, a Tehran-born British singer of Azeri origin, who has taken millions of Muslims around the world by storm since he burst into the music scene in 2003 with his spiritual songs on God and faith. Yusuf is now here to perform in Oman for the first time at a concert organised by Black & White magazine and Bandera Events on August 30. Despite his celebrity status, Yusuf walks into the press conference room in a simple outfit of jeans, black turtleneck t-shirt and a purple velvet blazer. “I divide the time that we live in into two: pre-modern and modern,” he says. In his opinion, everything was sacred in pre-modern times whilst now in modernity, it is mostly about forgetfulness that is caused by factors like consumerism. “My humble work since 2003 is basically to remind myself and my listeners about the sacred. Allah is known by different names in different traditions.”
Never expecting fame, it was obviously a surprise when his albums began to sell millions and his songs topped charts globally. When the Observer asked about what helped him to retain humility after such a success, he immediately replied, “Meditation, dhikr, remembrance of God.” Despite labels of ‘rock star’ and ‘pop star’ that have been attached to his image by the media, Yusuf feels very uncomfortable with such associations. “I don’t mind people using it. I understand the day that we live in,” he explains. Coming from a very spiritual family but ones who also regarded themselves as Universalists, he was left to choose whichever path he wanted. Islam appealed to him, one because he felt that it was embedded in his soul. “Secondly, it’s a faith that from an intellectual dimension, is profoundly, remarkably universal.” These two reasons made him delve deeper into his faith when he was teenager. “Religion in general is a good thing. I think we need more of it. Problems in the world are due to a lack of religion. Spirituality can add much value to the forgetful times we are living in,” he says.
Some of his most popular songs are ones that he sang about the Syrian crisis and support for the Egyptian youth during the revolution. Yusuf is quick to point out that he does not like to get involved in politics irrespective of his songs, which he sang out of compassion for humanity. “Not because I want to be safe but because I know what it is,” he says about politics. “Any killings, any violence, is totally unacceptable. One can only step back and pray.” Coining the term spiritique to describe his music genre, Yusuf said: “There’s nothing called Islamic music.” His music is spiritual in nature and does not necessarily have to do with Islam. Music is an art and ultimately should have a sacred angle to it. Yusuf has founded his own organisation that promotes interfaith dialogue; something he is very passionate about as he feels a lot can be learnt from other faiths. Upon request, he sang a few lines from one of his most popular songs, Hasbi Rabbi, leaving the journalists in the room enthralled with what to expect at the concert on Friday