Zayn Malik hasn’t made any statements to media since he left the world-famous boy band One Direction in March. Now, he’s breaking his silence for his cover story in The Fader. 

The story, which hits newsstands in December, is available online in full. It’s worth a complete read, but a few notable passages feature The Fader’s Duncan Cooper and the British singer talking about his heritage and religion. 

Malik, whose father is from Pakistan, has caught flack for his approach to his Muslim faith (he sports many tattoos and smoked weed during the interview). In the cover story, he shares how that has impacted his public persona and the positive reception he has received from Muslims and members of the South Asian diaspora: 

“I always felt that I got some favoritism sometimes in certain places because the fans obviously want to relate to someone that’s similar to them,” he says, having consumed the spliff and moved on to a cigarette. “I’m just a normal person as well as following my religion, and doing all the normal things that everybody else does. I love music and I get tattoos and I make mistakes, and I’ve had to go through relationships and break up relationships. I feel proud that people actually look to me and can see themselves in that.” I ask if that attention makes him feel pressure to set a good example, and Zayn replies, “I don’t feel like I felt pressure ever. I always felt good that I was, like, first of my kind in what I was doing. I enjoyed that I brought the diversity. But I would never be trying to influence anything or try to stamp myself as a religious statement or portrayal of anything. I am me. I’m just doing me.”

The article also addresses Malik’s reluctance to be a culturally-influential figure, even though he has become one via his support of Palestinian independence and his openness about his faith:

Some people have expressed hope that leaving One Direction would embolden Zayn to talk more about political issues, like Islamophobia in the West, but he doesn’t seem driven to. Maybe that’s because over the past five years he’s been accused, both seriously and satirically, of causing 9/11, joining ISIS, and recruiting fans to wage jihad, or because people threatened to kill him after he tweeted #FreePalestine. I ask him if harassment is a deterrent to speaking out. “It’s not even the harassment,” he says. “I just don’t want to be influential in that sense.” Still, after hearing Zayn talk about how normal he is, I can’t help but wonder how “normal” a Muslim person would have to be in order to appease all the world’s bigots—and whether, given the impossible degree of nonthreatening-ness that seems required, how someone in Zayn’s position could ever feel safe enough to say something like, “Yes, I do want to be influential.”

Check out The Fader’s cover story on Zayn Malik here