Zayn Malik opens up about his Muslim background and being profiled at airports

"They kept me there for three hours, questioning me," he said of one trip.

ByABC News
June 21, 2017, 10:26 AM

— -- Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik admitted in a new interview that it's extremely hard for him to go anywhere in the world without being mobbed by screaming fans.

The star's music career and the fact that he's dating Gigi Hadid, one of the most famous models in the world, make it tough to "be anonymous now," he told The Evening Standard.

Malik, 24, was born in the U.K. and raised Muslim by his parents. His father is from Pakistan, and his mother converted to Islam after their marriage. Malik said his background is something he takes "a great sense of pride — and responsibility — in."

"I'm not currently practicing, but I was raised in the Islamic faith, so it will always be with me," he said. "I identify a lot with the culture. But I'm just me. I don't want to be defined by my religion or my cultural background."

Malik said that in the early days of touring with One Direction, he was profiled at airports.

"The first time I came to America, I had three security checks before I got on the plane. First, they said that I'd been randomly selected, and then they said it was something to do with my name — it was flagging something on their system," he recalled.

When he landed in the States, things didn't get any better, he said.

"It was like a movie," Malik said. "They kept me there for three hours, questioning me about all kinds of crazy stuff. I was 17, my first time in America, jet-lagged off the plane, confused. The same thing happened the next time too."

Still, the singer said he understands the "level of caution" and realizes that there's no "benefit to getting angry."

Malik isn't the first high-profile Muslim star to speak out about being profiled by authorities.

"Rogue One" star Riz Ahmed penned an essay last year for The Guardian on his experience being "typecast as a terrorist" on- and offscreen.

"Although my U.S. airport experience is smoother [after stardom], I still get stopped before boarding a plane at Heathrow every time I fly to the U.S. But now I find it hilarious rather than bruising," Ahmed wrote.

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