A number of English-speaking nasheed (Islamic song) groups have come into being in recent years - why do you think this has happened?
Mahmud: Nasheeds are an integral part of Muslim culture throughout the world and it was only a matter of time before the streets and houses in the UK and Western countries were filled with their resounding barakah (blessing). The majority of Muslim youth in the UK are now English speaking, and they struggle to find their identity in a society, often at odds with their own beliefs and way of life. Nasheeds fulfil their need to express feelings and experiences; provide a way to educate their children; and remind them of their origins in Islam, of God their Creator, and of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his example. I believe what we are now seeing in the UK is just the beginning. This love of nasheeds has entered the hearts of our youth, and it will become a powerful force for calling to God's way. We pray that we may have the opportunity to contribute towards that goal. Ameen! (Amen).
How did you come together and what were the aspirations that lay behind the formation of SHAAM?
Haroon: We've known each other for over ten years now and we met while studying under the same teacher. We all had a love for singing nasheeds and would do so when we gathered, but it wasn't until we travelled to Damascus in Syria (`Shaam' in Arabic - from where we took our name) with our teacher to study Arabic and Islamic Sciences, that we learnt in depth the art of singing and playing the duff a traditional single sided hand drum. The nasheeds we experienced there in Syria were beautiful and the people had so much love for them they would sing in praise of God, His Blessed Messenger and the deen (religion) of Islam from house to house, school to school; both old and young. They would all be in praise and this is what we felt was missing from the lives of Muslims living in the West.
So with great encouragement and support from our teacher we came together officially as SHAAM in 1997.
Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God) nasheeds have now become popular and are a part of our lives but when we first started people believed it was okay to listen to Bollywood, but to sing nasheeds with the traditional duff was wrong! This was exactly the kind of issues we had to educate our community on and was a major aspect for us to bring people closer to the deen of Islam; to instil love for God and His Beloved Messenger Muhammad (pbuh), to keep traditional Islam alive.
Where do you perform and for which types of audiences?
Imran: Our performances have ranged from the floor of our living rooms to St. James's Palace. The types of audience have varied from young children to the very old. During our time as SHAAM we have had the honour and privilege of performing at some of the most prolific Islamic events organised, to name a few: Living Islam Camp, Qur'an Expo, the Colours of Islam exhibition, multi faith gatherings, fundraising dinners for schools, charity dinners in aid of Iraq, youth conventions, islamic society events, nasheed concerts, Eid bazaars, Islam awareness days at local hospitals etc allowing us to celebrate the unity and diversity in the community. As well as the above we have also performed at the Millennium Dome and for HRH Prince Charles at St. James's Palace in 2001 as part of the Eid celebrations. These are just some of the events that we have participated in, within the UK; we have also travelled to Syria, Pakistan, USA and Saudi Arabia where we have performed for some of the greatest Sheikhs of this time. We pray that God continues to allow us to contribute in serving the community. Ameen!
Any really memorable performances?
Haroon: Personally for me there were two; one was the tour of Pakistan we did for two weeks, where we were attending two programmes a day and still having a informal sing song in the evenings, and were very fortunate to play to an audience of 350,000 people - that was absolutely amazing, the people showed so much love and sincerity. The second was at St James's Palace with HRH Prince Charles and the MCB - what a night! Never could I have imagined Prince Charles tapping and clapping away to traditional Islamic nasheeds!
Imran: Most memorable performance to date for me was the Qur'an Expo in Glasgow.
Yasin: My most memorable event was at Lahore's Badshahi Masjid in Pakistan.
What types of nasheeds do you perform and what is the message that you are trying to portray to your audiences?
Yasin: Essentially SHAAM are a traditional Islamic nasheed group, most of our nasheeds are based on the traditional method of reciting poetry in praise of Islam, God and His beloved Messenger (pbuh), in Arabic and Urdu, we also write and compose our own English nasheeds. The nasheeds in Arabic have been written by scholars and poets dating back to the time of the Prophet (pbuh), based on the life and teaching of Prophet (pbuh). Nasheeds are an alternative method of educating the youth about Islam, as has been practiced through the ages. Not only do nasheeds educate us, but by praising God they bring blessing, mercy and peace to both those who recite nasheeds and listen to them - may God purify our intentions.
What are your plans for the future and in particular do you have any plans of breaking into the mainstream music market?
Haroon: Insha'Allah (God willing) we are preparing to record our third international release with Meem Music so that will take up the early part of 2004. We have spent the last 6-8 months attending concerts and personal appearances and have not really had a single weekend free especially with the wedding bookings, so we have done a considerable amount of public service for this part of the year and look forward to enjoying time off over Ramadhan. Plans for breaking into the mainstream music market? Well, to be honest, for us this is the mainstream market as there is so much of a void to fill within our own culture where we don't have to deal with such sense of falseness. We record our traditional nasheeds with the contemporary feel to them so they are more accessible for the Muslims of the West. We've had people from other faiths enjoy them too, there is a message and a meaning to what we are doing and the mainstream in particular doesn't like to portray this; they rely heavily on music and don't base their material on belief.
So being a little recognised and appreciated for the little work that we are doing makes happy and we pray to God that He protects us and gives us all the Tawfeeq in whatever we are trying to achieve for the good of the people. Ameen!
To order any of SHAAM's groundbreaking albums and/or to book the group visit the Shaam website: http://www.shaamgroup.com/
SHAAM will be appearing at the forthcoming Nasheed Extravaganza 2003 (www.nasheeds2003.com).
SHAAM were in conversation with Dr Sangeeta Dhami.
Many thanks to Brother Tayyeb Shah for arranging the interview.