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

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

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.

 


Saudi Arabia announces return of in-person schooling for double-jabbed intermediate, secondary students

Saudi Arabia announces return of in-person schooling for double-jabbed intermediate, secondary students
Updated 47 min 11 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces return of in-person schooling for double-jabbed intermediate, secondary students

Saudi Arabia announces return of in-person schooling for double-jabbed intermediate, secondary students

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced the return of in-person schooling for intermediate and secondary school students who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

Primary school and kindergarten pupils will return to their classrooms once seventy percent of the Kingdom’s population has been inoculated with two doses or October 30, 2021, whichever comes first.

Over 27 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.

Saudi Arabia's Food and Drug Authority has so far approved the AstraZeneca, Pfizer-​BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna vaccines.

The Kingdom announced 12 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,084 new infections on Sunday.


Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 12 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 507,374
  • A total of 8,249 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 12 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,084 new infections on Sunday.
Of the new cases, 235 were recorded in Riyadh, 207 in Makkah, 154 in the Eastern Province, 94 in Asir, 69 in Madinah, 64 in Jazan, 58 in Hail, 40 in Najran, 23 in Tabuk, 17 in the Northern Borders region, 13 in Al-Baha, and three in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 507,374 after 1,285 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 8,249 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 27 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Cocoa bean drug smuggling attempt thwarted at Jeddah port

Cocoa bean drug smuggling attempt thwarted at Jeddah port
Updated 01 August 2021

Cocoa bean drug smuggling attempt thwarted at Jeddah port

Cocoa bean drug smuggling attempt thwarted at Jeddah port
  • The pills were found hidden inside bags of cocoa beans during an inspection
  • The authority stressed that it will continue to tighten customs controls over all imports, exports and travelers in order to combat smuggling

JEDDAH: The Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority at Jeddah Islamic Port has foiled an attempt to smuggle 8.7 million Captagon pills.
The pills were found expertly hidden inside cocoa bean bags during an inspection. Three people were arrested by the General Directorate of Narcotics Control.
The authority stressed that it will continue to tighten customs controls over all imports, exports and travelers in order to combat smuggling by land, sea and air, and put an end to smugglers and their organized crimes.
The Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority called on everyone to contact the Security Reports Center on 1910 to report any information related to smuggling and customs violations in strict confidentiality. It said that whistle-blowers will receive a financial reward if their information is correct.


Unvaccinated people rush to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Saudi Arabia

Unvaccinated people rush to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 August 2021

Unvaccinated people rush to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Saudi Arabia

Unvaccinated people rush to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Saudi Arabia
  • One dose or virus recovered must to attend events and enter establishments

JEDDAH: The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Saudi Arabia has increased in the past 10 days with the arrival of the Aug. 1 deadline that means unvaccinated residents are prohibited from entering establishments.

The acceleration comes as residents of the Kingdom are required to receive at least one jab or have recovered from COVID-19 to attend social, cultural, sports and entertainment gatherings, and enter private, government or commercial establishments. Health authorities have called on residents to register for the vaccine, and centers across the Kingdom have been urged to provide more time-slots to accommodate the growing numbers.
So far, 27 million vaccine doses have been delivered at a rate of 77 doses per hundred. More than 8.1 million so far have received two doses and more than 77.5 percent of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million have been vaccinated so far.
More than 1.46 million of the Kingdom’s elderly have been vaccinated to date.
Health officials continue to urge residents to receive the vaccine, adhere to social distancing measures and take precautionary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a Saudi research team has successfully developed the first Saudi vaccine against COVID-19 and is ready to carry out clinical trials after receiving the required approvals.

INNUMBERS

525,730 Total cases

506,089 Recoveries

8,237 Deaths

Led by Dr. Iman Almansour, the research team from the Institute for Research and Medical Consultations (IRMC) at the Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam published the findings, “Immunogenicity of Multiple Doses of pDNA Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2,” in the  Pharmaceuticals Journal on MDPI, an open-access publishing website for academics.
On Saturday, 1,146 new cases were reported by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health, raising the total number to 525,730.
Three regions reported numbers above the 100 case mark, Riyadh leading with 243 cases, the Eastern Province with 209 and Makkah with 196 cases. Jouf continues to be the region with the lowest count with only eight cases on Saturday.
There are currently 11,404 active cases, 1,377 of which are in critical care, a decline of 18 in the past 24 hours.
A total of 1,086 new recoveries were reported, raising the total number of recoveries to 506,089. The Kingdom’s recovery rate is currently holding steady at 96.2 percent.
Riyadh led the cities with the highest recovery count as 232 recoveries were reported, Taif with 99 and Jeddah with 64 recoveries.
A total of 11 new fatalities due to complications from COVID-19 have been reported, raising the death tally to 8,237.
A total of 113,300 PCR tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours, raising the total number to more than 25 million tests so far.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s control teams in Makkah region carried out 20,137 inspection tours in July on private sector enterprises, to ensure abidance by the precautionary and preventive measures against the coronavirus disease and compliance with nationalization and labor regulations.
During the inspections, 3,755 violations of labor regulations and precautionary measures were found, and 813 warnings issued.
The ministry urged owners of enterprises to abide by all precautionary measures at workplaces to curb the spread of the virus, and to abide by the ministry’s regulations to avoid incurring penalties.
Inspection tours will continue across businesses in all regions of the Kingdom, the ministry addedd, calling on everyone in the region to report breaches and violations through its call center (19911) or its Ma3an lil Rasd app.


