Entertainment An ambassador for peace: Sami Yusuf

An ambassador for peace: Sami Yusuf

British Muslim Superstar Sami Yusuf
British Muslim Superstar Sami Yusuf

(AA) – “If we learned anything about history, peace is not reached at the battlefield. It never works like that,” British Muslim Superstar Sami Yusuf has told Anadolu Agency.

Once declared by TIME magazine to be Islam’s “Biggest Rock Star”, Yusuf discussed the turmoil which the Muslim world has found itself in in an interview with AA in Ankara. 

“I try to be involved as much as I can with relief efforts and charity work, particularly in the area of food,” said Yusuf, as a Global Ambassador to the World Food Programme of the UN.

As well as entertaining his fans with albums and world tours, Yusuf also visits refugee camps to deliver aid to the suffering.

“I see that war is indiscriminant. War has no interest, I mean it doesn’t matter from who it’s coming from, it is discriminant and merciless,” Yusuf said, as he reflected on his visit in 2014 to the Zaatari camp in Jordan, which currently houses more than 83,000 Syrian refugees.

He said: “It is in an unbelievably unbearable situation. You must compose yourself when you are there; you have to smile to give hope. But inside, it is very difficult.

“But the beautiful thing is, you see resilience in those people. They fight for their lives and they don’t give up. They are not angry; they are frustrated.”

“This is one of the greatest characteristics of Syrian people. They have this resilience, strength, sense of honor and dignity,” he added.

– ‘Violence must stop’

Yusuf said children have been the innocent victims of the civil war in Syria since mid-2011, when a peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad escalated into an armed insurrection following a violent government crackdown that killed more than 300,000 citizens.

“The worst and the most difficult thing to see are the children. Of course, life is sacred; it is painful to see anybody who leaves us. But when you see children, it is thousand times more difficult,” he said.

Yusuf, who “genuinely dislikes politics,” said the ongoing wars around the Muslim world are a political problem which need to be sorted out among high-level politicians.

“Unfortunately politicians are more interested in their own benefits,” he said.

Asked what should be done for the Muslim world to stop the bleeding, Yusuf said: “There has to be a stop to this violence immediately.

“Aid – food – needs to reach these people. For the children, the human beings, the victims, the violence has to stop immediately.”

“Then the politicians need to sit together and sort this mess out at the table, not with tanks,” he said.

“If we have learned anything about history, peace is not reached at the battlefield. It never works like that. Peace is reached with two people sitting at a table, drinking tea, discuss it, talk about it and negotiating it. That is the only way,” he said.

– ‘Inspired by tradition’

Sami Yusuf, who was born in Tebriz, a northwestern city in Iran, is originally from Azerbaijan, but he was raised in London since he was three years old.

Yusuf plays several musical instruments including the piano, violin, tar, tombak, santour, daf, tabla and oud, and describes himself as a “traditional person at heart”.

“What inspires me is tradition. I love traditional things. Even growing up in London, as a child I was always drawn to traditional things,” Yusuf said.

Explaining his situation as “odd,” Yusuf is grateful to his parents for not raising him in a modern way.

“For example, I used to go to school wearing a cravat. I did not wear baggy clothes, trying to have a ‘gangster’ look, I was more like a 17th century man. But, just to show I was drawn to traditional things,” he said.

Yusuf also talked about his music, saying he believes “within tradition, lies the sacred”.

“If you listen to Maulawi music here in Turkey, which is essentially Turkish music, lies the sacred. It is a sacred music. It is not just pop music. It is not worldly music. It is not music only to listen to, but it is a music to take part in. You have to spiritually take part in it,” Yusuf said.

“The same goes with classical music. Classical western music is not to be confused with modern music. It has a sacred dimension. So, Bach for example, his tocatas, his fugues, many of his works are really of a sacred dimension,” he added.

– Inspiring music

For Sami Yusuf, Turkish classical music is also of a “sacred dimension”.

“There is no doubt about it. It is a very profound and deep sound,” he said.

The British Superstar also criticized modernity for taking away the roots of traditional music.

He said: “Over the years with modernity, it has become trickled down and somewhat stripped away from its roots. You might hear similar sounds in modern music, but it is almost – if I may use the term – bastardized.

“But you can still hear the echo, the scent. I love traditional music of all kinds, including Indian, Persian, Azeri, Magham and of course, Turkish. Those are the things that have inspired me, traditional music.”

– ‘Ziryab, not Lady Gaga’

Sami Yusuf said 2014 and 2015 had been busy for him, with the release of the album “Center” in September and his newest album “Songs of the Way” in January.

Yusuf said “Songs of the Way,” is a tribute album to his teacher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.

Yusuf said he has recently worked on the soundtrack of the film called “1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn al-Haytham,” which will be launched as part of the United Nations-proclaimed International Year of Light 2015.

“Ibn al-Haytham is an incredible scientist, among the greatest scholars, polymaths of our time of the golden years,” Yusuf said of the scientist, who is known as the “father of modern optics”.

He also talked about his admiration for Abul-Hasan Alí Ibn Nafi as well, nicknamed Ziryab, and described him as “one of the greatest composers of the Islamic world”.

Ziryab was a Persian man who lived around 800 A.D. in Andalusia, and was considered to be a musician and a revolutionist for a modern lifestyle.

Yusuf said: “I think there is a lot of that needs to be brought back to life. We need to draw our inspirations from the past, not from the present.

“We need to try to be the next Ziryab, not the next Lady Gaga.”

Sami Yusuf has performed a concert in Konya as part of the Holy Birth Week of Prophet Muhammad and will also continue his tour in Ankara and Kocaeli.

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