x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Emirati anasheed singer with the simple motto

Ahmed Bukhatir, the renowned singer of anasheed, lives by a simple credo: make people feel good about themselves. He does this through his peaceful Islamic music … and the odd book on dragons.

Making people feel good about themselves and making them aware of others' feelings is one of the mottos Ahmed Bukhatir lives by. Courtesy Ahmed Bukhatir
Making people feel good about themselves and making them aware of others' feelings is one of the mottos Ahmed Bukhatir lives by. Courtesy Ahmed Bukhatir

Ahmed Bukhatir, the renowned singer of anasheed, lives by a simple credo: make people feel good about themselves. He does this through his peaceful Islamic music … and the odd book on dragons.

Some time in the 1980s in a boys' school in Sharjah, there was a lad who was picked on by the teacher and made to sit in the corner of the class for the rest of the day.

Humiliated, he sat with his head down, doing his work. A fellow pupil by the name of Ahmed Bukhatir, sitting just a few rows away, decided to misbehave so he would be sent to sit next to his classmate in the corner.

"I felt bad for him. I don't like for anyone to be abused or feel alone," recalls Bukhatir, 37. "I like peace and I like people to feel good inside."

One of the most famous Emirati anasheed singers, his Islamic songs and unique voice have carried this message of peace to millions of fans worldwide.

"People miss simple, peaceful songs," he says. "I hope they find what they are looking for in my work."

Anasheed, or Islamic songs or chants that rely historic and religious sentiments, have gained a new following in recent years, with some artists turning to digital remastering and remixing to keep up with the trends.

One of the earliest anasheed is Tala Al Badru Alayna (the full moon has come and risen over us), more than 1,400 years old and sung for the Prophet Mohammed as he arrived in Medina.

Anasheed generally do not contain any musical instruments except for drums. There have been several fatwas released against allowing non-percussion instruments.

Women are generally not allowed to sing anasheed, with some Muslim scholars defining their voices as awara (nakedness), an intimate characteristic not to be shared in public.

"I am not convinced of any musical instruments to be halal and so I just rely on my voice," says Bukhatir, who defines his singing as solo a cappella, using the different ranges of his voice remixed into the piece to create the effect of a backing choir.

At first, the father of four, reveals: "Many didn't believe in me and my voice. They felt it was too nasal and noisy."

But that didn't stop him from pursuing the music he heard in his heart, and over the past 13 years Bukhatir has released six albums, sung in Arabic, English and French and performed live around the world.

"Al Hamdallah (thanks to Allah) I have been blessed," he says.

Bukhatir arrives for a chat with a big smile and a red bag carrying a freshly brewed dallah pot of karak tea.

He cracks jokes as he pours the tea, and says: "I honestly love to make people smile and laugh."

Making people feel good about themselves and making them aware of others' feelings is one of the mottos by which Bukhatir says he lives.

He has songs dedicated to Prophet Mohammed, such as the latest, Prophet of Peace, with words written by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Others are dedicated to mothers, the relationship between a husband and a wife, and the handicapped and underprivileged.

In 2006, Bukhatir also performed at the Global Peace and Unity event in the UK, one of the largest Muslim, interfaith, multicultural events of its kind in Europe, with more than 55,000 visitors.

"I want now to hit the US," he says. "I will go there and try my luck and show them my singing and see where it takes me. It will be a challenge, of course, but why not try?"

The singer had also been a regular judge on the Monshed Al Sharjah, an annual competition for the best nasheed singer.

"It the Islamic version of Arab Idol," Bukhatir says. "It is harder than you think. The voice has to be pure enough to enter people's hearts, and be complex enough to carry different ranges and be able to keep the listener interested."

When he is not singing, he runs the family business and does charity work.

But recently, he has ventured into a completely new genre, books.

"Until 2010, I had never read a book except the Quran," he said.

Then on a flight to Canada he saw the animated film How to Train your Dragonand saw in the credits that it was based on a 2003 book by Cressida Cowell.

"I was fascinated with how a book inspired such a great film, so I went in search of the book and discovered a whole new world in the bookstores," he says with a laugh.

Bukhatir wrote and published his own book. Released last year in English by Xlibris, Dragon Boy and the Witches of Galza is the first in a series he hopes his fans accept as a different side of him.

"From waking up as a dragon, to butterbaby fairies, to facing mystical creatures and challenges, the book has a bit of everything and I hope the public likes it," he says.

An Arabic version will also be released soon, with the books to receive a major launch this year.

"I know it is completely different to what people are used to seeing me do, but I really enjoyed writing this book."

Fans can view and listen to Bukhatir's videos on YouTube. Some feature two of his children.

"I have one of the best jobs in the world: I get to make people relax and smile," he says. "I am truly blessed."

rghazal@thenational.ae