After launching its auditions on August 21, Munshid Al Sharjah, Sharjah TV's Islamic chanting contest, will return in December for its 14th season, with the goal of finding the Muslim world's next nasheed star among its 12 finalists.
Many previous Munshid participants have enjoyed regional and international fame, with album releases and live performance tours. As Sharjah's Al Majaz Ampitheatre gears up for the coming competition, The National catches up with some of its most notable past competitors.
Season 7: Kamal Rezzoug, winner
Kamal Rezzoug, 33, who holds a master's degree in popular literature, says his 2014 victory earned him scores of fans in his home country of Algeria — where he is frequently guest of honour at local Inshad (Islamic chanting) festivals.
Rezzoug, who was appointed a judge for last year's Algerian auditions, says: "I released two albums, Ma Zal Al Hal [This Remains the Case] and Sayyidat Al Hob [The Love Lady], referring to mothers’ love.
"In 2021, I began hosting two weekly talk shows. On Takseera [Soiree], I host national celebrities, such as artists, businesspeople and musicians, and on Star Kids, I introduce children talented in the arts, sports, acting, and so on. I am also working on a few English-language chanting projects, to reach the wider audience, like the renowned Maher Zain."
Season 9: Mohammed Al Muflahi, finalist
Although Emirati Mohammed Al Muflahi didn’t win the 2016 competition, he says just taking part was "an exceptionally beautiful experience". Not only did he learn to perform, but he connected with great Islamic chanters all across the world, he says. "I learned a lot from them, such as Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak and Emirati renowned singer Osama Al Safi."
Al Muflahi has since taken part in chanting events on UAE television and radio, and as part of official National Day and Ramadan ceremonies — as well as festivals abroad. He says: "It is not difficult to achieve something, but it is difficult to maintain this, and go on to achieve even bigger achievements. Any ambitious, passionate, and successful person has to overcome such difficulties."
Season 9: Mahmoud Ali Helal, winner
Egyptian Mahmoud Ali Helal, 31, who starred in season 9 of the show, serves as the imam at Cairo's Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
Helal says Islamic chanting has started to "boom and flourish" thanks to a rise in popularity not just on television, but social media too.
"I have produced many works including Qad Manna Allah Alayna [We Are Much Obliged to God], Bika Atma’en [Your Presence Reassures Me], Kana Badran [It Was a Full Moon], and many other successful Islamic hits. I have also participated in several functions in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the UAE, and many other countries. Fans show a strong presence in Islamic shows."
Since winning, Helal has joined the Munshid Al Sharjah team. "I work with them every season. I am also in touch with the vocal coaches, especially Mustafa Hamdo, to whom I owe my title."
Season 10: Yassine El Chehab, winner
Yassine El Chehab, 31, says winning season 10 introduced him to a wider audience across the Arab world, Asia and even Europe. Even King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and various senior officials, congratulated him on his success.
El Chehab, who has since released an album of chants, and become a regular on Moroccan television, says his biggest challenge is to express art that "appeals to the public and reflects his culture, represents his identity, and promotes peace among all faiths and people". He says: "I find these hurdles typical but spice up the winning experience."
Season 12: Omar Kabbara, finalist
Lebanese civil engineering graduate Omar Kabbara, 26, reached the finals in season 12 but did not win. However, he says he had a "wonderful" experience.
"I met outstanding figures such as the vocal trainers, Sherif Mohsen, Waseem Faris and Mustafa Hamdo and Munshid Al Sharjah producer Najm El Dine and many others. With the help of the trainers, I learned new vocal exercises that I am still using to train and improve my voice."
Despite his own father being a renowned chanter, known as the "dean of the mushideen", Kabbara says support in his home country of Lebanon was minimal.
"The economic situation was bad, which is why you don’t find that exquisite buzz when a Lebanese person represents their country abroad, that you had with previous participants."
However, the contest "opened doors" for him, bringing in a whole new online fan base. "Now, I have a wide audience who help me shape my nasheed path," he says.
Season 13: Mostafa El Shafei, finalist
Mostafa El Shafei, 25, is the director of an Islamic Inshad group, run by Egypt's Ministry of Culture. A season 13 finalist, he says the experience is "still echoing" in his life. His popularity has soared beyond his country to the rest of North Africa, and beyond, to the UAE.
He says that Munshid Al Sharjah has been instrumental in bridging a generational gap that emerged in the 1990s. "I faced many challenges before the competition, and these are still ongoing. The problem lies in the production. There are barely any production companies which show interest in Islamic Inshad in Egypt. In Egypt, we must produce our works on our own."
However, El Shafei, who has produced several works since appearing on the show, has participated in several Inshad festivals in Egypt. "I will release a new album very soon too," he says.
Season 13: Zakaria Al Zirek, winner
Zakaria Al Zirek, an Islamic Studies graduate aged 26 from Morocco, says he "built an empire of fans" on the road to winning season 13 — a journey that began when he was only five. "Many people wanted to work with me, musicians, producers, and media," he says.
"I've participated in many esteemed festivals, shows and events across my country, and hope to participate in regional and international events later." Al Zirek, who is working on a new recording project, says charisma is crucial to maintaining broad appeal.
He hopes to collaborate with his fellow Munshid season 13 finalists some day. "The programme has already given my art journey such a great push. The vocal coaches always give me advice when I ask for it," he says.
Najm Al Dine Hashem, executive producer
Najm Al Dine Hashem, executive producer of Munshid Al Sharjah, says the show has continued to support talents beyond their participation in the competition.
Hashem says: "We've invited some of them to special evening events and treated them as stars, once they gained fame in their countries." The show also often brings on previous participants to serve on jury panels in their countries during the auditions.
"We also help some of the winners to produce video clips, and invite others to attend Munshid Al Sharjah finals to celebrate their achievements and really put them in the spotlight," Hashem says.