British-Nigerian photographer gaining popularity in the Saudi art scene for her black and white photographs of KSA

Monochromatic photographs add a timeless quality to an image. With the help of social media, Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight as outsiders finally look in. (Supplied)
Monochromatic photographs add a timeless quality to an image. With the help of social media, Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight as outsiders finally look in. (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

British-Nigerian photographer gaining popularity in the Saudi art scene for her black and white photographs of KSA

Monochromatic photographs add a timeless quality to an image. With the help of social media, Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight as outsiders finally look in. (Supplied)
  • British-Nigerian photographer gaining popularity in the Saudi art scene for her black and white photographs of the Kingdom’s varied architecture, cultural scene, street life and more
  • Saudi Arabia through Folake’s eyes

JEDDAH: With the thousands of pictures coming out of Saudi Arabia in full color these days, it is refreshing to find calm in monochromatic photographs, especially when they have been snapped by expats who see beauty through a lens.
Monochromatic photographs add a timeless quality to an image. With the help of social media, Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight as outsiders finally look in.
British-Nigerian photographer Folake Abbas, a lecturer teaching academic writing and research methods to engineering students at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University since 2013, has been taking photographs for as long as she can remember, and is gaining popularity in the Saudi art scene for her black and white photographs of the Kingdom’s varied architecture, cultural scene, street life and more.
She started taking photographs in the Kingdom “almost immediately after I arrived in Jeddah. A friend took me to Al-Balad and I fell in love with the place immediately, and I’ve had a very strong connection to Al-Balad ever since,” she told Arab News.

I will always remember Saudi Arabia with a lot of fondness, for it was here that I discovered myself as a photographer.

Folake Abbas

“A lot of people there know me because I take their photographs most of the time — it’s a place that I’m drawn to and that I feel very comfortable photographing. I’ve been there many times and have taken thousands and thousands of photographs to attest to that,” she added.
Abbas has developed her style through the years, experimenting with different tones of gray and shadows ever since she, alongside a group of fellow Nigerian photographers while visiting home, challenged each other to switch from colored to monochrome as an experiment for the whole of 2019, participating in the hashtag #2019ayearinblackandwhite on Instagram, and she’s never looked back.
She told Arab News that she’s been inspired by some of the greatest black and white photographers of all time such as Ansel Adams, Vivian Maier, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark and Dorothea Lange.

HIGHLIGHT

Abbas has developed her style through the years, experimenting with different tones of gray and shadows ever since she, alongside a group of fellow Nigerian photographers while visiting home, challenged each other to switch from colored to monochrome as an experiment for the whole of 2019, participating in the hashtag #2019ayearinblackandwhite on Instagram, and she’s never looked back.

With time, she began wondering about what more the Kingdom has to offer and what hidden gems can be discovered. She’s frequented nearby Taif, Dammam and a few other cities throughout the years but it was only after the coronavirus disease pandemic hit did she realize she needed to see more.
“I hadn’t really moved around that much, it wasn’t until last year after the lockdown was lifted, knowing I couldn’t leave the country I thought, you know what? this is my time to start to explore Saudi Arabia, there’s something more for it and I’ve got to get around,” she said. “The idea of having to stay cooped up in my apartment for the whole summer was just something I wasn’t ready to entertain.”
She then started traveling around the Kingdom as a conscious decision, booking trips, connecting with people, and taking different tours.
“When you live in a concrete jungle, there isn’t much greenery around here, and it’s very rugged, you just have no idea of what a country looks like. It’s not until you hit the road and go deep into a valley or around a bendy road such as in Taif that you really get to appreciate the country that you live in,” said Abbas.
She said it was in Saudi Arabia that she identified as a photographer the most. “I will always remember Saudi Arabia with a lot of fondness, for it was here that I discovered myself as a photographer. As I mentioned, I’ve always taken photographs but being in Saudi Arabia really solidified that for me. All I want to do is take photographs here, that’s all I want to do.”

Monochromatic photographs add a timeless quality to an image. With the help of social media, Saudi Arabia is in the spotlight as outsiders finally look in. (Supplied)

Folake participated in two group exhibitions, the first in November 2017 in Jeddah, and January 2021 in Riyadh and has had three solo exhibitions — October 2018, December 2019, both in Jeddah and the third in Riyadh in February 2020.
She visited AlUla in March and said the artwork she composed there is the closest to her heart, highlighting that it is a majestic and timeless place.
“What I love about the photos that I took there is the fact that the whole place itself sort of makes you feel like you are in a time that is long forgotten and so to be in this place that is absolutely dripping with so much history going back thousands and thousands of years, to be in that space in itself was nothing short of spectacular. The photos that I took and loved the most (were of) the tomb in Hegra; it’s just a majestic building.”
She said she experienced Saudi hospitality firsthand throughout her adventures in the Kingdom and highlighted their polite traits.
“I’m very impressed as to how open the people I meet when I travel are. They will give you directions, they will get people to come and help you, they will even take you to where you want to go,” she said. “That is really endearing to me.” She added: “I’ve traveled a lot around the world and I’ve had wonderful experiences, but nothing quite like this.”