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
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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.

 


US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

Updated 26 August 2019
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US training helps Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties

  • Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in Yemen war but has apologized for them
  • Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting

CHICAGO: Saudi pilots in the fight to destroy terrorist cells in Yemen have been receiving high-level training by the US military to reduce civilian casualties, Arab News has learned.

The war against the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen began after they toppled the UN-backed government.

The Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes but has apologized for them. Just over a year ago, for example, the Houthis fired missiles at Jazan and other civilian communities in southwest Saudi Arabia. The Saudis responded with airstrikes; one of the missiles accidentally struck a school bus, killing 30 children.

Since then, Saudi pilots have been working with their US counterparts to improve targeting. Pentagon officials say the training has resulted in a significant reduction in civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

“It’s a difficult challenge … but we believe, and the Saudis agree, that everything needs to be done to protect civilians,” said a senior Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing training.

There has been a marked decrease in civilian casualties ... the Saudis deserve credit for the improvements.

Pentagon official

He added that civilians are often unintended victims of conflicts and efforts to eliminate terrorist threats, especially when militants operate in areas heavily populated by civilians.

The US has been working in different ways to help the Saudis improve some procedures and encourage expedited, transparent assessment of alleged civilian casualties.

“Training has helped them reduce non-combatant casualties. We believe there has been a marked decrease in the number of civilian casualties,” said the Pentagon official.

“The Saudis have been very good partners. They deserve the credit for the improvements and changes.”

Salman Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), commended the US and Saudi militaries for the training.

“As a reliable ally and trusted friend, it’s highly commendable that the US is helping train Saudi pilots in precision and avoiding casualties,” he said.

“This is a true example of positive engagement, and demonstrates the deeply rooted US support for Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It’s true that the Saudi-led coalition has made mistakes in the past, but these mistakes have been accounted for and investigated,” Ansari said.


“The training of our pilots … shows that we’re serious about avoiding casualties. The same logic can’t be applied to the Houthis, who deliberately attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia regularly and brag about it.”

 


TIMELINE

Feb. 2012: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh hands over power to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Iran begins to arm Houthi militias.
Sept. 2014: The Houthis launch a nationwide assault, targeting civilians and Yemeni government institutions.
April 2015: Houthis driving Iranian tanks kill 12 civilians in an attack in Aden.
Sept. 2015: The Houthis launch Iranian-supplied Tochka ballistic missiles, killing 60 coalition soldiers.
Dec. 2017: The militias target and kill Saleh near his hometown.
Dec. 19, 2017: The Houthis fire missiles at Riyadh.
June 2019: The militias strike Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, killing at least one civilian and wound nearly 50.
July 2019: The Houthis target Abha airport, injuring nine civilians.
July 2019: The militias ambush Saudi soldiers in Jazan, killing four.
Aug. 2019: The Houthis attack a military graduation ceremony in Aden, killing 36 people, including a commander.


Without disclosing how many Saudis are involved in the training or where it is taking place, the Pentagon official said the program focuses on aspects of military responses to Houthi provocations.

“We’re working with the Saudis on making onsite decisions as to whether strikes should continue,” he added.

“Everything starts with intelligence, doing a better job of gathering intelligence on the battlefield and developing strike targets.”

The official said making positive identification of intended targets is key to protecting civilians.

He added that operations need to ensure that there is a “strong command and control link,” and that forces are not sent “looking for targets” but have a “clear and deliberate chain of command” for the strikes.

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He said it is important for pilots to be able to make decisions themselves during operations, and to be encouraged to provide onsite information that might contradict intelligence used to select targets.

“We want the pilots to feel empowered to not have to strike a target if they feel there’s something wrong or inaccurate,” said the official. “We teach them how important they are to a successful campaign.”

He added that the Saudi pilots are enthusiastic in embracing the strategies and avoiding civilian casualties.

“No one wants to have an accident … on their conscience,” he said. “The pilots are already well trained in flying their aircraft … but we hold seminars to talk to them about the specifics of each of the areas of training.”

Ansari said: “We must always remember the causes of this war, which was forced upon the Saudi-led coalition.”

He added: “It was a war caused by the overthrow of a legitimate UN-backed government at the hands of an Iran-backed militia that prides itself on its ‘Death to America’ slogan, and attacked the US Navy three times during the time of the Obama administration.”

In a recent op-ed for Arab News, Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former intelligence officer, called the Saudi response to the Houthi attacks a “necessary campaign” that is “failing in the public relations arena.”

He wrote that “if it ultimately fails, then Iran will have another Hezbollah in the region — and that’s the goal.”

Pregent added: “The Saudis are going out of their way to show their targeting process is aligned with the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and that they are rushing humanitarian aid in, only for it to be stopped by Iran’s Quds Force and the Tehran-backed Houthis. Few give the Saudis credit for trying to do this right.”