CAIRO – Providing youth with halal, positive and inspirational music, Muslim singers are producing an Islamic version of famous international lyrics to attract young listeners wanting a modern take on religious music.
"There is a huge thirst from people who want to listen to music which is not of a detriment to their heart, soul or relationship with their Lord," Raef, a young Muslim signer, told The Guardian about the music he and his fellow artists are producing at Awakening Records.
"People have been waiting and yearning for it."
Muslim young artists like Raef and Maher Zain, a Swede of Lebanese heritage, were scoring huge success among youth, particularly in the west, by rewriting international lyrics to be 'faith-inspired' songs.
For example, Raef replaced the lyrics of Chris Brown's With You expressing love for a woman with his love for the Lord.
"My Lord, no one else will do/ With every test you put me through, miracles you help me do/ If I have you, I don't need money, I don't need cars, Lord you're my all," Raef song says.
Raef, 29, has also produced Islamic versions of Rebecca Black's Friday, Bob Marley's Redemption Song and Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror.
The huge success of Islamic songs among youth in the west started when Awakening, which has its UK head office in Swansea, signed its first artist, Sami Yusuf, in 2003.
Yusuf, a British Muslim singer of Azerbaijani origin, was described by Time magazine as "Islam's biggest rock star" after the success of his first two albums Al-Mu'allim (The Teacher, a reference to the prophet Muhammad) and My Ummah (My Muslim Community).
"When Yusuf released his first album, we weren't prepared for it – it was instant success. We used to host our music videos on our website, but it kept crashing because of its popularity," Wali-ur Rahman, one of the founders of Awakening company, said.
In 2008, the star of Zain, 31, possibly the biggest name in the Islamic music industry currently, was rising.
His first album, Thank You Allah, catapulted him to celebrity status in the Islamic world, and he has just released his second album, Forgive Me.
Zain's latest single, Number One for Me, a song dedicated to his mother, received 1m YouTube views in just over a week.
"I've seen that people want to hear good music but with a positive message. We are trying to provide more of that," he says.
Leaders of the growing industry of Islamic halal songs say they were moved by the emptiness of music industry, which could not fulfill the needs of the Muslim audience.
"We were the ones who promoted this type of music and we made it more universal," Wali-ur Rahman, from Awakening, told The Guardian.
"The reaction has always been mostly positive but there is always the issue of 'music'. It is generally more accepted than when we first started. Now, we appeal to not just religious Muslims, but secular ones too – they're not just listening to it, they're enjoying it."
The same reasons moved Zain and Raef, who were critical of more mainstream music, to introduce their inspirational art.
"The main reason I picked up a guitar was out of frustration, because a lot of the music I heard on pop stations was not helpful for spiritual growth," Raef says.
Providing Muslims an opportunity to listen to halal, "clean", music, Awakening had a profound impact on many young Muslims, particularly in the west.
"They [Awakening's artists] sing of the love they have for God and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him; it's so spiritual and beautiful," says Nuzhat Ahmed, 25, a student at City University in London.
"The words have such a deep meaning, sometimes it brings tears to your eyes. Instead of listening to rap, it's better to listen to the likes of Sami Yusuf and Maher Zain."
The record label plans to extend its audience further.
"We are hoping to break into India – there is a huge market there," Wali-ur Rahman said.
"We would like to see more Awakenings. People are trying to compete, which is good: it will only raise the standard even higher," he added.
In One Big Family, Zain sings: "No matter how far we are/ Even if we don't know each other/ You and me, me and you, we are one."
Making historic success among Muslims, Zain hopes to appeal to a wider audience of non-Muslims too.
"I think it can," he insists. "Certain aspects can reach out to new people."
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