From rapper to pilgrim: French celebrity Diam’s life-changing visit to a Muslim friend

Mélanie Georgiades embraced Islam after a life-changing visit to a Muslim friend in 2008. At right, Georgiades as the popular French rapper Diam’s. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 09 August 2019

From rapper to pilgrim: French celebrity Diam’s life-changing visit to a Muslim friend

  • "Before converting to Islam, I felt a sadness in my life", Mélanie Georgiades tells Arab News

JEDDAH: She had money, fame, influence and power. By the age of 23, she had millions of fans, sold more than 4 million albums and won numerous awards.

Writing and performing numerous hit singles and records one after the other, by 2007, Mélanie Georgiades, better known by her stage name Diam’s, seemed to have it all, living the life that many dreamed of.

Yet, despite her success, she felt unfulfilled and deeply troubled about her life, something that made her search for answers, finding new hope and happiness in life in converting to Islam.

“All this stuff, the money, the success, the power did not make me happy,” Georgiades told Arab News while in Makkah. “I was searching for happiness; I was very, very sad, and I was alone. I was wondering why I was on this earth. I knew it was not to be rich or famous, because I had those things, and they did not make me happy. So, I began searching for answers to all my questions.”

As hard as Georgiades looked for those answers, they eluded her despite her successful music career.

Then, one day in 2008, having just had her two most musically successful years in which she won the MTV European Music Award for Best French Artist as well as the NRJ Music Awards for Best Artist, Best Album, and Best Song, Georgiades’ life changed while visiting her friend, Sousou, who was a Muslim.

It was a revelation. I became intimately convinced that God existed. The more I was reading, the more convinced I became. Up until then, I believed in one God, but I was Christian in my heart, or rather, did not know exactly what I was, except sad.

Mélanie Georgiades

During that visit, Sousou asked that she be excused for a few minutes to go perform her evening prayers in the other room. Suddenly, Georgiades felt compelled to join her friend in prayer. Despite not knowing how Muslims prayed, she followed what Sousou was doing and prostrated herself before Allah for the first time in her life. 

“When I prayed with her and I prostrated myself, I felt being connected with God,” Georgiades said.

Soon after that, she obtained a copy of the Holy Qur’an and began reading it while on a trip to Mauritius.

“It was a revelation,” she said. “I became intimately convinced that God existed. The more I was reading, the more convinced I became. Up until then, I believed in one God, but I was Christian in my heart, or rather, did not know exactly what I was, except sad.”

In December 2008, Georgiades converted to Islam and disappeared entirely from the music scene and the public’s eyes. However, in 2009, she found herself quickly thrust back into it when a press photographer photographed her coming out of a mosque in Gennevilliers, in France, wearing the hijab and covered from head to toe in a burka.

Those photographs were published in Paris Match magazine and were met with shock and horror by French society who knew her as Diam’s, the hip-hop music icon who performed while wearing tight pants and a tank-top.

 

 

With the publication of that photo, she found herself being vilified in the French press.

“Diam’s’ veil is a step backwards, a defeat,” Djemila Benhabib, a Canadian journalist who shared Georgiades’ Greek Cypriot roots, wrote indignantly. Benhabib was known for her strong opposition to what she calls Muslim fundamentalism.

 At the time, France was debating passing a law banning anyone from wearing a veil or covering their face while in a public place. Those photographs soon became central in that debate, leading to Georgiades finding herself the subject of public hatred.

In November of 2009, Georgiades felt it necessary to explain to her fans what led her to change her focus in life toward religion, and returned to music for one last time, releasing her single “Children of the Desert” from her album “SOS.” 

In the song she describes the intolerance of society in France, stating that society had been far from supportive of her after she converted to Islam, leaving her feeling betrayed herself looking for a new life elsewhere.

The lyrics of that last song, “Children of the Desert,” described how she felt at the time of her unveiling as a Muslim, writing the lyrics, “It was either humanitarian help or trying to become a billionaire, I made my choice and to hell with you, may those who love me follow me.”“This is going to be my second Hajj, but this time I am coming with a different mindset.”

Despite her troubles, she was more at peace than at any other time in her life.

“Before converting to Islam, I felt a sadness in my life because I did not realize that all I had to do was talk to God,” Georgiades said. “Now, everything that is good in my life, or bad, I know that I have Allah who listens to me and answers my prayers.”

