Editing Floor Blues
I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord! Please don't let me be misunderstood.
Over the years, since becoming a Muslim, I have been accused of saying and doing things I have neither said nor done. Stories spread from person to person, whether intentionally or not, the result is that some people are led into thinking I am connected to causes I don’t believe in or subscribe to.
Now that I’m back singing again, I continue to be chased by certain words emanating from the pens of less than friendly commentators, perpetuating myths which many mistake as facts. Unfortunately, these fables tend to affect people’s opinions about me and my work for peace and better human understanding.
So to avoid relying on whispers or hearsay, here’s a chance to glance at what I have to say first-hand about some of those controversial issues people tried to tag me with – past and present – as well as a chance to reprise some of my old lyrics.
Even as Cat Stevens, I always had some problem with the way the media would sometimes exaggerate my words and blow up their own stories. Unflattering pictures and crass headlines are all part of the hype of music biz which every artist often accepts. Being projected ‘larger-than-life’ is part of the terms and nature of entertainment; it’s the necessary price one pays for being famous, I suppose.
When I left the music business, it was due to the miraculous fact that I had found a most profound spiritual connection which united all my beliefs and highest hopes, a religion which means to be ‘at peace with God’ – Islam. I had been given a copy of the Qur’an which taught me about faith in the One and only God of this immeasurably magnificent universe. It continuously mentioned stories and lessons from the seamless history of humanity as a whole. Jesus, Moses, Abraham and many other prophets were frequently quoted, as were the references from The Gospel and Torah.
Far from the foreign, Arab-centric book I expected, the Qur’an presented a belief in absolute, universal human values, without discriminating against race or colour, ‘And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours’ *
The real value of a human being is in their character, ‘The best of people are the most God-conscious’ ** ‘Whoever does good whether male or female and has faith, We shall cause them to have a happy life…’ *** So it was not exclusivist, acknowledging natural differences and the vision of cultures and faiths co-existing at the same time. That was certainly news to me!
Perhaps it was because I was unable to instantly explain this incredible discovery, that my choice of faith looked oddly out of step with my previous track record. But I wasn’t too worried about that; people would get to understand, gradually, I thought. After all, everybody knew I was ‘on the road to findout’ – why should anybody deny me ever finding out?
Admittedly, my exit from the music world was quite a dramatic one. Maybe if I’d written a song and sung about it, reactions might have been different. Unfortunately, my departure naturally played into the hands of the heat-seeking journalists. Couple this with my choice in those days of the relatively unknown faith of Islam – historically suspect from an ‘educated’ Western point of view – and we have the elements for a great new burst of imaginative and misleading stories.
Although Islam wasn’t front page news at the time I embraced it in 1977, you don’t need a PhD to understand that the religion didn’t court as many fans in the West as Cat Stevens did. And for that reason, this poor old chap and his faithful Moonshadow were doomed to suffer a serious demotion in status. Plainly speaking: ‘blacklisted’.
Now I have decided to write and sing out for a peaceful world again, perhaps it might be too late for some people to change their perception or preconceptions – old habits die hard and some headlines are difficult to erase. But my intention right now is to help people understand what truth lingers in the shadows behind some of those frightening yarns and tales which have been spun about me.
I wrote a song called Editing Floor Blues describing how the truth usually ends up on the floor of the editor’s office. The answers you’ll find here shed light on many of those truths you usually don’t get to see or hear…
‘Where And When Was He Born?’
I was born July 21st, 1948 in London and named Stephen Demetre Georgiou. I adopted the name Cat Stevens in 1965 and later changed it to Yusuf Islam on 4th July 1978. It’s interesting thing to note that I was born during the days of the full Moon on the 14th of Ramadan, 1397, according to the Islamic Lunar calendar.
Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow,
‘Cat Stevens Has Become A Monk?’
I never underwent any religious ordination; I never belonged to a religious sect or religious group – but simply became a Muslim, got married and withdrew from the music business.
In the past some people were told I’d become a Buddhist and was living far away in some distant mountain Monastery. As for those who got the religion right and heard correctly that I’d embraced Islam, they somehow managed to still get it wrong. One American tabloid decided to print a whole story about me giving all my money away to mosques and begging with a bowl on the streets of Tehran!
The report originated from some spurious Italian article which claimed that I gave my wealth away and I was making daily pilgrimages between Qom and Tehran. We promptly sued them; this made them look a little closer at the facts. They finally did a bit of investigation and found out I’d never even visited Iran. They settled out of court (the money went to charity) and then rewrote another article putting the facts right and talking about my work in education and the schools I helped establish in London, where I’d been living comfortably with my family for years.
Old world, goodbye
I’ll be home in the sky in the morning.
(Home in the Sky)
‘Yusuf Islam Teaches in an Islamic School?’
