Sami Yusuf speaks quickly. The British singer, once famously called "Islam's biggest rock star" — among many other epithets he's earned over the years — is finally ready with his new album, to be released post-Ramadan. And he's got no time to rest.
There's a world tour to be planned, music videos to be shot and promotional tours to be confirmed. There's also a small matter about a new genre of music he is very keen to promote.
"It's called spiritique," says Yusuf. "It's my new sound, my new music and it's something I want to stand for from now."
Coming five years after his hugely successful second album, which sold more than four million copies globally, Wherever You Are has sounds from a range of influences, the singer tells tabloid!
And spiritique is more spiritual than religious, he explains.
"It incorporates and utilises Middle Eastern and Western harmonics, underpinned by spirituality. It's all-encompassing, all-inclusive," he says. "It will utilise music as a facilitator for spiritual appreciation, regardless of race and religion."
Ever since his first album turned him into an overnight star in 2003, Yusuf, who is of Iranian descent, says people have been struggling to classify his music, mostly sung in English but in distinctive Middle Eastern harmony, incorporating various musical influences and predominantly religious content.
"They've called it Nasheed [a form of Islamic vocal music often sung a cappella], rock and even Islamic pop, which I absolutely hate.
"So this new album is my way of introducing spiritique. It's not too far from what people expect from me. I am older, my fans are now older and they are familiar with what I have done in the past.
"My first album described my love for Islam and my passion for the faith. My second album talked about my utopia for humanity and this third album is about who I am and the reality of the day and age we are living in. It talks about hypocrisy, of people who use religion for power… it's quite dark."
Al-Mu'allim, Yusuf's debut, sold more than two million globally and made him an unwilling poster boy of all that was right with music in the Muslim world. Although he has had his share of reactions from religious zealots, who've called his music anti-Islamic, he was seen by many as the anti-celebrity, fulfilling a gap between Western musical heroes and the commercially-driven, often risqué Arabic pop sensations that were dominating the charts.
His popularity quickly spread around the world with his slick music videos finding their way to mainstream channels.
"It was interesting," he recalls. "For the first time, people were watching a religious song on a mainstream music channel. Imagine a sexy Madonna video playing one minute and next you had someone singing about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)."
Yusuf quickly followed up with My Ummah in 2005, which was even more successful. Fans around the world, especially in Turkey where he performed to a record crowd in 2007, were lapping up his music, propelling the popularity of his videos in social media sites such as YouTube.
But the singer, who divides his time between London, where he shares a home with his wife Maryam, Cairo and the UAE, says his music or image was never deliberate.
"I try not to think about any of that too much. All I know is I passionately love music, and 99 per cent of the time I arrange it myself. I am not a great commercial artist. I am a family guy who likes to be with his family. This whole fame thing, I am still coming to terms with it."
So if his new album is less religious, is this his way of reaching out to a bigger audience, a non-Muslim market, the so-called more mainstream fanbase?
"I'd argue that I am already mainstream," he counters. "It's just a different type of mainstream. Mainstream is relative.
"I never really think along those lines. I think the moment you do that, you dilute the importance of what you do. Look at Coldplay, they have managed to keep it tight after all these years and stuck to their music."
Yusuf is keen to stress this is his third official album. The "unofficial" Without You was released by his previous label Awakening Records last year.
"It was released without my consent or blessing," he says, refusing to explain the circumstances, saying he preferred to leave things in the past. "I didn't promote it. I didn't do any videos for it. But I think it sold [a] decent number of copies."
The singer, 30, recently signed a five-album deal with UK-based ETM International, which has an office in Dubai.
"It's been great working with them. They've given me the freedom to work freely and, most importantly, they don't see me as a product. They support me and my music and the work — and that can be a real blessing."
Yusuf, who performed in Sharjah in 2005, says the UAE is definitely on the list of concert venues for his world tour, which will kick off with his album's release.
"When I came here five years ago, I fell in love with this place. I always come back."
Yusuf: A man of faith
He might be the "most famous British Muslim" in the world according to The Guardian in the UK, but Sami Yusuf has also had his share of adversaries.
Yvonne Ridley (pictured), a British journalist who famously converted to Islam after being captured by the Taliban in 2001, once called him a "Muslim popster" and criticised the way female fans "squealed, shouted, swayed and danced" at his concert. "Listen not to what is haram," Ridley wrote, "Listen to the pain of your global family."
Yusuf, who rarely reacts to personal criticism, urged Ridley in an open letter to join with him. "Let us work together as fellow Muslims and Britons in building a better future for our community and all human beings and strive to make our world a safer, more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous place," he wrote.
He tells tabloid! that he is an artist first and foremost. "I am not a spokesperson for any group. I am a man of faith and I respect all faiths. That is what my faith teaches me," he says.
"I have come across all kinds of people, for example, people who say only Allah can judge, but they are the first to judge themselves. I don’t have time for people like that."
Did you know?
- Sami Yusuf's song Supplication, from his first album Al-Mu'allim, was used in the soundtrack of The Kite Runner, based on a bestseller of the same name.
- Yusuf is currently filming a music video in Saudi Arabia for his single Healing. "This is not from the new album. It will soon be released for free. I don't think the people supporting the project did it for any commercial gain, although they've spent a ridiculous amount of money," he tells tabloid!
- Besides English, Yusuf has sung in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Urdu.