Muslim teenagers in Britain, so we are told, are caught between extremism and integration. Thousands of pounds have been spent on projects such as Prevent – arguably a total waste of money. Teenagers don’t care what some crusty MPs and self appointed “community leaders” think. Things are grim.
But the more I think about it, the more I realise there’s only one man who can save us.
Zayn is one of us, but far cooler. He’s a product of Britain. He’s the successful boy next door, and he can be seen to celebrate and enjoy liberal values – he works hard and plays hard. This month his new album shot to the top of the Billboard chart in the US.
Born in Bradford into a Muslim family, Zayn, like many of us, had to go the local mosque (apparently he’s read the Qur’an three times).
Muslim teenagers lack icons. Yet in Zayn, they have a kindred spirit. He’s a local boy done good. We all love rags to riches stories, and it doesn’t get better than Zayn.
Zain Javadd “Zayn” Malik auditioned for X Factor in 2010 and became part of the all-conquering boyband One Direction. His mum, Trisha, worked as a halal chef in the kitchen of a local school. He’s now worth over £25m, and bought his parents their house. In a BBC interview, his mum said: “We never had enough money to buy our own house. We always lived in rented accommodation, so Zayn knew how very important it was for me to have my own place.” Let’s be honest, we’d all like to be able to do that for our parents.
Working class, second generation Muslim kids are aspirational. They’ve seen how hard their parents have tried to integrate and want to make them proud, yet at the same time want to carve out their own identity. Zayn’s album, Mind of Mine, for instance, features lovely Qawwali-style tracks such as Intermission: Flower, which celebrate his cultural heritage while mixing it up with pedestrian R&B tunes that we can all get behind.
When Zayn was a Directioner, his annual Eid Mubarak message was retweeted and shared millions of times. As Ramadan approaches in a few weeks, Muslim teenagers will again get sick and tired of explaining the concept to their kafir pals. Zayn makes it all all right. He gets it.
He has a conscience. He’s ambassador to various charities such as the British Asian Trust, and bought a box for underprivileged children to watch football. He can be seen championing the Palestinian cause with model girlfriend Gigi Hadid (the most famous millennial cultural icon other than motivational speaker DJ Khaled). During the 2014 Israeli siege on Gaza, Malik got in trouble for posting #FreePalestine on Twitter. Lots of us cheered for him. Some balls for a teenybopper.
He’s a modern-day rebel without a cause; an Asian James Dean. He’s had problems with gf’s and band members – he’s been ostracised and he’s risen post-1D with a successful solo career. He’s a survivor and best of all, he’s one of us.
This article was written for the Guardian. Urmee Khan is a journalist who has worked at CNN, BBC and the Daily Telegraph.