Never have I taken a teaching post – nothing would petrify me more. I leave that very important job to the professionals.
After having three children within the first four years of my marriage, education was at the top of my agenda. So I helped establish three schools for Muslim pupils in London, the first being a Primary school which opened in 1983. This was followed by a girls’ then a boys’ secondary school, all of which teach the British National Curriculum. These days, our schools often top the National League Tables within the local Borough due to excellent exam results.
As founder and Patron over the years I have been involved with obtaining voluntary-aided status and grants from the British Government similar to other faiths, like Christian and Jewish denominations. Historically, our primary school was the first Muslim School to receive such status in Great Britain.
I’m like him – just like you
I can’t tell you what to do
Like everybody else
I’m searching through what I’ve heard
‘Does Yusuf Islam Oppose Freedom of Speech?’
I believe the freedoms given by laws such as the First Amendment are incredibly compatible with Islam and its principles, if they’re not abused.
The notion that faith and the issue of freedom of speech are incompatible is something people will continue to argue about. There is perhaps fairly good a reason due to a still rather unresolved paradox. It goes like this –
If, as citizens we are given freedom of speech, then why is freedom of speech considered unlawful or undemocratic when voiced by a [religious] believing citizen, where no crime has been committed? Put another way, if people are free to believe in an unseen God and His Divine message to mankind, providing no laws of state are broken, why should such freedom to express that be denied? Why, for instance, can’t we generously accept and follow the whole of the spirit of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech
or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The historic First Amendment stated above was written because at America’s inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. People and generations who had been fleeing religious persecution in Europe, wanted to secure their rights to hold a belief other than whatever the future government of the country decide or hold to be true. Interestingly, it was also Morocco, a Muslim State, which historically became the first country to recognize the sovereignty of the United States in 1777.
The right of citizens to hold a belief in the Bible as well as the Qur’an, to uphold the Ten Commandments and to practice one’s faith in peace without harming others, is a hallmark of a true open, multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Indeed, this is the nature of an Islamic society – and not an exclusively Muslim one!
A cursory study of the golden age of Islam in Spain is example enough of how religious tolerance and co-existence was practiced in the past. In fact, we don’t have to look further than the original model of the Prophet’s city, Madinah, where Christians and Jews lived and played a full part in the society and were encouraged to live according to their own Scriptures and laws.
To safeguard the peace and security of the multi-religious society, Islam wisely prohibits the vilification of what people hold sacred, in order that people do not vilify or mock God the Almighty in return. There are also many examples in Islamic history where the Prophet of Islam did not respond to insults and mockery, but simply carried on calling people to faith and good deeds. That, I believe, is the right Islamic response in a country where Freedom of Speech is practiced and valued.
It is really up to Western-born Muslims to help more people understand the incredible tolerance and peaceful message this faith has to offer. This, in fact, is the actual policy I tried to adopt following the controversy about the place of censorship and blasphemy in the modern Western State; I set about to provide a truer and more accurate picture of the Prophet of Islam to balance the awful slurs made against him in books, on TV and the press and media generally.
One of the benefits – if we look at it as such – of the whole episode, is the motivation the whole issue gave in inspiring me to go back into the recording studio again and reconnect and communicate directly with no third party or barrier between me and those who are willing to hear what I have to say.
Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are
(If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out)
‘Did Yusuf Slam The Pope?’
I never attacked Pope Benedict XVI but respectfully offered advice and other materials to assist understanding the Faith of Islam
During a Sunday Morning interview on BBC TV, I was asked about my view on the controversial statement made by the Pope, in which he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor and his extremely hostile view of Islam. I stated my respect for his position as head of the Catholic Church and simply suggested that the quote which he chose was inappropriate and offered another by Mahatma Gandhi, whose interpretation of Islam was much more peaceful.
In Young India, he [Mahatma Gandhi] wrote:
I become more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won
a place for Islam in those days. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter
self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his
intense devotion to his friends and followers and his intrepidity, his
fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These, and
not the sword, carried everything before them and surmounted every
I also sent the Pontiff a copy of my audio/book The Life of the Last Prophet. My intention is to inform more people about Islam and its links to Christianity and Judaism, through telling the life and story of the man sent to represent it; hoping that this will advance the understanding and dialogue between people of the great faiths of Islam and Christianity, leading towards a more enlightened future of peace and co-existence.
In addition, affably, along with the audio/book package, I added a CD with a song recorded from my latest album called, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Something I thought the Pope might connect with and appreciate at this time – with the best of respects.
If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
(Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood)*
*Warner/Chappell Music, written by Benjamin, Marcus, Caldwell
'What is His Song Longer Boats About?'
In the late 60’s, due to the successful landing of a man on the moon (which happened coincidently on my 21st birthday) there was a lot of talk and speculation about UFOs.
