Cat Stevens' call to prayer


All kinds of lanterns/ Light up the dark/ But there's only One God .../ Has a place in my heart. (Yusuf Islam, 'All Kinds of Roses')

Yusuf Islam, Flickr image by 
Simon Fernandez Music PhotographerReturning to Australia after 36 years, Yusuf Islam, formerly the 1960s rock guru Cat Stevens, certainly shares his heart. He also shares his faith, but not too extravagantly. It is there in abundance but is not grasping. It is sung like a muezzin's call to prayer, but with no commands. As gentle as the man himself.

All kinds of people
make up my life ...
All kinds of faces
show me their love.

A solitary figure, he appears in a long coat and hat and begins an older man's rendition of a younger man's songs. Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena bursts into brilliant light as he shares the Cat Stevens classic 'Wild World'. All kinds of people are captured in its glow; all kinds of faces showing their love for this humble visionary.

At times he is the folk singer, seated with his guitar. At other times the stage bursts with sound and light, the tempo racing. Yusuf's voice carries intricacies of melody, tone, story and poetic nuance, a sumptuous visit to the textures and moods of his questing generation. The sandpaper of lower notes and the soft sacred sounds of the lovely 'Morning Has Broken' are all present.

Yusuf is a man in love with the world and its people, and his faith embodies an activist spirit. Since finding his spiritual home in Islam over three decades ago his humanitarian work has placed him in another spotlight. His organisation, Muslim Aid, supported famine victims in Africa in the 1980s. His charity, Small Kindness, supports orphans and needy families.

We sense this humanity at play on stage.

As Cat Stevens, he always sought life's purpose. Recognising his deep spiritual roots he knew his path had to change. 'I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul' he sings in 'The Wind', and we admire his courage.

He sensed a need to reconnect after his years of stardom and social alienation. Listening to 'Sitting' we can sense the passion of his journey:

Oh I'm on my way, I know I am,
Somewhere not so far from here.
All I know is what I feel right now,
I feel the power growing in my hair.

While in Marrakech, Morocco in the early 1970s, Stevens had his first encounter with Islam. He heard singing and, when he was told 'It is a song for God', he was greatly moved. 'This music was seeking no reward except from God,' he says on his website. 'What a wonderful statement.'

Stevens' near-death by drowning in 1975 directed him to call out to God. The turning of the tide caused a turning in his life, aided by a copy of the Qur'an, a gift from his brother David. Here he found the answer to the questions of his life. He embraced Islam in 1977. 'The moment I became a Muslim I found peace.'

Yusuf sees music as a healer with the power to bring people together.'The language of song is simply the best way to communicate the powerful winds of change which brought me to where I am today, and the love for peace still passing through my heart ... You can argue with a philosopher, but you can't argue with a good song. And I think I've got a few good songs.'

Back on stage, like a grandfather seated by the fire, Yusuf calls us to listen to a story: 'Moonshadow', a fairytale of hope for a better world. With a deft touch, he weaves his music through the stories of his life, his travels, his intimate memories. No matter that I am one of thousands and he is 50 metres away under bright lights — it is a time of connection. Yusuf is a soul man, and he engages our souls, seamlessly.

Anne DoyleAnne Doyle is Marketing Manager for Jesuit Communications Australia. She is a former teacher who recently travelled to India with the Edmund Rice Education Australia immersion program.


Topic tags: Anne Doyle, Yusuf Islam, Cat Stevens, Muslim, Moonshadow, Wild World, Matthew and Son, All Kinds of Roses



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Existing comments

This article is an appalling whitewash. It makes out Stevens/Islam to be a man of peace. He is anything but. Stevens/Islam supported Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie. Rather than recant his views, Stevens/Islam has attempted to have any recordings of them removed. The following transcript from Geoffrey Robertson's hypothetical makes his views all too plain.

