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Pop heartthrob Zayn Malik says he’s no longer Muslim, leaving his Muslim fans divided

Zayn Malik performs at Wango Tango at StubHub Center on May 14, 2016, in Carson, Calif. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

(RNS) — When British pop star Zayn Malik tweets “Eid Mubarak” every year at the end of Ramadan, his Muslim fans around the world go wild. “Thank you for making me so happy!” some respond, while others reply with Eid greetings and prayers in Arabic and Urdu, or send Eid cards and fan art.

But now the former One Direction singer says he no longer identifies as Muslim. In an interview with British Vogue this week, Malik said he appreciates his religious upbringing but is no longer religious himself, beyond a “spiritual belief” in a God.

“I don’t believe you need to eat a certain meat that’s been prayed over a certain way, I don’t believe you need to read a prayer in a certain language five times a day,” Malik said. “I don’t believe any of it. I just believe if you’re a good person everything is going to go right for you.”

Many Muslims have expressed disappointment in his decision, and others have sharply criticized the “Pillowtalk” singer for what they perceived as him mocking Muslim beliefs and rituals.

But the Muslim fans who spoke to Religion News Service about his interview said they applaud Malik’s bravery in discussing his faith journey openly.

“I feel really happy he was honest about it,” said Fatimah Umar, who runs a Malik fan account on Twitter. “It is incredibly difficult for anyone to come forward with something of the sort (especially) in the Muslim community. The insane backlash he’s received isn’t something any Christian celebrities receive when they come forward as non-religious.”

And while she says she expected the reaction to be “very ugly” because of how defensive people can be about religion, Umar was still surprised at the magnitude of the “repulsive” backlash. “We put too much responsibility on him just because of him being Muslim.”

Malik received an Islamic upbringing where he grew up in Bradford, one of England’s most diverse cities. “I made sure the children went to the mosque,” his mother, a white British woman who converted to Islam upon marrying his Pakistani father, has said. “Zayn has read the Quran three times.”

Since entering the boy band scene with his 2010 audition on the music competition show “The X Factor,” Malik been an inspiration for his many young Muslim fans around the world.

“I always felt that I got some favoritism sometimes in certain places because the fans obviously want to relate to someone that’s similar to them,” Malik told British Vogue.

Part of his appeal to Muslims was that, as a pop singer who smoked, dated women and sported tattoos, he so visibly fit into the Western world — and changed media perceptions of Muslims.

But there was a dark downside to representing the hopes of Muslim fans. “He’s always faced a double standard since he was the token brown kid in One Direction,” said Zayna Khan, a college student in Maryland who said she has listened to his music since she was in the eighth grade. “I was really surprised by how many Muslims on my social media were so shocked and saying they were ‘disowning’ him because of this.”

In fact, Malik has rarely been vocal about his faith and heritage, aside from occasionally tweeting about fasting during Ramadan or greeting fans with “assalamo alaikum.” Last year he told the London Evening Standard that he did not want to be identified by his religion or culture.

“I take a great sense of pride — and responsibility — in knowing that I am the first of my kind, from my background,” he said. “I’m not currently practicing but I was raised in the Islamic faith, so it will always be with me, and I identify a lot with the culture. But I’m just me.”

Malik has previously explained that he believed religion should be about a personal relationship with the divine. “I don’t think you should stick it in people’s faces,” he said in an interview. “I think you should just keep it to yourself and that’s how I’ve always been with it.”

Zayn Malik in 2015. Photo by First Access Entertainment/Creative Commons

Despite that, Malik has faced racism and Islamophobia since he became Britain’s most famous Muslim pop culture icon.

In 2015, talk-show host Bill Maher jokingly compared Malik to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Huffington Post once used a photo of the singer to illustrate a story about the Islamic State. When Malik tweeted “#FreePalestine” in 2014, he received death threats.

The previous year, an American rapper put out a parody song called “Zayn Did 9/11,” blaming him for the 2001 terrorist attacks. Right-wing blogger Debbie Schlussel accused him of “boy band jihad” and “pimping Islam” in 2012. And racist abuse helped lead him to temporarily leave Twitter.