I wrote the song as a plea for human unity in face of external (possibly extra-terrestrial) threats. There was also a lyrical inference to say that we should look closer at the beautiful and mystical nature of the earth, and watch out for adopting inherited wisdoms from people who claimed to be masters of the high, moral ground.
I don’t want a ‘god’ (statue or false image) on my lawn
Just a flower, I can help long
For the soul of nobody knows,
How a flower grows – how does a flower grow?
True, I gave interviews sometimes and talked about UFOs with passion, but that was partly due to my wish in making the interview more interesting. My apologies.
But in another way, the image of ‘longer boats’, in my mind, reminds you of the Vikings and the ships they conquered Britain with. A hint of how we perceive aliens who have different customs to us – thankfully, my mother was Scandinavian, so I never really shook listening to such stories.
Longer boats are coming to win us
They’re coming to win us; they’re coming to win us
Longer boats are coming to win us
Hold on to the shore, they’ll be taking the key from the door
'Didn’t He State Music is an Affront to Allah?'
Never did I ever state that I believed music was objected to by God; or that I had given it up forever.
Interestingly, the word ‘music’ is not to be found anywhere in the Qur’an and there is no such word ever used by the Prophet in his authentic sayings*. However, there are many different opinions, and valid ones at that, about music which indicates that it is not to be taken as a hard and fast question of faith, but is simply a matter of fiqh (juristic interpretations regarding rules of life) – over which scholars may legitimately differ**.
When I embraced Islam on 23rd December, 1977, I was still making records. After informing the chief Imam at London’s Central Mosque of my work in music, he encouraged me to continue composing and recording.
Nevertheless, it didn’t take long to realise that apart from the creative side, there were many other aspects about the music industry which infringed negatively on the Islamic way of life so I simply decided to give up the music business. As a new Muslim this allowed me to concentrate fully on learning and practising Islam, getting married starting a family and returning back to look after my parents.
In the first interview I ever gave to a Muslim magazine back in 1980, I was asked about my thoughts on music, I said in reply:
I have suspended my activities in music for fear that they may divert me from the
true path, but I will not be dogmatic in saying that I will never make music again.
You can’t say that without adding, ‘Insha Allah’ (if God Wishes).
The Muslim, May – June, 1980
There were many Muslims offering me advice and telling me their opinions about all sorts of issues, some were very convincing. Nevertheless, legitimate variant opinions exist on all sides dealing with the subject of music. When closely studying the details of Prophetic evidences, there are many which point to the possibility of wide-ranging conclusions. Now, after having studied the subject for more than a quarter of a century, I can say that it is certainly not as black and white as some have tried to make it out to be.
In Islam, as with religion and life generally, there always will be room for cultural and artistic expression. Some of the most beautiful works of art in human history have been lovingly dedicated in praise of the Divine. Their enjoyments are part of the gifts given to mankind by the Creator. As we read in the Qur’an itself:
Say: Who has forbidden the beauteous (gifts) of God, which He has produced for His worshippers, and the pure and clean provisions? Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, and purely for them on the Day of Judgement. Thus do We explain the Signs in detail for those who understand.
Music is part of God’s universe. We need all sorts of nourishment and music fulfils and satisfies the hunger we all experience and the need for harmony and aesthetic beauty to decorate our daily lives, particularly when times are hard.
Sometimes songs are vital in keeping people’s spirits high in times of trial and hardship. This understanding was brought home to me when I listened to the inspiring cassettes coming out of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990’s after the onslaught of the genocide against Muslims; a turning point in my understanding of the need for music in certain conditions and times.
Sweet Music can lighten us
Can brighten the world, can save us
*There are some references to musical instruments in certain reported sayings, but the definition is not clear as to exactly what instruments the word, ‘ma’azif’ (the word quoted in the Hadith) refers to in the most authentic source, Al-Bukhari. Apart from the fact that the chain of authority for this Hadith is broken, it is well known that the Prophet allowed the drum and even the flute to be played in his presence without ordering them to be broken or destroyed, so it leaves a question open. The Hadith referenced here also mentions ‘silk’ as being amongst other prohibited articles, however, every scholar knows that silk is not completely forbidden and there are allowances for ladies to use it freely as well as for medical reasons; buying and selling silk and using certain amounts for ornament and decoration are also allowed.
**Fatwas are usually made and issued by scholars in cases like these where such issues are not clear cut and are ambiguous.
‘How Does Yusuf Feel About His Old Songs Now?’
I once wrote to the record companies asking them to stop selling my albums. But this was a radical reaction based on the harsh criticism I was experiencing at the time from the press and media in general. But I fully appreciate now how my songs and words have brought hope to many to see life in a positive light.
