Last updated: 13 august, 2010 - 10:46 GMT

Art and Culture

Muslim Superstar

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Sami Yusuf is one of the biggest names in Muslim pop. The Iranian-born, British Muslim artist is one of the most popular singers in the Arab world and the Middle East. He has released three albums since 2003, sold millions of records and played to hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe.

Sami Yusuf was described by Time magazine as "Islam's biggest rock star". He could also be called the King of Muslim pop. Many of his tracks, like 2003's Hasbi Rabi, have become anthems for young Muslims across many countries.

So far he's recorded only religious songs, his own modern-but-mild twist on nasheed, traditional Islamic tunes, safely destined for the standard Muslim audience. His albums are made of ballads on his love for the Prophet Muhammad and earnest tunes about Palestine, Darfur and Beslan.

Sami Yusuf and Nihal Arthanayake

Singer Sami Yusuf entertained the BBC's Nihal Arthanayake

But the singer is now at a crossroads. He has decided to set his sights on a non-Muslim audience by singing more commercial songs without religious themes. This is the dilemma facing Sami Yusuf now: how can he reconcile his Muslim faith with the ruthless demands of a pop industry that makes its biggest profits from the most outrageous artists?

Can he possibly join the big league alongside outspoken stars such as Robbie Williams or Jay-Z? How can Sami Yusuf navigate a path to celebrity in the West, outside his conservative arena, without compromising his religious convictions?

In short, how does a devout Muslim go mainstream?

To find out more, Nihal Arthanayake has spent time with Sami Yusuf at his home in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates.

Nihal discovers a complex man behind the smooth public image, and discusses Sami's commitment to his faith, his ambitions, his music and why he's collaborating with a Mancunian rock star with a public life of well-known excesses and decadence.

First broadcast on 13 August 2010.

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