Publicly distancing himself from Islam won’t stop any of that, one fan noted.

“Despite his individual beliefs, he’s still going to face discrimination like the rest of us, because he’s still identified as Muslim and he’s still Zayn Javadd Malik,” Umar said. “And it’s sad that while he’s a victim of backlash he’s now also going to get trashed by a community he belonged to for so long.”

And Zayna Khan, the Maryland student, pointed out that in the British Vogue interview, Malik seemed to suggest that it was precisely the constant speculation and judgment from Muslims that gave him the final push. “I just think that’s really sad,” she said.

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, curates news coverage of Muslim communities in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

76 Comments

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  • “Zayn Malik [is] the most prominent Muslim pop culture icon in the Western world”? Seriously, dude? You’ve never heard of these famous Muslims before?

    Muhammad Ali
    Shaquille O’Neal
    Hakeem Olajuwon
    Janet Jackson
    Dr. (Mehmet) Oz
    Dave Chappelle
    Ice Cube
    Mike Tyson
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid
    Busta Rhymes
    Q-Tip
    Mos Def
    Omar Sharif
    Irrfan Khan

  • You left out Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou July 21, 1948), commonly known by his stage name Cat Stevens.

  • Hey that’s right, Cat Stevens. Still one serious Muslim, I think he is.

    Undoubtedly, THE Muslim Artist of All Time. Somebody make a Biopic of the guy, please!

    Zayn Malik pales in comparison. What a joke.

    Hey thanks for my rediscovery here & now of Yusuf Islam.

  • He should likely avoid most Islamic nations where Sheria is practiced, as radical Muslims believe those who leave the faith should be executed.

  • That announcement had almost no wind in its sails. Her move was mostly ignored or just got an eyeroll!

  • There you go, yes! Salud, chindon, Shuhada’ Davitt! Oops, I wouldn’t know how to translate that to Islamic Irish. Be my Guest.

  • AYSHA KHAN: “Malik has faced racism and Islamophobia since he became Britain’s most famous Muslim pop culture icon.”

    A.K. PRESS SECRETARY, DAVID ALLEN: “I’m sure that the statement was meant currently, not of all time. [So, read it this way.] ‘[Currently, not of all time] Malik has faced racism and Islamophobia since he became Britain’s most famous Muslim pop culture icon.'”

    HpO (mesmerized at the moment by a tail wagging its dog): … w-wh-wha-what? …

  • You fake-worry for nothing. Zayn Malik is no double agent, no CIA, no Muslim Brotherhood, like that acid mixed batch over there, somewhere. All he’s really good for his word as a Clichéd Millennial, is, he “smoked, dated women and sported tattoos” after “tweet[ing] ‘Eid Mubarak’ … ‘assalamo alaikum.'”

    FYII (For Your Insult to the Intelligence):

    “U.S. and Turkish intelligence agencies still do not have direct evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed to the assassination in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. … CIA officials have long been unsure about Crown Prince Mohammed and his abilities to lead the kingdom. The agency, and former Director John Brennan, had a close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed’s rival, Mohammed bin Nayef. The young crown prince outmaneuvered his rival in 2017 to consolidate his position.”
    – New York Times, November 16-17, 2018, “CIA says Saudi crown prince authorized killing of journalist Khashoggi”.

  • Learned something new & exciting here. Thanks!

    Whereas: “In Islam, Barakah or Baraka (Arabic: بركة) is a kind of continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with God and flows through that and those closest to God. … God is the sole source of baraka and has the power to grant and withhold baraka. … Baraka is a prominent concept in Islamic mysticism, particularly Sufism.”

    In transliteration, on the other hand, “the term brách is equivalent to ‘eternity’ or ‘end of time,’ meaning the phrase may be translated literally as ‘Ireland until eternity’ or ‘Ireland to the end (of time).’ Éire go Bráth (or Éirinn go Bráth) is also used in Irish and means the same thing.”