Today, my songs of the past represent a very important and dynamic period of my life and stand as a record of my innermost spiritual hopes and inspired dreams. Inspiration has always been a sublimely mysterious experience. My song, ‘The Wind’ makes reference to that mysterious form of inner-journey, which takes place beneath the surface of our conscious thoughts.
Not all my songs were ‘spiritual’, but so long as the words stay within moral limits and do not direct people towards harming themselves or others, there is nothing wrong with them per se. Much of my royalties from previous music was and still is distributed to charitable causes.
It’s also clear that my songs have helped many people over the years. I have received many emails and letters from people of all faiths, explaining how my songs and words have brought comfort and hope and the ability to see life in a positive light again – for that I am eternally grateful to the Power above:”
As for the blessings of your Lord, express them [aloud]!
The Qur’an: ‘The Morning Light’ (93), verse 11
Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
(Road To Findout )
‘Why was He Turned Away From USA?’
In 2004, my daughter and I were detained upon our arrival into the USA. It was the height of the post 911 tensions and my name had been added to certain watchlists. No reason was ever given, but being asked to repeat the spelling of my name again and again made me think it was a fairly simple mistake of identity. Rumours which circulated after made me imagine otherwise.
In the end I’ll know,
But on the way I wonder
(On The Road To Findout)
‘Does He Support Terrorism?’
Like all right-minded people, I absolutely condemn all acts of terrorism, including the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. The actions of the terrorists were completely un-Islamic and against the teachings and example of the Prophet. It’s everybody’s responsibility to make this world a safer, more peaceful place.
I do believe that some people in the West have a hard time today in decoding the spiritual message of peace which exists behind certain bloodcurdling events and headlines which are branded abroad in the name of Islam. There are obviously minority elements amongst certain quarters, both Muslim and non-Muslim, which actually go out to misinterpret the facts and pass by the true shining principles of this religion.
Out of one billion peace-loving Muslims, some vociferous extremists, unfortunately, have helped to confirm some people’s worst fears. I feel sorry for that. It’s grossly unfair for the vast majority of humankind who still have yet to benefit from what this wonderful spiritual code of life (Islam – or ‘entry to peace with God’) can offer.
I was among the first Muslims to publicly express my sorrow and objections to the atrocious attacks against innocent victims of 9/11 and 7/7. No right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: the Qur’an – as with the Old Testament – equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of “the whole of humanity.”
In my statement printed widely at the time, I said:
We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act
of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims
and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims at this
Half of the royalties from my box set released in 2001 went to September 11 charities and I performed Peace Train projected live at a solidarity concert at New York’s Radio City Hall.
The real enemy we face is ignorance. We must all be careful not to join the ranks of that army. We must warn of the hazards that this terrifying event could produce as a tool for some dangerous ideologists to promote increased intolerance and hostility against more civilian bystanders; this would equal the mentality which caused two previously devastating world wars. Patience, therefore, is called for by all influential quarters, particularly politicians and media.
Peace train take this Country
Come, take me home again
‘Is It True Yusuf Islam Supported Hamas?’
I have never knowingly supported Hamas or directed money to them; and use my charity worldwide to help victims of war and natural disasters, particularly children and orphans.
Although it has never been officially acknowledged, it has been reported that the reason I was not allowed entry into the USA in September, 2004, was because of reports via Israeli media sources that I was a supporter of Hamas. The truth is I never knowingly supported the activities of any organisation called Hamas, and would even find it impossible, even today, to say I personally know anyone who claims to be a member of it – let alone when I visited the Holy Land back in the late eighties.
The ‘source’ of the accusation I presume must go back to the my second visit to the Holy Land in 1988 as a member of a British Muslim delegation to investigate for ourselves what was being witnessed by the world on TV, and distribute small amounts of charity.
On the news, we’d all seen footage of the Israeli soldiers openly breaking the bones of young Palestinians and harshly beating women and children. The world looked on, outraged by these unforgettable images. As far as I and many like me were concerned, the Intifada was a generic name given to a resistance from the people of Palestine themselves. ‘Hamas’ at that time was a name unknown to me! *
The trip was arranged by people in London who had contacts in Jerusalem and other Palestinian areas; I had no idea any of our guides had any links to any movement. But according to the viewpoint of the Israeli authorities, whenever a person feels sorry for the poor victims of occupation including orphans, the disabled, widows and medical cases, if you try to help give charity to them – be warned, you may be considered a terrorist!
I was at that time the Chairman of Muslim Aid, a UK registered charity, which I resigned from in 1999. The organisation’s policy was to deliver humanitarian relief to the most deserving. Every charity worker knows what it’s like in a time of crisis, you certainly don’t have time nor ability to distinguish which needy child’s father or brother belongs to this or that affiliation – that would defeat the whole concept and motivation behind delivering humanitarian aid which drives charity work.
