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Cat Stevens Breaks His Silence

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  • Islamic News and Information Network
    Assalamu alaikum, Cat Stevens Breaks His Silence ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2000

      Cat Stevens Breaks His Silence

      Religious awakenings and conversions are nothing new. From Martin Luther
      to Mohammad Ali, in one sense or another they have helped create and
      define our nation. Yet when Cat Stevens, the tremendously popular British
      singer/songwriter, gave up the life of a music superstar to become Yusuf
      Islam, the most private of personal decisions became something to mock and
      ultimately to scorn stateside.

      For more than a decade, Islam's name has been mud for "endorsing" the
      Ayatollah's fatwa against author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic
      Verses. If you're enamored with the notion of an endless scavenger hunt,
      try to find that endorsement somewhere in writing. As happens, with the
      passing of time fiction become fact, myth becomes legend. A backlash
      ensued. 10,000 Maniacs pulled Stevens' "Peace Train" from In My Tribe. His
      songs were banned from radio and his religious beliefs publicly ridiculed.

      Meanwhile, Islam quietly worked to a number of charitable ends in his
      native London. He released a number of albums that sold quite well
      internationally, though they received little attention in the States. But
      it's a new century, and Yusuf Islam is back in the news. Universal is in
      the process of launching a complete reissue program of his catalogue with
      the prospects of a box set later in the year. VH1 is trying to land him
      for an episode of Behind the Music. And he's covering America on a
      speaking tour that just might clear the air of a decade's worth of rumor.

      Was there a particular reason for your recent U.S. speaking tour?

      My reason for coming to the U.S. is to reconnect with my fans, those who
      feel I turned my back and who deserve an explanation. There are many
      people who also want me to visit their communities and I enjoy that
      greatly, meeting and sharing thoughts and, of course, enjoying wonderful

      Your religious conversion seems so basic, yet people's reactions were
      hyper-critical. Why do you think there was so little understanding?

      When I accepted Islam, a lot of people couldn't understand. To my fans it
      seemed that my entering Islam was the direct cause of me leaving the music
      business, so many people were upset. However, 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 Findout," it clearly
      shows my yearning for direction and the spiritual path I was travelling.

      The Rushdie fatwa incident seems to be accepted as fact here, despite the
      fact that no one seems able to cite your endorsement of it. How did this
      rumor start?

      I'm very sad that this seems to be the No. 1 question people want to
      discuss. I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media
      created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. So, after many
      years, I'm glad at least now that I have been given the opportunity to
      explain to the public and fans my side of the story in my own words. At a
      lecture, back in 1989, I was asked a question about blasphemy according to
      Islamic Law, I simply repeated the legal view according to my limited
      knowledge of the Scriptural texts, based directly on historical
      commentaries of the Qur'an. The next day the newspaper headlines read,
      "Cat Says, Kill Rushdie." I was abhorred, but what could I do? I was a new
      Muslim. If you ask a Bible student to quote the legal punishment of a
      person who commits blasphemy in the Bible, he would be dishonest if he
      didn't mention Leviticus 24:16.

      The backlash here was particularly fierce. Albums were banned, songs
      pulled from albums.

      For years after that, I have been viewed as someone capable of saying such
      words and doing such things, which I never actually said or did! The fact
      is I have always held strong humanitarian views; I always stood for the
      elimination of conflict and wars, and any of those causes that ignite
      them. One only has to view my music and all the charitable efforts I've
      been involved in since I left the music business and even before that. To
      quote one of my lyrics, "Why must we go on hating? Why can't we live in
      bliss?" But it seems some people were intent to damage my character, they
      tried to trap me and paint me into a box, taking what I said out of
      context. This was very hurtful. As for banning my music and records, it
      seems my "freedom of speech" was not quite as free as that of others --
      except when what I said was totally distorted. If anyone had just
      sincerely reached out to me and asked me for the truth -- none of this
      would be an issue today and I would not have been disconnected with the
      public for so long. Perhaps some journalists and a few DJs made a bit of a
      career out of blowing this up out of proportion.

      Did you ever think about issuing a statement to clear up misconceptions
      about the incident?

      I issued a statement myself to clear up the misinformation, but the truth
      never made the headlines. My statement was almost entirely ignored -- and
      thus the myth was perpetuated. Various things were said, such as the
      fictitious report about me living in Tehran and begging on the streets!
      When I had never left my home in England, even up to today I still have
      never stepped foot in Iran.

      Did you consider taking legal action?

      Legal action was never considered; in retrospect, perhaps it should have
      been. But going through the legal system just prolongs the issue and I
      wanted to distance myself and move on. Unfortunately, this "distance" also
      removed me from my fans. But those were the days when I didn't have a
      manager or any real connection to the music business. In retrospect, I
      could have handled it better with a bit of help. But I was trying to avoid
      further confrontation.

      The accusations seem to ignore your various charity works.

      After a lot of heartfelt searching, I set about using my talent to produce
      books and recordings that would explain Islam in a more honest and
      accurate way. I couldn't just sit back and just watch all this bad news
      being written. I know how wonderful Islam is and how it has affected my
      life and enlightened me; it was clear that many people were getting the
      wrong message. My first album after seventeen years of silence was
      released in 1995 entitled, The Life of The Last Prophet. To date it has
      sold over 300,000 copies. For those who have heard it, I believe it has
      made a difference. As far as my charity work is concerned, it is part of
      my faith as a Muslim to try to help those who are suffering from poverty
      or economic or political injustice. It's very difficult to ignore
      humanitarian disasters, such as we've seen in Bosnia, Kosova and
      Mozambique. The royalties from my albums continue to support my charity
      work. At the present time we're looking after thousands of orphans who are
      the innocent victims of recent wars. We are trying to help those who have
      survived and have no parents, we can't do anything about those who have
      been killed.