"In the episode, ("A Satanic Scenario") Stevens/Islam is recorded having this exchange with moderator and Queens Counsel Geoffrey Robertson:[6][7]
Robertson: You don't think that this man deserves to die?
Y. Islam: Who, Salman Rushdie?
Robertson: Yes.
Y. Islam: Yes, yes.
Robertson: And do you have a duty to be his executioner?
Y. Islam: Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act - perhaps, yes.
[Some minutes later, Robertson on the subject of a protest where an effigy of the author is to be burned]
Robertson: Would you be part of that protest, Yusuf Islam, would you go to a demonstration where you knew that an effigy was going to be burned?
Y. Islam: I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing." "
(Source: Wikipedia)

Care to revise your opinion Ms Doyle?
Patrick James | 24 June 2010

I was at the Rod Laver Arena with my partner on Friday night and I have to agree with the above article. I love seeing live music, and Yusuf did not disappoint. His musical talent was obvious, but what did shine through was a real sense that he is a man and lover of peace. I had a similar experience when I saw Sinead O'Connor perform her album Theology at the State Theatre in Sydney, during Holy Week a couple of years ago.

In response to Patrick's strange concern about random wikipedia comments about Yusuf... Paul of Tarsus put a fatwa on every person of the Way in Damascus, does he deserve the same treatment? People change their attitude as they come to a deeper ounderstanding of things, Jesus refers to it as the call to 'repent'. Yusuf stopped making music because that was the religious instruction he was receieving. I think all those who were at his concert recently will testify that he must be receiving some good religious instruction now!
Damien | 24 June 2010

Patrick, referring to a comment that was made twelve years does not build much of an argument.
Ashlea | 24 June 2010

Damien, Yusuf's support for Khomeini's call for Rushdie to be murdered came after his conversion to Islam. Death is the penalty in Islam for blasphemy. Yusuf knew that well enough.

Calling the article random is no sort of counter argument. These comments are on record. At no point have I read that Yusuf retracted his views. He is seeking only to hide them. I can find no clip of them on youtube in English as Yusuf appears to be covering his tracks. There is one clip I found with a German voiceover. Unfortunately it obscures most of the English dialogue. If his words were not controversial, why is he hiding what he said.

Ashlea, I do not see how the age of a comment has anything to do with its validity. Yusuf is on the record as having said it. Until he retracts them, and repents of his open and unabmiguous call for Rushdie to be killed, all this talk of his being a man of peace is just wishful thinking.
Patrick James | 24 June 2010

"New York Times, May 23, 1989

Cat Stevens Gives Support To Call for Death of Rushdie
LONDON, May 22 -- The musician known as Cat Stevens said in a British television program to be broadcast next week that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, ''I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing.''

The singer, who adopted the name Yusuf Islam when he converted to Islam, made the remark during a panel discussion of British reactions to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's call for Mr. Rushdie to be killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his best-selling novel ''The Satanic Verses.'' He also said that if Mr. Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, ''I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like.''

''I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is,'' said Mr. Islam, who watched a preview of the program today and said in an interview that he stood by his comments.

Is this article still too random to be credible, Damien? It was from the New York Times

Keeping think Yusuf is a man of peace, if it makes you feel good.
Joseph Lanigan | 24 June 2010

Joseph, Patrick: excellent comments. But remember what the political demographic of your opponents is here. Mere facts are insufficient to this lot, however relevant and insuperable in principle as are those you've supplied.

Now: if you can show that Yusuf Islam is a member of the National Riflemen's Association (US), believes that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, is a "young earther", supports the hunting of whales, opposes embryonic stem cell research, and doesn't vote for a left-of-centre party, then you just may induce them to take of their rose-tinted spectacles.
HH | 24 June 2010

Anne Doyle, I enjoyed your article so very much and you speak the truth. Yusuf is a wonderful man who has helped people of all religions for years.

For those peopl who what to persecute Yusuf for something that happened over twenty years ago (not twelve)...........get a life.....and try doing as much good in the world as Yusuf has done. Your problem is you just don't like anyone who happens to be Muslim, so Yusuf is a handy target. That program was called "Hypotheticals" and the participants were playing a role......being on one side or the other. Yusuf was naive to agree to be a part of that show.....he should have said he wouldn't participate......but to keep bringing this up after all these years is ridiculous. Even Rushdie has moved on.......and he sure wasn't innocent in the whole thing......he knew the book would be hurtful to Muslims.
jan | 25 June 2010

Jan, if we start censoring what we think or say because it may be hurtful to someone, then all debate is in effect stifled. Offence is so often in the eye of the beholder. And what if what someone says hurts me? Does that mean that this person must then be silent?

And I don't care if Muslims were offended or hurt by what Rushdie said. Nothing could justify the world wide hissing fit and murderous rage seen throughout much of the Muslim world.