I wish I knew the mystery of
That thing called hate, and that thing called love
What makes the in-between so rough?
(I Wish, I Wish)
*I subsequently learnt that back in 1988 the Israeli government and authorities had not even defined Hamas as a terrorist Group, and in fact, they had been – even though indirectly – supporting that movement through its social and charitable activities as an opposition to Arafat’s PLO Party. Also, it is important to mention that there was no military aspect to the organisation at that early stage during our British Muslim visit.
‘Didn’t Yusuf Islam Have An Arranged Marriage?’
I had two prospective girls I was interested in marrying, one a new convert from America and the other from a traditional Muslim family. I invited them to meet my mother and then asked her opinion. She told me her preference and I agreed.
I had no intimate relationship with either before marriage. Therefore, to Western standards and my own previous track record, this was a stark departure from the norm. Nevertheless, the old fashioned custom of respect and modesty between sexes has tremendous benefits in making marriages last.
The Prophet said there are four things a person marries for: Wealth, Beauty, Lineage or Faith, and the successful one is the one chosen for Faith (although the other qualities may already be present – of course). This wisdom is one I followed and the happiness and peace I found, incalculable. My wife’s name is Fauzia, which itself means, ‘success’.
I’m looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will help me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed
‘How Many Children Does Yusuf Have?
The answer is that my wife and I have five children, our last child, a son (the sixth, Abd Al-Ahad Ahmad), died after thirteen days due to a fatal heart ailment*. Today I am the proud daddy of four girls, and one son (and now a granddaddy at last!)
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while
(Oh Very Young)
*According to Islam, children are born sinless, and if they die before the age of puberty are not responsible fully for their actions and go direct to Heaven.
‘Do Yusuf Islam’s Daughters Wear the Veil?’
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.
A beautifully modest expression of Islamic dress is one of the things which attracted me to my wife in the first place. She too does not veil her face but adopts the normal traditional approach to covering her hair in public and for places and times of worship. My daughters all followed her example.
Indeed, my wife was a teacher of dress and fashion design (you’d be surprised to know what these ladies wear when in ladies-only company!) The restriction to see a woman’s beauty and form is only for males who are not closely related. Uncles, sons, nephews, etc. all are accepted as close family and there is no restriction with them.
The styles of dress and covering adopted by men and women in various parts of the world may differ. African dress style is different from Asian and Arabian, for instance. The basic reason for the Divine guideline of dress is to preserve the love and affection of husbands and wives within the privacy of the family; and to maintain a high level of dignity and respect for the opposite sex.
I too believe that the mode of dress should not make people’s heads turn. The idea of wearing something that identifies oneself as ultra-liberal or ultra-religious, could be taken as immoderate, which is not what I consider to be the spirit of what God prefers. However, there is a balance which must be maintained. There is a saying that ‘God is beautiful, and He loves beauty’. The only difference we experience here is one of definition: what is beautiful? Some may say that modesty itself is an expression of true, inner beauty.
As far as enjoying the beauties and fascinations of life are concerned, Islam connects these to the functions of promoting moderation in all things. As the Qur’an says:
O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place
of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for God loves not the extravagant.
The Qur’an, The Heights (7), verse 31
I know many fine-feathered friends
But their friendliness depends on how you do
‘Do You Have Any Information about Yusuf’s Charities?’
My charitable work is currently channelled through my Global Peacetrain Initiative which operates according to its central mission: to feed the hungry and spread peace.*
Peacetrain works with selected partners around the world, supporting people as they take responsibility for their own lives and the environment around them. Peace can never be tasted by those people whose stomachs are empty, struggling for the most basic of human needs. We also build solar-wells to support agriculture in remote villages as well as environmentally-friendly children’s playgrounds. Throughout its activities we try to create opportunities which advance peace-building, ensuring that we steam forwards together across all divides, towards a destination of shared happiness.
Everyone jump upon the peace train!
*As the Last Prophet said when asked whose actions were best, he replied, ‘To feed the hungry and to greet with words of peace those you know and those you do not know.’” (Collection of Prophetic Sayings: Bukhari)
‘How Many Schools Does He Run?’
We actually run three schools: a Primary school, mixed boys and girls; a secondary girls’ school; and a secondary boys’ school. The primary school is supported by the government as a voluntary aided school and the other two are private, fee-paying.
All our schools teach the British National Curriculum and do extremely well in the National Exam League Tables, often topping the schools’ charts in our local area in North West London.
Remember the days of the old schoolyard
We used to laugh a lot, oh don’t you?
Remember the days of the old schoolyard
(Remember The Days of the Old Schoolyard)
‘Doesn’t Yusuf Have Links With Terrorists?’
