Since 1994, Zain Bhikha has inspired fans the world over with his messages of hope and upliftment. As a singer, songwriter and through creative workshops and television, Zain is amongst the most popular English Islamic artists, well-loved by young and old.
Driven by emotion, many of his songs represent significant times in his life and the lessons he has learnt through personal experience. Zain Bhikha’s music further enhances spiritual contemplation encouraging people to be proud of their beliefs, of who they are and to work towards a better, united world.
In his free time, Zain enjoys being with his wife and four sons at their home in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a family man, and credits his parents for the unconditional support they have given him over the years.
Please tell us about your new app and what inspired it’s creation?
I never really thought about making an app up until recently. I just happened to meet Peter Gould at the arts festival in Malaysia last year, an event that brought together so many people with so many different tales around the world, Peter being one of them. He asked if i had ever thought about it and I hadn’t. But it was an interesting idea and all flowed from that meeting
Given his experience and expertise, I was very excited and humbled that he was able to suggest the idea. Looking back I think how important it is because my kids are always on my phone or the iPad looking at things or singing along, so if we could provide something that will help children to learn and have fun at the same time, why not?
Can you tell us a bit about your children?
I have four boys, the eldest has already finished university and is working. He was actually my inspiration for many songs. He was the one that recorded The Months in Islam way back in 2002, a song continues to inspire children and teach them the months of Islam. He also recorded Al Khaaliq, Your Mother, and I Look and I See with Yusuf Islam.
He grew up in this whole experience of making songs so as he got older he made the Drug Song, which was quite important at the time, and still important now. Now that he’s a young adult himself he is trying to produce himself, which is great to see.
My second son Muhammad also tries to sing every once in a while but I prefer that they don’t take it too seriously. I don’t like to encourage them to think about the term ‘nasheed artist’ as it sounds too presumptuous. We have to consider ourselves as human beings and try and use whatever talent Allah gives us, rather than trying to make a career of it, if possible
Talking about your songs, what has been your favourite thus far?
I’ve been writing songs for 22 years so this is a tough question. I think the one that would top my list is Mountains of Mecca, because it epitomises my journey on Hajj, 10 years ago. I was inspired there! Allah Knows and My Mum is Amazing are definitely amongst my favourite. Till today those songs are highly requested when I do shows.
My latest album, the Passing Traveller, takes me back to that time in my life, The songs are really special to me, including Allah Made Everything, which is a kid’s song, with a broader message. People from all over the world send me videos of their children singing this particular song, so it makes me happy Alhamdullilah.
What do you enjoy doing with your boys?
Most of the time I’m just transporting them to various sports! As young parents today, we have to be very involved in our children’s lives, unlike so the way we might have grown up. I love being home and being able to spend time with them.
Do you do anything else aside from the nasheeds?
Most people don’t know that I work with full time. I’m an accountant by profession and that’s what I do for a living. My father has a business and I joined him ever since I started studying. The business has evolved from one to another, but I’ve always been involved.
I know a lot of my friends and other artists do this full time and I think it’s really taxing on them. I’m in a position where I can do it for the fun of it, Alhamdulillah.
Everything I do creatively is part of a Waqf here in South Africa, which my dad started specifically in healthcare. So the projects I do and every album sale, go towards this Waqf. This gives me the freedom to pick and choose the things I really care about, as opposed to doing this for a living. This has helped me to be a public personality, but also remain true to myself
The other thing I do besides my work and family is visiting schools. I get a lot of joy from it, as opposed to the shows. I also run creative art workshops, which give me a chance to work one on one with children instead of being on stage, which can sometimes make you feel very disconnected from everyone else.
How do you juggle everything?
I think we go through highs and lows. When I have a lot of production or lots on at work, it is difficult, I must be honest. I’m lucky I have a good team at work and that helps. With my songs I try not to over extend myself. This year, because of my work situation I have no overseas shows, until the end of the year.
Since I’ve been doing it so long I don’t feel compelled to travel so much. Travelling gets harder as you get older so I try to stay at home a lot more. I think it’s difficult for anyone trying to juggle things. Women readers will know it more than anyone else, primarily because many have families and a job and other things they’re doing, so it is difficult. Your time is never your own.
If you could teach children one thing, what would it be?
I think the one question that I always leave kids with is “what’s the essence of believing?” The answer lies in remembering – remembering Allah. If we can remember Allah from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night, if we can remember we have a Creator who loves us, who made us just the way we are, who doesn’t make mistakes, so we are not ever made in a way we’re not intended, and that one day we will return to this Creator. He will ask us what we did with all He’s given us? And we will have to answer. So I’d like to get this message to children – remember Allah in everything you do, remember we will return to Him.
There’s currently a lot of excitement about your new album and the Zain Bhikha kids app, but where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I definitely think I would like to choose what I do in the near future. Because I’ve done so many songs, I really don’t feel compelled to do too much. Last year I worked with a school in Cape Town to produce a play. The play was written by my sister, called An Orphans Tale, a wonderful play about finding God, but it’s very humorous with a lot of songs. We worked with the children for 6 months, children who have never acted or sung before and we produced this play.
I love projects that allow me to work with young people and I also hope to do a lot more workshops helping young artists, in a way that is beneficial to them.
I’d like to continue growing as a person. I don’t see myself doing a lot more shows but if a good opportunity comes up, I’d love to travel more around Africa. I’ve visited Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Chad recently – it’s very exciting going to places closer to home that I’ve never been before.
What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I would tell them “don’t give up on your day job”. That’s the advice Yusuf Islam gave me when he heard me singing for the first time.
It’s not about the talent, but realising that if you’re singing Islamic songs, and singing to inspire other people towards a greater purpose, and if you’re doing this full time it can be very difficult for anyone. Especially when you get any level of popularity, it can be very deceiving. So keep your intentions pure. Try not to do it full time. Try to do it as a hobby. Share it with the world but don’t have too many grand expectations. Try to do it because you love it, not because of any other reason.
What are your hopes for the future of Muslim kids?
I would really want our children to be confident, empowered individuals – confident of their faith and their identity, striving to make society different – from a social justice point of view or poverty alleviation, whatever the case may be.
If we can achieve that – in different ways because everyone has different talents – some may become medical doctors, economists, scholars, some may be mothers and fathers – in whatever capacity we can, I pray that Allah gives us the opportunity to be the best we can be, and contribute back to society.
I would like to see them never forgetting their greater purpose because Allah has given us a very short time.
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