Adam Saleh is the poster boy for the “iGeneration” of young Muslims who want to assimilate into a different culture without compromising their religious values.
The 23-year-old American-Yemeni YouTube star, who has a loyal following of more than three million across his channels, where he develops social experiments and performs songs and comedy sketches to combat Islamophobia, while chronicling his experiences as a Muslim in the United States.
Saleh has now taken his online show on the road, touring Australia, Europe and the Middle East, and will perform for the first time in the UAE on Thursday at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre, Mall of the Emirates. With his songs and comedy, Saleh aims to put on a fun and inspirational show that will appeal to a diverse crowd.
Is this your first visit to the UAE?
I was here in 2014. The UAE is amazing, it’s one of my favourite countries. I often compare places to New York, and UAE has so much more – the people are so friendly, there’s a great vibe, culture and huge malls. This will be my first time performing here, though.
What can we look forward to at your live show?
It is going to be a variety show with my songs, a little bit of stand-up, comedy skits, and I’ll be talking about my challenges associated with growing up a Muslim in the West.
What sort of challenges?
All the media going around giving Islam a bad name makes it difficult for Middle Eastern kids growing up in America. I went through it a lot, especially because my mum wore a hijab. So I went through a lot of racist stuff. I’m going to tell them how I overcame it and what I did to keep me close to my religion.
Was there a particular incident while you were growing up that made you feel strongly about how Muslims are perceived?
Oh yes. There was this one time a classmate met my mother for the first time and realised that I was a Muslim. He asked me why she wore the hijab, and when we were walking home, he pulled it and no one was around to help. That was the first time that I had seen such a thing up-close – I was heartbroken. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt that it was hard for us.
How are things now in America?
It was getting better until Donald Trump decided to run for president of the United States. The other day, an Imam got shot in New York. One of my friends got beaten almost to death and called a terrorist during Ramadan. All because of Trump’s hate propaganda.
Do you think your YouTube videos have a positive effect in countering that Islamophobic rhetoric?
I’ve always tried to show a beautiful side of Islam that the media ignores. The western media always shows Muslims killing one another – I try to show that I am a Muslim kid living in the West, having fun, laughing the same way they do. At the same time, I want to show them progressive countries in the Middle East, where people are humble, caring and honest. The Middle East is beautiful. I did a couple of social experiments in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to show my viewers how people are, and they were shocked. I’ve seen these people change their negative attitude about Islam into positive ones.
Why did you decide to expand into music?
I only release singles that are meaningful, and will continue to make only inspiring songs. Survivor was about the turmoil in the Middle East, and Tears came about when my married cousin's father passed away.
You have expressed a desire to try “everything”. What’s next on the list?
Movies are next – I'm in talks for a few projects now, but I will be selective. I have been approached for roles but declined them because they are the same stereotypical ones that portray Muslims in a bad light, like a suicide bomber and terrorist. I'll make sure I do only positive roles. No amount of money will be able to sway me into doing such negative ones. Also, I want to do more Islam films such as our 2015 comedy, American Sharia [in which he co-starred with comedian Omar Regan, who also wrote and directed the film, and Hollywood star Eric Roberts].
Have your parents ever worried about the topics you raise through your channel?
A couple of times my mum has feared for my safety, but I have to explain to her that you have to speak up for your rights, otherwise people will step on you and take advantage of you.
How do you keep up with your education between all the work commitments?
I’ve done two years of university for an online degree in criminal justice and arts, but have taken a break [from it] for my tour. I’ve performed in the US, Europe, Australia and Doha. The feedback has been amazing, especially when people see me talk about the issues I faced in person. They can relate.
• Adam Saleh's World Tour is at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, on Thursday from 6.30pm. Tickets start at Dh150 at www.ductac.ae