Like anyone famous, you get to meet many people; I’ve toured with Jimi Hendrix for God’s sake! That does not establish an inextricable link between me and anybody I’ve met during my five decades on earth – would-be terrorists included. The removal of conflict is my primary aim in life.
I’ve met thousands, from princes, presidents, pop-stars and politicians to police and even prisoners; an active community life puts you in touch with many. Over my 29 years as a Muslim I have met every kind of character, however in meeting them doesn’t suggest that I take them as intimates or follow their view point. Meeting Bill Clinton doesn’t make me a democrat as much as meeting the Dalai Lama doesn’t make me a Buddhist*.
In Islam there are also two basic principles to learn when dealing with others: first you behave politely with them; and secondly, you try not to hurt or turn people away when they’re asking for charity or kindness. But as for supporting ‘terrorists’, I have never supported terrorism or the people who advocate the use of it.
At Muslim Aid’s office, we were endlessly being petitioned for help from very corner of the world; people with heart wrenching stories of suffering and discrimination. As chairman of the organisation for eight years, between 1985 to 1993, I was involved with other members of the executive committee in dealing with thousands of requests and pleas for assistance. We always searched out the genuine cases and tried our best to support the most needy.
It’s possible that sometimes during the distribution process help may have reached people or their families who were deemed as politically or religiously unsavoury by certain regimes, but that does not necessarily prove a case for supporting terrorism or violence. Wars and dissent are part of life’s chronicles; as humanitarians we cannot give up trying to help people in extreme need. Anyway, in the vast majority of cases it is famine, floods and natural disasters that engaged our resources and attention.
Whenever an accusation of misuse of funds was made during my tenure at Muslim Aid, we either won the case in court or agreed to receive substantial damages and an apology from the offending publications. Finally, I decided to resign totally from the organisation in 1999 because of too much bickering and my disagreement with a lack of strategic vision and long-term development planning. It was an amicable ending to the relationship.
And if you want to help your fellow man
You’d better start with what’s in your hand
(In The End)
*It has been reported that I had sat in the company of characters like Shaikh Omar Abdurahman, the truth is, I met him only once in the 80’s when he visited the Central Mosque in London, and those who were present in the prayer hall would remember how I openly disagreed with him regarding the attitude to Christians and Jews (People of the Book), and pointed out the Qur’anic verses which encourage co-operation, kindness and dialogue.
As for the other accusation of being linked to Shaikh Omar Bakri, the one time leader of the Muhajiroon movement in UK who was expelled by British authorities, I knew him originally as Omar Fostock; he was brother in law of Dr Majid Katme who was another prominent member of Muslim Aid, and Omar used to provide the organisation’s offices with stationary from his company called, appropriately, ‘Fostock’. We had a serious disagreement also about the issue of charity; he advocated that Zakah could only be distributed by the legal authority through the establishment of the Khilafah; I argued it was the duty of every Muslim to give charity and using trusted people to distribute it on your behalf was totally acceptable.
‘Did Cat Stevens Say, ‘Kill Rushdie!’?
I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini – and still don’t. The book itself destroyed the harmony between people and nations and created an international crisis.
In 1989, I initially went along with the campaign to get the book banned but then got nailed into the controversy unwittingly whilst being asked about the judgement of blasphemy in Islam, which I simply couldn’t deny. The consensus of opinion amongst the scholars, past and present, on the subject was pretty overwhelming. Who was I to question it?
However, it must be said here that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa went far beyond quoting the normal scriptural position, it illegally overrode all due process of law and called on all zealous Muslims everywhere to murder Rushdie wherever they found him, an opinion I never stood by or supported, because I believe the fatwah went against the principles and system of law; the concept of vigilantism is completely inimical with the teachings of Islam.
How did my name become nailed to the fatwa? I believe I was purposefully targeted. At the time I was easily accessible, famous for being ‘the-pop-star-who-turned-Muslim’. The linking of me to Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous fatwa was subsequently a deceitful myth, originating from a journalist at a lecture I gave in Kingston university in London, 1989. Following the talk the journalist (unknown to me at the time) asked my opinion about blasphemy. I was naively honest in expressing common held knowledge of what the majority of Muslim jurists throughout history understand to be the position of blasphemy in Islam, and confirmed that—like both the Torah and the Gospel—the Qur’an considers it a capital offence.
The journalist then headed back to the editing desk of the (long-since defunct) “Today” newspaper. The next morning my picture was splashed on its front page, along with the blood-curdling headline:
“Cat says: Kill Rushdie!”
That doesn’t sound very nice does it? Certainly not! So the next day, I hurriedly set about writing a press statement to clarify my position (which it obviously didn’t) and try to make it emphatically clear that I was not a supporter of the fatwa.
