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.

 


Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

Updated 18 October 2019

Riyadh Season Boulevard zone opens with spectacular parade

  • The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date

RIYADH: More than 1,500 performers and 25 floats took part in a parade and carnival on Thursday night that officially launched Riyadh Season’s Boulevard zone. The crowds that gathered for the fun-packed event were also treated to motorcycle displays, fireworks and other surprises.

The Boulevard lit up at 9 p.m. for the start of the 90-minute event, which featured some of the international artists who will perform as part of Riyadh Season. Afterwards, the zone’s food and drink outlets, outdoor cinema and fountain shows officially opened.

The audience watched the parade, performances and displays from specially constructed stands. Food trucks offered a selection of tasty snacks, and organizers also provided prayer rooms, toilets, first-aid stations and other facilities.

 

GEA president Turki Al-Sheikh gave an opening speech: “Our dearest people, in the beginning of this season, we welcome you and our guests in Riyadh.

“I want to share a story with you all; once upon a time, I was from a middle-class family. My mother and father would gather both their salaries to have us travel to see the world, and then we would stay in Riyadh for a year. These were our capabilities (at the time) and there was nothing to do in Riyadh. Who would've thought that we’d see all of this in Riyadh, and in our beloved country?

“This wouldn't have been possible without -of course Allah first- a person who has the qualities and vision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

He tweeted: “Riyadh traffic police estimated we have exceeded 600K which means ten times the capacity.”

In addition to the opening-night festivities, the Boulevard zone, which covers 400,000 square meters, will host a wide range of entertainment options and activities for all ages, including the outdoor cinema, restaurants, and sports, music and theatrical events. It has three main venues: The 22,000-seat Mohammed Abdu Theater, the 6,000-seat Abu Bakr Salem Theater, and the 2,000-seat Baker Al-Sheddi Theater.

The parade is just one of more than 100 events featuring local, regional and international performers taking place during the Riyadh Season festival, which continues until mid-December at 12 zones across the city: the Boulevard; the Front; Riyadh Car Show; Winter Wonderland; Riyadh Stadiums; the Diplomatic Quarter; Al-Muraba’a; Al-Malaz; Wadi Namar; Nabd Al-Riyadh; Riyadh Safari; and Riyadh Sahara. It has been organized with the support of Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority and president of Riyadh Season.

The ambitious 2019 Saudi Seasons initiative, the first of its kind in the region, was launched in February and includes 11 local seasons covering most parts of the Kingdom. Designed to promote the fledgling Saudi entertainment sector and boost tourism, it is attracting some of the biggest names in world entertainment.

The Riyadh parade is thought to be the biggest parade in Kingdom to date. It follows a folklore parade at the Mawtni (My Nation) cultural event in Yanbu to mark Saudi National Day this year, and a parade during the Jeddah Season festivities in the city’s Obhur district.

The parade had a special surprise; the appearance of DJ Carnage who took to the stage dressed in complete Saudi attire and performed his successful electronic show.

The musician also took to Twitter to celebrate the night and how he had had a hand in “making history,” tweeting: “A huge thank you to @Turki_alalshikh  ..... what you did for your country last night... was so special... thank you for having me... we made history.”