“I don’t see a clash of civilisations but a clash of the uncivilised”

 SamiYusuf1.jpg sAMI YUSUF 2 image by ambhita_bucket

With fresh-faced good looks and an air of self-possession, he seems the epitome of cool. A household name across Egypt and the Middle East, he is literally everywhere. Take a walk through the bustling streets of downtown Cairo and you are guaranteed to hear his name in the casual conversation of passersby. He smiles down from billboards and television screens. Newspapers and magazines track his every movement on their front pages. He is the face of Vodafone in the region and has a clean-cut image of wholesome family values to rival anything David Beckham ever had to offer. And what’s more, he’s British.

Singer Sami Yusuf, 25, has captured the imagination of the Middle East with his brand of nasheeds (Islamic songs) which he describes as “a blend of eastern and western modes”. Born and brought up in the UK, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, he travelled to Cairo two years ago with a group of childhood friends from London who run the Muslim media company, Awakening. Promoting Islam through literature, arts and music, the collective also produced the first ever Muslim comedy CD. “Our aim was to learn Arabic,” explains Yusuf of his relocation, “and we chose Cairo because it is the internationally recognised source for Islamic knowledge and learning. It’s also the music capital of the Arab world.”

It wasn’t long before they found themselves central to a thriving Islamic scene. Cairo is recognised as the home of the best musicians and composers in the Muslim world, such as Umm Kultum and Abdel Wahhab. “The rest of the Arab world looks to Cairo for music and arts,” says Yusuf, “so to gain recognition here has been truly humbling.” When the British Embassy in Cairo put on a festival to celebrate British Islam, they turned to Yusuf to promote it.

Like an Islamic equivalent of the Parisian Left Bank, Cairo has fashioned its very own cultural hub, and Yusuf leads an eclectic group of second- generation British Muslims who have chosen this bustling city as their base. Ruh al’-Alam is a 24-year-old designer and artist who runs and is part of the Awakening crowd. “There is something unique about our approach. We tend to focus our work on non-political areas so as to avoid disunity and just reach out to the masses wherever we may be. The concept of al-fan al-hadif (“art with purpose”) is what defines myself, Yusuf and the others.”

Hasan al-Banna, also of Awakening, agrees. “I don’t see a clash of civilisations but a clash of the uncivilised. To counter this we’re trying to provide a balanced, progressive picture of Islam that adds new dimensions to the current discourse.” With the Danish cartoon controversy still bubbling, the Awakening crowd recently organised a speakers’ tour of the UK, putting into practice the idea of acquiring traditional Islamic learning and using it in the west. The speakers, drawn from the community of Brits in Cairo, included a former hip-hop DJ, student leaders, poets, scholars and entrepreneurs.

At a time when Islam and its followers across the globe are facing tremendous challenges, Yusuf is not the only second-generationer to seek inspiration in the east so that they may educate and entertain in the west and beyond. An integrated success story, according to Yusuf: “I am proud to be Muslim and British and to be living and learning in Cairo. I see no contradiction in these identities.”

Samia Rahman is a freelance journalist living in London. She is the former deputy editor of emel magazine and has written for the Guardian, Prospect and New Statesman. She also worked on the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Young, Angry and Muslim

This piece originally appeared in the Guardian and was republished with permission from the author


5 Responses to “December 28-”Move over David Beckham” by Samia Rahman”

  1. Nae Ismail on December 29th, 2009 1:31 am

    I have lived in the west for over half a century, although I was born originally in the east. Over the years I have observed that western culture is totally image based, euphemistically called “branding”. It is technically a form of idol worship.

    It is a dangerous and dishonest game being fashioned to lure the easy and gullible because it exploits mass psychology to corral those feeble minded to follow the crowd in order to feel belong.

    Image can be cloaked disguise for substance. One buys nice clothes to hide an ugly body. It strips the buyer confidence in oneself.
    Image is not inspiration like they claim. Inspiration comes from one’s discernment and ability to judge what is truly value or junk.

    Muslims are encouraged to think as your own person with your own decision making, period.

  2. Holly Martin on May 18th, 2010 10:24 am

    David Beckham is my idol and i wish that i was as good as him in the game of football.-~”

  3. Grace Brown on August 30th, 2010 9:43 am

    you can always say that david beckham is a living legend when it comes to football*”-

  4. Sami Yusuf on December 15th, 2010 12:26 am

    Islamic music is the best and we muslim ummah should promote it to have our children listen to halal and pure content rather than the nasty, and haram videos that are promoted by western media.
    Few of the best muslim artists include Sami Yusuf, maher zain, and yusuf islam.
    thanks for posting it … salaam…

  5. Nenita Barranca on July 23rd, 2012 6:00 am

    I can say that David Beckham has got to be one of the best football players today. I love the way he kick the ball because it is very accurate. :”.:,

    Till next time“>

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