“I expressed the Islamic view based on the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sayings and the rulings of the caliphs and renowned schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
“However, that is not to say I am encouraging people to break the law or take into their own hands; far from it. Under the Islamic law, Muslims are bound to keep within the limits of the law of the country in which they live…If Mrs Thatcher and her Government are unwilling to listen to our pleas, if our demonstrations and peaceful lobbying does not work, then perhaps the only alternative is for Muslims to get more involved in the political process of this country. It seems to be the only way left for us.”
An unbiased eye might discern that the only real ‘threat’ contained in the overall statement was to suggest that Muslims may eventually be forced to get more deeply involved in the political landscape. My little democratic flag of peace too was wilfully disregarded by the press—it just wasn’t nasty enough. My communique was conveniently ignored.
Context is everything. I had left the music business and had devoted myself to my religion, my family and my children. Some people must have taken offence to that and decided I should be made an example of. Being a mere 10-year old Muslim at the time, I was gullible and fell into the traps well laid out for me.
Soon after I was invited to take part in a highly controversial TV program which posed highly unlikely scenarios, I simply followed-up with some similarly unlikely “what-happened-next” scenes of my own. Unfortunately it provoked me into making some rather unsavoury jokes about Rushdie and the Ayatollah. Now I do not agree with the way I responded and admit I was guilty of acting immaturely at the time, I regret making those mistakes now and would certainly not wish to repeat them again.
It is worth mentioning here that at the end of the controversial program itself, when I was asked what I would do as spokesman for the jury if they had found Rushdie not guilty, I clearly confirmed my acceptance of the verdict.
My nature has always been to consistently abide by the law in whichever state or jurisdiction I reside. Law is what holds our civilisation and society together, and at the heart of religious teaching is to respect and try to be considerate to each other. Here I can even quote one of the great forefathers of secularism, Emmanuel Kant, who said, “Law is the sum of conditions where the wishes of one person can be united with the wishes of another, in accordance with a universal law of freedom.”
My desire for world peace, above all else, still remains my priority – but, inevitably, some people will always want to disagree.
I don’t want to lose the harmony of the universe
I see all things – burning, I hear men – shouting
Now is the light of the world and the stars going out
Now does the blame for the disaster fall upon men
'Yusuf Islam Wants to See Salman Rushdie Burnt, Right?'
Because of imaginary scenarios set by courthouse TV interviewers, in 1989 I was drawn into making stupid and offensive jokes about Rushdie; however they were meant to lighten the moment and raise a smile – as good ol’ British sense of humor occasionally is known to do – unfortunately for me…it didn’t.
In the heat and brimstone of 1989 at the height of the Satanic Verses controversy, I was silly enough to accept appearing on a program called “Hypotheticals” which posed imaginary scenarios (if’s) by a well-versed barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC. I foolishly made light of certain provocative questions. When asked what I’d do if Salman Rushdie entered a restaurant in which I was eating, I said, “I would probably call up Ayatollah Khomeini”; and, rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author, I jokingly said would have preferred that it’d be the “real thing”.
Criticise me for my bad taste, in hindsight, I agree. But these comments were part of a well-known British national trait; a touch of dry humour on my part. Just watch British comedy programs like “Have I Got News For You” or “Extras”, they are full of occasionally grotesque and offensive jokes if you want them! On one particular broadcast of “Have I got News…” Ian Hislop, the editor of British satirical magazine Private Eye, personally called me “a Shi’ite” (doesn’t take too long to work out with a twist of an English accent what he meant by that).
Certainly I regret giving those sorts of responses now. However, it must be noted that the final edit of the program was made to look extremely serious; hardly any humour was left in and much was savagely cut out. Most of the Muslim participants in the program wrote in and complained about the narrow and selective use of their comments, surreptitiously selected out of the 3-hour long recording of the debate. But the edit was not in our hands. Balanced arguments were cut out and the most sensational quotes, preserved.
Providentially, they kept in one important response to a final question posed directly to me by Geoffrey Robertson QC. At the end of the debate he asked me to imagine if Salman Rushdie was taken to court in Britain and the Jury found him ‘not guilty’ of any crime – Blasphemy or otherwise – and dismissed the case, what I would do. I clearly stated that I would have to accept the decision and fully abide by the law! And that was no joke. But people prefer to jump that bit and stick with the ‘effigy’ they have made up of me hanging around in their own minds!
Oh baby, baby it’s a Wild World
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
'Does Yusuf Not Speak to Veil-less Women?'
The accusation that I do not speak or interact with ladies who are not veiled is an absurdity. Only misinformed or unenlightened people with heads buried for the last decade – missing a plethora of my TV and public appearances proving otherwise – would repeat such junk.
Reality is often different from the media’s lust for a good headline. It’s true that I have asked my manager to respectfully request lady presenters 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.
