It’s not every night that a small church in a Worthing side street is filled with Middle Eastern melodies. But this was the night when Maher Fayez, Egypt’s best-known Christian musician and worship leader and a sometime presenter on SAT-7 ARABIC, was in town. SAT-7 UK Communications Officer Lindsay Shaw seized the opportunity to hear him and chat about his approach to crafting worship.
East Worthing Baptist Church had just called an Egyptian Christian, Pastor Gadalla Nagib Tiab, as its minister. Now it was celebrating with a famous guest, joined by a large influx of Arab believers from the wider area.
As he set out chairs (with great precision!) before the concert, few would guess that this humble man has a massive audience in the Arab world. In his 20s, Mayer Fayez wrote many songs for top secular singers and became a well-known performer himself. After he gave his life to Christ, his fusion of Arabic melodies and rhythms with songs of devotion and his sparkling oud playing and heartfelt singing made Fayez one of Egypt’s best-loved Christian musicians.
For seven years, Fayez hosted a long-running SAT-7 worship show, We Will Sing. Recently he presented a theology series, Revisions. He has also featured in many live televised performances, leading thousands in praise at various conferences.
Born from experience
Maher’s songs are widely used by churches in the Arab world, but he stresses that each one has grown out of personal experience in his own walk with God.
“Within this experience, I go to the Bible to make a scripturally correct wording,” he explains. “And I create a simple tune because I go to many churches and it’s important that everyone is able to repeat and sing along with me”.
Maher agrees with Martin Luther’s observation that many people learn their theology from the hymns they sing. So a worship lyric is an important tool for teaching biblical truths.
“This is the most basic principle that I use,” he stresses. “I’ve written over 500 worship songs and they are all based on a basic theological standpoint. Martin Luther had a really close friend who was a musician and he would take the popular songs of the time and make them into spiritual songs.”
In Middle Eastern culture, adding spiritual lyrics to secular tunes wouldn’t be acceptable, he explains. So Fayez writes his own melodies to reflect Middle Eastern musical culture.
When he presented the live We Will Sing series each episode would take one psalm and, with his band, he would choose around ten songs to focus in on that.
As for the musical influences that shape his music, Fayez says he draws on a very wide variety of styles including Arabic, North African, and other Eastern genres.
“Within that wide spectrum I am able to make something that will be quite attractive to Middle Eastern ears. When I choose a beat or the keys to my songs they are taken from the secular environment.”
As a result, wherever he goes to perform in the Middle East he finds that Christians are already singing his songs because these are so much a part of their musical environment.
When he is not crossing musical or international borders, Fayez is always keen to remove barriers between different wings of the Church. His SAT-7 series Revisions brought together gifted specialists from different Christian traditions with the aim of coming to a shared understanding.
As the sound of Maher’s band members tuning and finishing their sound checks drifted into the church vestry, it was time to round off the interview.
The musician’s prayer for the evening was a simple one, he said: “That the Holy Spirit will touch people’s hearts; even if they don’t understand the words we sing, that they will hear from the Holy Spirit”.