Some years later, in 2017, Georgiades was able to move to Saudi Arabia along with her husband, a former Franco-Tunisian rapper, Faouzi Tarkhani. For the past two years they have made their home in the Kingdom, away from the Islamophobia and disdain she suffered in France.

Georgiades and her husband have traveled to Makkah to perform Hajj this year.




Among the other international celebrities performing Hajj this year are football stars Vassiriki Abou Diaby and Philippe Christanval, Tunisian martials arts champion Thabet Naghmouchi, and Tunisian paralympics gold medalist Raoua Tlili. (Essam Alghalib)

“This is going to be my second Hajj, but this time I am coming with a different mindset,” she said. “Last time I came, I was a new Muslim and did not know the religion very well back then. But because I have now been a Muslim for many years, I have learned many things about Islam and the Sunnah and the Prophet (PBUH) and about the story of this land and of the Haramain. This Hajj will be quite different for me as I realize more now about the significance of the journey’s rituals and steps. It will be an even more spiritual experience than before, Inshallah.”

Georgiades was not the only celebrity or influencer to be invited by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to perform the pilgrimage this year.

Other celebrities invited by the ministry include Vassiriki Abou Diaby, who played for the Arsenal and Marseille football clubs, Philippe Christanval, who played for the Monaco and Barcelona Football Clubs, Thabet Naghmouchi, the reigning world champion in Kempo Karate from Tunisia, as well as Raoua Tlili, who won a gold medal for Tunisia in the discus throw at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships.

All are now in Makkah ready for the pilgrimage to begin.

 


Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

Updated 19 August 2019

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

  • Thousands of photos on display
  • Ties ‘rooted’ in history, says Kingdom’s ambassador

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and Lebanon’s Minister of Information Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah on Monday inaugurated a photography exhibition celebrating 90 years of bilateral relations.

The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives and the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation provided the embassy in Lebanon with historical documents and photos for the exhibition, which was launched on World Photography Day. Some of the material dates back more than 90 years.

Bukhari said the exhibition’s content proved that the countries’ relations were rooted in history and recalled the words of King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman, who said: “Lebanon is part of us. I protect its independence myself and will not allow anything to harm it.”

Jarrah, who was representing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said: “We need this Arab embrace in light of the attacks targeting the Arab region and we still need the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon’s stability, because Lebanon is truly the center from which Arabism originated.”

The exhibition starts with a document appointing Mohammed Eid Al-Rawaf as the Kingdom’s consul in Syria and Lebanon. It was signed by King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud in 1930 and states that the consul’s residence is in Damascus and that his mission is to “promote Saudi merchants, care for their affairs and assist them with their legal and commercial interests.”

Black and white pictures summarize milestones in the development of bilateral relations, while others depict key visits and meetings between leaders and dignitaries.

“The exhibition demanded great efforts because the pieces were not found at one single location,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Arab News. “Circulating this activity in the Kingdom’s embassies in numerous countries is a great step and has pushed the Lebanese Ministry of Information to benefit from this archive. The Lebanese people remember the important positions the Kingdom has taken over the year to support their independence and sovereignty and in hard times.”

Lebanon, particularly Beirut, is a hit with Saudi travelers although the Kingdom had been advising citizens since 2011 to avoid the country, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria. 

But the easing of restrictions since February has led to a surge in Saudis heading to Lebanon.

Riyadh earlier this year released $1 billion in funding and pledged to boost Lebanon’s struggling economy. Another sign of warming ties was an anniversary event marking the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father that featured Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula as a keynote speaker.

“The exhibition highlights the unique model of Lebanese-Arab relations that should be taught in diplomatic institutes, starting with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry,” former minister Marwan Hamadeh told Arab News. “Over the course of 90 years, we have had brotherly ties and political support for independence, freedom, growth, economy and culture and then the Taif Accord (which ended the Lebanese Civil War). Even after that, when Lebanon engaged in military adventures, the Kingdom was there to help with reconstruction and we are proud of these relations.”

Highlights include a recording of King Faisal telling President Charles Helou about the need to strengthen “brotherhood in the face of the aggression targeting our countries without respecting the sanctity of holy sites and international, human and moral norms to extend its influence not only in the region but across the world.”

There are also photos from a recent meeting that brought together King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Lebanese officials. 

An old broadcast recording can be heard saying that the “tragedy of the Lebanese civil war can only be ended by affirming the Lebanese legitimacy and preserving its independence and territorial integrity.”

The exhibition is on at Beit Beirut, which is located on what used to be the frontline that divided the city during the civil war.