    Per Wikipedia’s sources.

  • He announced he is no longer Muslim which is supposedly making Islamic fans question their love for Zayn as if they don’t listen to other pop stars who were never Muslim… Oh freaking brother. This is ridiculous.

  • Specify your criteria for determining how this R&B and alternative R&B, and occasionally electro-R&B dance musician “Zayn Malik is more famous than EVERY rapper … listed” – Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Mos Def.

    Being “a Hip Hop Head” that you say you are, isn’t even such a criterion, so it doesn’t count or qualify.

    Give it to me. Citations to go with that would be Excellent!

    If you go by the following criteria of “How to Be a Famous Rapper” from wikiHow, go ahead and use it to back up your otherwise totally baseless claim:

    Part 1 Mastering the Art of Rapping

    1 Study the rhyming styles of legendary hip hop artists.
    2 Master the various rhyming schemes that exist.
    3 Build up your rhyming ability but keep it catchy.
    4 Have the ability to deliver a good hook.
    5 Never stop practicing to stay sharp on your wordplay.

    Part 2 Creating Your Music

    1 Write original songs that illicit an emotional response.
    2 Collaborate with producers to create full songs.
    3 Record music in a studio.
    4 Upload your songs and create videos on YouTube and Soundcloud.
    5 Develop your own style.

    Part 3 Networking and Staying on Top

    1 Play local shows or open for bigger artists.
    2 Hire a manager to take on booking responsibilities.
    3 Keep good relationships with people in the music industry.
    4 Have a strong social media presence.
    5 Merchandise your brand.
    6 Stay relevant and do research on new music.

  • “I just believe if you’re a good person everything is going to go right for you.”

    Setting aside all of the rituals and legalistic elements of Islam, I don’t think that is really that different from core Islamic belief. That is to say, do enough good stuff and you’ll make it to heaven.

  • It was a brave move for this singer to declare that he no longer identifies as a Muslim. I hope everything works out well for him.

  • TRANSLATION: HelloToDaCities has been made uncomfortable by the disagreement and is now trying to shift the focus away from the issue at hand. Which is: how she arrived at the conclusion that “Zayn Malik is more famous than EVERY rapper … listed [Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Mos Def]”.

  • You call me that because you fail to prove to me that “Zayn Malik is more famous than EVERY rapper … listed [Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Mos Def]”.

    A “f.r.e.a.k.” am I now as a result of your failure? As in:

    “finesse”?
    “retort”?
    “elan”?
    “acumen”?
    “kudos”?

    Right you are, girl, right you are!

  • ‘NUFF SAID.

    “HelloToDaCities 21 hours ago … 18 days ago … 7 months ago … A Hip Hop Head I am. … [A] Gun-owning, bud smoking, California Conservative … When rappers nowadays say hammer, chopper, stick, piece, flame, they are referring to ONE gun and that gun is an AK-47. … It’ll never be [their] time [for, per the headline, ‘Black Men … Superior Since The Dawn Of … Time’]”.

  • No, all I do, courtesy of Disqus, is click on your URL-linked name, HelloToDaCities highlighting in navy blue even right now; then go from there. Disqus archives your comments and opens them to the public, one way or another.

  • There’s no bravery or heroism involved here, according to Giles Hattersley, “Zayn: The Vogue Interview”, Vogue, November 13, 2018:

    “Was it easy to drop his religion, with his family? ‘Really easy for me,’ he says, nodding.”

    So, no, “it was [not] a brave move” – but rather “[a ‘really easy’] move for this singer to declare that he no longer identifies as a Muslim.”

    READ THAT INTERVIEW YOURSELF.

  • YEA, their extremists might kill him! Better not move to the US where there is a mass shooting (4 or more dead) every 1.3 days. It’s the world capital of Death, both domestic and exported. With homicide rates that would make satan blush and global arms sales to the tune of $70 Billion a year, shipping weapons to every conflict on the planet. Death is capitalized.