My own story with regard to women’s rights really began when I became a Muslim. Following my acceptance of Islam, I immediately returned to London to look after my mother. Soon after I married and within a year had the great news of a baby girl, we called her Hasanah (meaning, good or beautiful). God has blessed us with four daughters and two sons (one son died in infancy), and I have always been an advocate for girl’s education. My four daughters 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. My eldest, Hasanah, runs a record company in Dubai and my second eldest, Asmaa, is training to be a solicitor.
According to the Last Prophet, “Women are the twin halves of men.”* He also said, “Heaven lies at the feet of your mother.” In the Qur’an, when we read the story of Adam and Eve, at no time do we read that blame is attached to a section of humanity, i.e. women, for the fall of man; the fact is that the responsibility was ultimately borne by both, equally.
The reality is that my honour and respect for women has only increased with Islam and my acceptance of my wife’s rights. It was after all at my wife’s request that my manager was told to caution ladies who during TV appearances or gatherings, not to kiss me or get too close – veiled or not!
How can I tell you
(How Can I Tell You)
*Human Life began with the union of man and woman, together, as we read in the Qur’an (7:189)
“It is He (God) who created you (all) from a single soul and made from it a partner of like nature in order to dwell together with her in love. When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about unnoticed. When she grows heavy, they both pray to God, their Lord, saying, ‘If Thou givest us a goodly child, we vow we shall ever be grateful.”
‘Did Yusuf Ridicule Judaism and Brand it a “So-Called Religion”?’
The war of spreading misinformation against me and the religion of Islam are to be expected from certain quarters. However, I never ridiculed the Faith of Judaism or demeaned its Divine status. Moses is, after all, one of the revered Prophets of the children of Israel mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an.
To follow Islam and be a true Muslim, one must have faith in the previously revealed Scriptures and the messengers who brought them. Many are the references in the Qur’an which require this from the believers,
‘Those who believe in this (Qur’an) which has been revealed to you; and whatever was revealed before this (the Torah, the Gospel and other Divine scriptures) and whose faith in the Afterlife is certain.
Those who believe in this (Qur’an) which has been revealed to you; and
whatever was revealed before this (the Torah, the Gospel and other divine
scriptures) and those whose faith in the Afterlife is certain.
The Qur’an, The Heifer (2), verse 4
As far as extracting citations of earlier speeches I made referring to Palestine are concerned, you only have to compare the sensational and misleading headlines with actual quotes to conclude that they are a malicious distortion of my original words and intent.
Although the subject for many Muslims is very emotional, I never criticized the true teachings of the noble Faith of Moses and the Children of Israel – which is part of my faith, and is even mentioned reverentially in the Qur’an itself – but I only criticized the distortions which have been added to the Creed in the zealous pursuit of the Zionist dream, which even many orthodox Jews themselves have grave suspicions about.
How can a truly religious person sanction the genocide of a people and overstep almost every Holy commandment in pursuing his goals? Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet thy neighbours’ goods – why should the reaffirming of religious values and principles we all share as Muslims or Jews be deemed so offensive?
I am a man of peace and denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for people who don’t know me to suggest otherwise. I have dedicated my life to promoting charity, peace and understanding throughout the world.
Similarly, I have outspokenly criticized Muslim extremists in the same breath as not representing the religion of Islam, condemning the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Siege of the School in Beslan as abhorrent and a total antithesis of the noble Faith of Islam – why are those so quickly forgotten?
We can and, I suppose, should expect opportunistic writers to try to dig up old speeches and twist people’s words. Regretfully, by doing so in a wholly devious and misleading manner, such articles will simply serve to damage relations between the different communities. The vast majority of ordinary people wish only to work for peace and understanding between peoples of different faiths, and a way to find a just and peaceful solution to conflict areas like the Holy Land. The Qur’an speaks directly to the heart of People with Faith and reminds them:
O People of the Book (primarily, Christians and Jews) you have nought
(of guidance) until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which
was revealed to you from your Lord.
The Qur’an, The Table Spread (5), verse 68
A return to the commands of the Bible might prove extremely beneficial. In the New Testament, for example, we are reminded to the mud slinging cast against Jesus, when they accused him of spreading blasphemy against the Faith, “As he said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be terribly angry, and to draw many things out of him; lying in wait for him, and seeking to catch him in something he might say, that they might accuse him.” Sound familiar?
'A good honest man, Doing the work of God'
I know this may not put an end to certain questions and doubts in some people’s minds about the subject, but my hope is that it will provide a clearer insight for those who are unbiased now to be able to see the level of distortion which takes place in the reporting of my life and activities – and God Guides to paths of Peace whom He chooses.
I wrote a song called Editing Floor Blues describing how the truth usually ends up on the floor of the editor’s office. The answers you’ll find here shed light on many of those truths you usually don’t get to hear…