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The life story of Muhammad Assaf, winner of the singing competition Arab Idol

This is the life story of Mohammad Assaf born to Palestinian parents in Libya, Assaf moved with them to the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp in Gaza when he was four years old. He began singing aged five and, by his teens, regularly worked at weddings and local festivities. Assaf’s parents recognised his talent, and played him their cassettes of the great Arab singers.

The film Arab Idol was released in 2015 depicting the life of Mohammad Assaf. The film is centered around his special relationship with his sister who was suffering from chronic kidney failure, and his childhood friends who started a band playing music for weddings. His sister sadly passes away, and Mohammed stops singing. Later on, he decides to leave Gaza and try his chances for the Arab idol competition. The auditions were being held in neighboring city Cairo. 

Because of the Israeli blockade and Hamas’s authoritarian rule, travel to Egypt was not an easy deal. After purchasing a forged visa, and avoiding Hamas’s police he reaches Cairo. 

According to a Financial times interview, the true story goes like this: 

The hotel where auditions were under way had locked its doors. No more contestants welcome.
Refusing to quit, Assaf climbed the hotel’s wall and found his way to the auditions. He was too late to get an entrant’s pass for the competition, so he sat in the corridor and sang. Another contestant heard him and said, “I know I won’t reach the final, but you will”, and gave Assaf his contest number. He indeed sang his way to the finals, and the story of the golden-voiced refugee who risked all to sing on TV won hearts across the Arab world.

Nowadays, Mohammad Assaf lives in Dubai. He tours the world performing a mix of Arabic classical music and traditional folk music and pop.

The life story of Mohammad Assaf reminds us that we may be born with a great talent, but life circumstances do not always allow us to bring this gift to the world. We must persevere. Through his striving and luck, Mohammad was able to lift the spirit of millions of people in Gaza and around the world.

He says(1): “I do feel, however, that I have a responsibility towards my people to carry their voices, their dreams, their hopes to the world so they can be heard.”

Nurture your talent, persevere, never give up.