Malaysian Singer Tops Charts with Islamic Chants

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — One of the most popular pop artists in Malaysia is singer/songwriter Hafiz Hamidun, who specializes in nasheed, a form of devotional Islamic chanting.

Our Senior Journalists Seminar group met with him in Kuala Lumpur.

Hamidun started his musical career in what he described as a Malaysian boy band. He went out on his own in 2006 and told us his first two albums were failures. Then in 2011, he released an Islamic chanting album, which became a best-seller. To date, he has sold more than half a million copies. The album incorporates the Islamic practice of Zikir, repeating a prayer or devotional phrase, and sets it to music.

“I love divine music,” Hamidun told us. “Christian, Jewish, I listen to it all. I love it all.” He sings in Arabic and composes his own material. “It’s my interpretation of the religion,” he said.

Hamidun concedes his music has been controversial because his Zikir is accompanied by instruments. Some Islamic interpretations of the Qur’an prohibit the use of musical instruments. “I choose to use instruments because I’m in Malaysia,” Hamidun said. “I have to customize it to local taste.”

Initially, Hamidun was called in for questioning by Malaysia’s religious authorities who thought Zikir only belonged in the mosque. He convinced them he was using it as therapy and education for the good of the religion. He admits he still must be careful about the words he uses in his songs.

Hamidun is currently working on an international album. He hopes to incorporate other languages, including English.

I asked him how his art connects to his spirituality. He told me: “Music is manmade, but sound is divine.”

You can listen to one of Hamidun’s songs here: