Steven to Cat to Yusuf
by Andrea Elizabeth
I remember this song being in our Baptist hymnbook.
In the Wikipedia article about Cat Stevens‘ sudden conversion to Islam in 1977, I notice the following things.
His birth name was Steven Demetre Georgiou. His father was Greek Orthodox and his mother was Lutheran. They divorced when he was 8 and he attended Catholic school.
Somehow with that background,
While vacationing in Marrakech, Morocco, shortly after visiting Ibiza, Stevens was intrigued by the sound of the Aḏhān, the Islamic ritual call to prayer, which was explained to him as “music for God”. Stevens said, “I thought, music for God? I’d never heard that before – I’d heard of music for money, music for fame, music for personal power, but music for God!”
In 1976 Stevens nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu, California and claims to have shouted: “Oh God! If you save me I will work for you.” He says that right afterward a wave appeared and carried him back to shore. This brush with death intensified his long-held quest for spiritual truth. He had looked into “Buddhism, Zen, I Ching, Numerology, tarot cards and Astrology”. Stevens’ brother David Gordon brought him a copy of the Qur’an as a birthday gift from a trip to Jerusalem. Stevens took to it right away, and began his transition to Islam.
During the time he was studying the Qur’an, he began to identify more and more with the name of Joseph, a man bought and sold in the market place, which is how he says he had increasingly felt within the music business. Regarding his conversion, in his 2006 interview with Alan Yentob, he stated, “to some people, it may have seemed like an enormous jump, but for me, it was a gradual move to this.” And, in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, he reaffirmed this, saying, “I had found the spiritual home I’d been seeking for most of my life. And if you listen to my music and lyrics, like “Peace Train” and “On The Road To Find Out”, it clearly shows my yearning for direction and the spiritual path I was travelling.” Stevens had been seeking inner peace and spiritual answers throughout his career, and now believed he had found what he had been seeking.
Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, seems to have been somewhat naive about Islam’s corporal and capital punishments, which initially got him into trouble with statements about how the Koran’s punishment for blasphemy is death.
The singer attracted controversy in 1989, during an address to students at London’s Kingston University, where he was asked about the fatwa calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie. The media interpreted his response as support for the fatwa. Yusuf released a statement the following day denying that he supported vigilantism, and claiming that he had merely recounted the legal Islamic punishment for blasphemy. In a BBC interview, he displayed a newspaper clipping from that time period, which quotes from his statement. Subsequent comments made by him in 1989 on a British television programme were also seen as being in support of the fatwa. In a statement in the FAQ section of his web site, Yusuf asserted that he was joking and that the show was improperly edited. In the years since these comments, he has repeatedly denied ever calling for the death of Rushdie or supporting the fatwa.
This is one of the most compelling idealistic pros about Islam to me:
Yusuf himself discusses this topic on his website, saying, “It’s true that I have asked my manager to respectfully request lady presenters refrain from embracing me when giving awards or during public appearances, but that has nothing to do with my feelings or respect for them. Islam simply requires me to honour the dignity of ladies or young girls who are not closely related to me, and avoid physical intimacy, however innocent it may be.” He adds, “My four daughters all follow the basic wearing of clothes which modestly cover their God-given beauty. They’re extremely well educated; they do not cover their faces and interact perfectly well with friends and society.”
However, he lives in the more liberal environments of England and Dubai, and he is wealthy.
But this song perhaps holds the key to his initial departure,