      How has this affected your view of the United States? Has the rest of the
      world been kinder?

      I enjoy visiting the U.S. There is a sense of optimism and openness, which
      if utilized correctly can help humanity to achieve great goals. I feel
      that Americans would like their lives to be more spiritual -- I read
      somewhere that eighty-two percent believe in God -- but the
      social-economic pressures are against that happening; the pursuit of
      wealth and commercialism often ends up distracting them from their higher
      purpose. I know, because that's what personally happened to me.

      You seem to be in a comfort zone with family, your art and charity work.
      Is life today better than in the Seventies?

      Although I am not touring or playing 40,000 seat stadiums anymore, I have
      never been busier with my charities, schools and various other children's
      causes. My family is extremely important to me and I try to spend much of
      my time with them. As I grow older, life's blessings become clearer. The
      more God gives, the more thankful I try to be. Thankfulness leads to
      contentment, and contentment is another word for happiness.

      Did you enjoy going back through your old work with these Cat Stevens

      I am more mature now, and so is my attitude, I've managed to make peace
      with my past, as my past is making peace with me. I think there is a sense
      of mutuality for both artistic phases of my life. My present work is very
      important to me, but there are still many people who appreciate my
      previous work. A lot of my records still stand up today. I am sometimes
      surprised at the poetic content of some of the songs and say, "Did I write
      that?" Some songs like, "Sitting" and "100 I Dream" carry important
      meanings which still resonate.

      What are your thoughts on the albums? Do you think they've aged well?

      Albums, like children, all have something different to say and are equally
      valid. However, due to the way life goes, some grow bigger, some die, some
      are good and some are not quite so. It's all part of my history, my views
      of life and the lifestyle of my generation. The fact that my son listens
      to my records and appreciates them shows that they still hold up today.
      Some of the messages are timeless.

      I heard it was upon hearing some Bosnian music that you felt inspired to
      record again.

      Bosnia was a tragedy which shook everyone. Looking at what was happening
      in the center of Europe: there was another genocide happening. I really
      wanted to do something. At one point I had met the Foreign Minister of
      Bosnia and Herzegovina during a trip he made to London. Dr. Irfan happened
      to be a fan of mine in the old days. We had a very nice evening together.
      Half way through our meeting he put a cassette into my hand and said,
      "Listen to this, it's my song." The song was called, "I Have No Cannons
      That Roar."

      After that evening I was left with this cassette. Very soon after that I
      heard the news that he was killed -- he was shot down in a helicopter
      above Bosnia while making a trip to his home in Bihac. My heart dropped!
      Suddenly, I remembered this cassette. I felt I had to do something. At
      that time I was listening to tapes of songs coming out of Bosnia, very
      inspiring songs full of spirit and hope. I realized I should put an album
      together and I wrote a couple of songs for the album. One was called,
      "Mother, Father, Sister, Brother" and another song which I sang for the
      album was called "The Little Ones" and was dedicated to the children of
      Sarajevo and Dunblane.

      Do you feel there is less pressure to write and record now?

      I only write and record when I feel there is a subject which needs to be
      focused on. The latest album which I have completed is called, A is for
      Allah. Conveniently, the name of God begins with "A" in Arabic. This is in
      fact the first song I wrote after becoming a Muslim, it was written at the
      birth of my first child, Hasanah, who was born in 1980. The idea was to
      teach my little girl that before everything, "A" is for Allah, the Lord of
      the universe, and that everything else that we love and cherish in this
      world -- including apples -- originate from His kindness and generosity to
      us. The album is also accompanied by a colourful book which shows lots of
      pictures. It goes through the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet,
      touching on the foundations of faith and trying to develop childrens'
      moral consciousness. It also has songs and short sections of the Qur'an.
      Maybe if faith and morals are once again taught to our kids at a young
      age, we can prevent such tragic incidents like the recent fatal shooting
      of a six-year-old by a classmate in Michigan.

      There has been a lot of talk lately about a Cat Stevens Behind the Music.
      Is it going to happen?

      VH1 is still under discussion. It could help blow away some of those myths
      and erroneous stories that have circulated for years. Something tells me I
      should still be careful about the tendency of TV to reduce life into a
      convenient "box shape." Although it will be difficult to capture my entire
      life in a short television special, I hope people will finally realize
      that my life didn't change as much as it developed, and I always continued
      to be an artist. I made a choice to actively try to make a difference in
      the world, just as I wrote and sang about.

      People did seem stunned by Cat Stevens' retirement. Do you have any
      regrets about the way in which you converted?

      The only regret I have, is that the communication which existed between
      those who listened to my songs and me ceased to exist. For a long time I
      lost that privileged link of communication by cutting myself off from the
      music business. I hope my coming out to speak will help rectify that -- if
      God wills. I would like those who followed my music to know my lifestyle
      and to know me as I am today without the rumors and prejudices that were
      created about me. If you want to know me, then listen to my music,
      especially my lyrics, they mostly revolve around peace and humanity. That
      hasn't changed -- they are still the things I believe in.

      (June 14, 2000)

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