  • Except that the rituals and legalistic elements are what make up Islam’s core beliefs. One has to strictly follow what Islam specifically deems good and bad, otherwise they burn in hell forever.

  • Indeed. Don’t want to get into a “Saudi fistfight” and accidentally get tortured and chopped into pieces.

  • That is just a sane thing as a matter of course….unless carrying a suitcase full of money or selling prior generation weapons.

  • That’s not really true of Christianity. In fact, that was what I was really differentiating with Islam. Christian salvation doesn’t require good works nor are any works good enough to receive it.

  • I’m not exactly sure what group you are referring to, but if it believes good works get you to heaven it is far different from scriptural Christianity.

  • It’s good that he had such understanding parents. It would be great if all Muslims were this understanding.

  • Wait, what? If “it’s good that [Vain Zayn] had such understanding parents”, why, then, do you “hope everything works out well for him”? Because you still gotta go Islam- & Muslim-bashing anyway? And are still hoping anyway for a nasty cultural war to break out between Vain Zayn & Committed Disciples of Muhammad?

  • More than that, Christianity teaches that we are saved “by grace (of God) through faith so that none may boast”. The tenet is that we are all sinful, there is “none good by God, no not one.” We do not do works to be saved, but because we are saved. (However, as James says “Faith without works is dead.”)

  • He seems like a nice, well-intentioned kid and I wholeheartedly affirm his right to believe as he chooses.

    But this statement? “… I just believe if you’re a good person everything is going to go right for you.”

    History sure hasn’t shown that to be true.

  • Most of these are not good examples of Muslims, but rather folks who thought it would be cool and counter white culture to be a Muslim. Whatever they were looking for they could find within the spectrum of Christianity or an assortment of other religions.

  • HpO, why are you so angry? I’m not attacking Islam, and I’m certainly not hoping for a culture war. However, some Muslims are not tolerant and understanding, and this is a worry.

  • Really? I can’t name one other religion which has co-existed with Christians without a history of sectarian violence. Christians couldn’t even get along with other sects of the same faith until the growth of secular government.

    Many Christians here claim if you do not believe as they do, which includes hating the same groups as they do, that one should expect to go to hell. I can run a list of regular posters who make such claims on a regular basis.

  • You’re a Breitbart reader who doesn’t know who Christian Right Nationalists are and how their “good works” fit into their religion?

    Impossible.

  • Prove it: that Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Janet Jackson, Dr. (Mehmet) Oz, Dave Chappelle, Ice Cube, Mike Tyson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Omar Sharif and Irrfan Khan, all “thought it would be cool and counter white culture to be a Muslim.”

    I demand citations.

  • Why you’re projecting into Vain Zayn, even though no serious Muslim takes him seriously, is because of your Vain Progressivations Tendencies.

  • I read Breitbart from time to time but other than a quick google search I’m really ignorant of the group. If it is like your description it sounds like a group posing as Christians.

  • How is your following statement, then, as a Vain Christian Right Nationalist, any different from what Vain Zayn the Never-Truly-A-Muslim stated – “I just believe if you’re a good person everything is going to go right for you”? NONE, you’re both alike.

    “Randy Horsefeathers 10 months ago … Jesus certainly told us to show love to the alien (‘as you were once aliens in Egypt’). In fact, he says we are to treat him like one of our own and love him like we love ourselves. On the flip side, wall building plays a huge role throughout the Old Testament where God’s position is clearly one of sovereignty (makes sense coming from a sovereign god). Thus, we can conclude that these are not mutually exclusive concepts. Technically of all the positions put forth as to our handling of the illegal alien situation Trump’s is the closest to the biblical concept of aliens and walls. Whoduthunkit?”

  • I don’t remotely follow your logic here and frankly I’m disinterested in where this is going. Particularly since you’ve chosen to mischaracterize me while accusing me of dishonesty. I was merely differentiating between Islam and Christianity. It is pretty well known that in Islam your righteousness is ultimately based on good works. Meanwhile, in Christianity, good works have nothing to do with attaining salvation. This is a very innocuous observation, your irritation notwithstanding. God bless.

