For Egyptian-American musician Raef Haggag, faith and patriotism go hand in hand.
“Being an American and being a Muslim are both, for me at least, important parts of my identity,” Haggag says. “I honestly believe that being a better Muslim makes me a better American.” His belief fueled a musical project that is bringing him renown.
Haggag’s debut album in 2014, The Path, features “Home,” a song that has attracted more than 300,000 YouTube views. The song showcases the contributions made to the country by immigrants like his parents and people of all religions and backgrounds.
“What made America great as a country is our diversity, our ethnic diversity, our religious diversity,” he says. “We are a nation built by immigrants, and I think that we should be very proud of that.”
He wants to remind Americans and people everywhere in the world of this history.
In at least one part of the world far from Haggag’s Maryland home, that musical message gets through loud and clear. Indonesians make up his largest fan base. Since his album was released, he has toured Indonesia a dozen times. “There are a lot of similarities between Indonesian society and American society that I didn’t expect,” he explains, “an atmosphere of tolerance, diversity and a love of the arts.”
Haggag, 33, earned a degree in computer science and afterwards taught programming in Maryland secondary schools until 2013.
But while teaching, the singer and guitarist also played in a band. When the band was offered a big opportunity — Voices for Change, a Muslim American Society initiative, asked it to join a tour — Haggag took a break from teaching to play music.
“Before, music for me was just a hobby … people had never really heard of me,” he said. But that tour “put me on a national platform.”
Today, Haggag is working on a second album, which he plans to release in 2017. But, perhaps because of his teaching experience, his goals also include mentoring other musicians, holding workshops and creating music-sharing platforms.
“We are in the middle of creating our own culture, enriched by our faith,” Haggag said. “It’s an exciting time to be a Muslim American.”