Actor gains fame leading prayers at Hollywood mosque
By: Mohammed Bouzana
Algerian Abdul Wahab bin Youcef has gained more fame as a muezzin in a mosque in Los Angeles than as an actor who performs Muslim roles in the American movies.
Some reports say that many of the city’s Muslims come to the mosque only to hear his voice because it is so distinctive and special.
Bin Youcef, who is known by the name Ben Youcef, hopes to become one of the symbols of Arab actors in Hollywood.
Some media reports describe Abdul Wahab bin Youcef as a symbol of tolerance in America, especially after performing prayers at an interfaith event.
Bin Youcef said that his activity in the interfaith event is influential to the people in the U.S. “regardless of whether one is a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist or without religion.”
He told Alhurra TV that such work “will remain in my memory even 50 years from now, for I was able to reach people of different beliefs.”
Bin Youcef began his acting career after the September 11 attacks, participating in a number of commercials before joining the American Artists talent agency.
At that time, bin Youcef’s appearance made him appealing to a number of American directors, especially for roles related to Islam, religious extremism and other topics related to the September 11 attacks.
The head of the Artists Group, Robert Malcolm was the first to notice bin Youcef’s unique features, which suddenly became sought after in American cinema.
The actor received a call to test with a Los Angeles company. He performed a five minute scene from the play ”A Hatfull of Rain” in front of a committee. His success in that test became a real start for bin Youcef.
About the events of September 11, bin Youcef says, “The future was uncertain to me, and I wondered why people think badly about my belief. My thoughts were confused about what is going on around the world. They were attacking my beliefs and my religion.”
He added that these questions led him to “do in-depth research on many of the issues related to Islam. I stopped praying for a period of time, until I turned 20, and began praying again. Ever since, I started reciting the adhan and I feel I have found my beliefs by my own and with conviction.”
Bin Youcef is not just known for acting, he is also famous in Los Angeles’ Muslim community as a muezzin with a strong, haunting voice. He has gained the attention of many non-Muslim religious associations in the region, and has been invited to participate in activities related to interfaith dialogues.
One of those invitations enabled bin Youcef to perform the call to prayer at a Los Angeles church that gathered leader of many religions in a project that called for peace among people.
“I wanted to defend and show the world my faith,” bin Youcef said. “I wanted to tell people that Islam is a beautiful religion, but some people have misunderstood it and misused it, just as a Christian may misuse Christianity”.
Some U.S. media reports about bin Youcef’s acting talent focused on him being a muezzin with a special voice and performance.
“I consider myself a tool used in the service of God and I’m so happy,” bin Youcef said. “I am just lucky because I do so but I am not special. I consider it a gift from God.”
“I consider Adhan [call to prayer] to be the only moment that I reach a great purity,” he added. “My aim is not to be a leader or in the foreground, but I just want to perform my religious duty like any ordinary person, and I am not seeking more than this.”
Bin Youcef acknowledges that “conciliation between being a Muslim and my work as an actor in Hollywood is very challenging. It requires a huge effort, but the challenge is ongoing.”
He believes that people in Hollywood “are not on the same level of perceiving a person and his culture. I think that some directors prefer to work on more humane aspects and to address the issues with greater positivity.”
“In Hollywood there is the good, evil and ugly, you just need to choose who to work with,” he said. “So I always prefer to work with those who look at things positively.”
Bin Youcef is known for performances that are mostly related to extremism and Islam.
He talked about the atmosphere that has prevailed lately in the United States and the way Americans look at Islam and Muslims.
“It was painful for me and I was confused about what can I do, because things were not clear,” he said. “I refused to do some roles that are against my culture.”
From his point of view, bin Youcef believes there is still much to do to fulfill his desire to deliver a message to Americans that Islam, as a religion, is not the cause of all kinds of extremism and terrorism.
“I think I did a bit of it,” he said. “In a show about terrorism, the scene of my testimony in a court was strong and influential, and people knew then that the issue of involvement in terrorism is more complex than they thought. I believe that there are things other than those associated with just being a Muslim in America.”
The trial scene is from the TV show series “Law and Order” during which bin Youcef’s character attempts to exonerate himself from the charge of conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States by trying to implicate two Muslims to carry out the operations instead of him.
Despite what he describes as the difficulties faced by being a Muslim in Hollywood, bin Youcef remembers the will of his father, a retired diplomat, about the pride of the Algerian and Arabic origins, which he says was one of the secrets of his success.
“Ever since I was young, my father told me as long as you always remember who you are and where you come from, you will be fine but if you forgot, you will be in real trouble,” bin Youcef said. “I consider this a rule in my life.”