  • Here are 2 signs of your “dishonesty” & self-deception:

    (1) Your statement from “10 months ago” proves you’re a Christian Right Nationalist, yet just “a day ago” you played the DumbGame, shrugging, “I’m not exactly sure what group you are referring to”.

    (2) QUESTION: Wanna know what’s falsehood & anti-gospel about the following statement you gave just “a day ago [then] 5 hours ago”? “Believ[ing] good works get[s] you to heaven … is far different from scriptural Christianity. … In Christianity, good works have nothing to do with attaining salvation. … Christian salvation doesn’t require good works nor are any works good enough to receive it.” ANSWER: Your Christian Right Nationalism summed up “10 months ago” that says, “Trump’s is the closest to the biblical concept of [such good works]. Whoduthunkit?” In other words, despite your disclaimer that “believ[ing] good works get[s] you to heaven … is far different from scriptural Christianity”, it is your Christian Right Nationalist belief, however, that “Trump’s is the closest to the biblical concept of [such good works]. Whoduthunkit?” And despite your disclaimer that “in Christianity, good works have nothing to do with attaining salvation”, it is your Christian Right Nationalist belief, however, that “Trump’s is the closest to the biblical concept of [such good works]. Whoduthunkit?” And despite your disclaimer that “Christian salvation doesn’t require good works nor are any works good enough to receive it”, it is your Christian Right Nationalist belief, however, that “Trump’s is the closest to the biblical concept of [such good works]. Whoduthunkit?” I’m here to tell you (off) that only born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation can perform “good works”, but that U.S. President Donald Trump ain’t one of them!

  • These points duly noted – thanks!

    “In the case of Zayn, anyone who observed his lifestyle and friends and music videos and so forth – knows very well that he probably left Islam a while back.”

    “[His] excuse to follow what he believes are the right set of rules to follow … comes from the pride of man who thinks himself the master of his own destiny and the law-maker in his own affairs.”

    “Muslim parents … raise … children in the ranks of the polytheists.”

    “‘A pop singer who smoked, dated women and sported tattoos … chang[ing] media perceptions of Muslims’ … is … a carefully planted propaganda prop to confuse and corrupt Muslims.”

    “What a tragic decision for Zayn Malik … [to succumb to] the temporary and disgusting and unfulfilling deceptions of this worldly life.”

  • Re: “When British pop star Zayn Malik tweets ‘Eid Mubarak’ every year at the end of Ramadan, his Muslim fans around the world go wild. ‘Thank you for making me so happy!’ some respond …” 

    Why would anyone want his/her own happiness to hinge on another person’s expression of religious belief? It’s insane. 

  • You sure, “Thank [me]”? Because, see, for the 1st time, which was last night, I participated in your “The Golden Rule” Disqus channel, and how did you welcome my comment? I welcomed your comments here at alien territory, but you sure didn’t reciprocate over there at home base.

  • The Bible calls us to good works, however, it specifically teaches that those good works won’t gain you salvation. Those aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. And saying so has absolutely nothing to do with with some sort of Christian Right Nationalist designation. You are tilting at windmills.

  • Only born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation can perform “good works”. U.S. President Donald Trump ain’t one of them! And he does what he does, but never at all as a born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard follower of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation. Never as such in action, therefore, “Trump’s is the [farthest from] the biblical concept of [such good works]. Whoduthunkit?” Only born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation – that’s “Whoduthunkit”! You don’t think like that because you’re only a Christian Right Nationalist.

  • The idea that only a Christian can practice good works is an absurd one. I should’ve stuck to a previous response. I’m not interested in being called something I’m not merely because I occasionally read a specific news outlet. I have no idea what you’re disputing. I have stated from the start that salvation isn’t by works. I’ve added that God calls us to good works. These are basic tenets of the faith. I’m not interested in running around in circular dialogue. God bless.

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