One Muslim woman in England, I forget her name, commented on the Muslims' reaction later. She called the reaction a huge source of embarrassment that Muslims felt a sense of unity via their calls for a man to be butchered for a few words in a novel. Would that there were more more like her from all religions!

Finally, I don't dislike Muslims per se. But I do dislike anyone or group or wants to kill another because of some perceived insult. The "Mohammed cartoons" showed that many Muslims still use violence or the threat of violence to cow people. Be respectful, or else!

HH, thanks and cheers.
Patrick James | 25 June 2010

Hi everyone - I have absolutely no idea about the history of the discussion above, but, is the guy for peace now? If so, good on him. Yes it sounds like he should recant his views, but surely any good he is doing now is still good. HH, do there have to be oponents here? We are all for peace aren't we?
Mark | 25 June 2010

Mark: "We are all for peace aren't we?"

I don't know about "all". I am. But I'm not the one who refuses to recant a publicly recorded wish that someone be burned to death.

Why is saying "sorry" such a difficult task for this allegedly "gentle" person? Then again, do we have evidence that he is sorry? I think the ball's in his court.
HH | 26 June 2010

How unfortunate that such a delightful reflection on Yusuf Islam's performance has hit a sour note with some of the comments. There is no need for people to launch an attack on the man. Patrick and HH are still holding the large stones they would like to throw at poor old Yusuf. If only they wouldn't judge a person by hypothetical comments to hypothetical questions for a television programme.

Damien | 28 June 2010

Thank you Damien. The article was meant to express the humanity and compassion of 'poor old Yusuf' and hopefully to engender same in its readers. It is a shame that such angry invective has resulted from these efforts. We should agree that to err is human, but also, I believe humans are capable of forgiveness and compassion. Perhaps we could look for them in our hearts rather than the mean-spirited 'eye for an eye' that the 'stone throwers' seem intent on applying.
Anne Doyle | 28 June 2010

How unfortunate that such a delightful reflection on Yusuf Islam's performance has hit a sour note with some of the comments. There is no need for people to launch an attack on the man. Patrick and HH are still holding the large stones they would like to throw at poor old Yusuf. If only they wouldn't judge a person by hypothetical comments to hypothetical questions for a television programme.

Patrick, you clearly do have a dislike for Muslims. This is evident in the way you stereotype and use a 'single' Muslim to discredit all other Muslims, and then later a small group of Muslims and a reflection of all Muslims. Either try to educate and inclucate yourself, or at least try to hide your racism so it doesn't paint such a negative picture of you. I am not offended by ignorance.

Perhaps it is out of envy for Yusuf's reputation as a man of peace that has got these people in a stir. HH, although you may refer to your self as a person of peace, do others call you a person of peace? What are your works by which you are seen to be a person of peace in your community?
Damien | 28 June 2010

Well, I haven't got a beard and I don't wear a kaftan. But 1.) I believe that justice is prerequisite for peace. 2) So I've been actively anti-abortion (sidewalk counselling etc) and anti-embryonic stem-cell research (radio & TV work in UK) on the grounds that they are just murder under another title. 3) Contrary to "poor old" Yusuf's unambiguous, unrecanted, non-hypothetical statements in regard to Rushdie: as disrespectful as the latter was of his religion, I don't believe he deserved to die, by burning or otherwise. Nor do I believe Yusuf himself deserves to die for voicing this irresponsible, and hardly peace-engendering sentiment. But I do pray that Yusuf eventually finds it within himself to apologise.

I doubt whether the above qualifies me as a man of peace in the eyes the Yusuf defenders here. Their eagerness to gloss over his unambiguous, documented remarks is only exceeded by their desire to spin Mr James and myself as "stone-throwers", notwithstanding that neither of us has called for Yusuf to be punished in any way whatsoever. So much for reasoned debate.
HH | 28 June 2010

I suspect the image of Yusuf that has been used in this article has been the catalyst for these demonising comments from HH and Patrick James. I clicked on the photo and was taken to a Flickr page, and wasn't it interesting to see a comment on the photo in question referring to comments made about Salman Rushdie?

Yusuf sings about peace and works for justice through his many humanitarian and charitable works.
Damien | 29 June 2010

"... demonising comments ..." ??

Really, Damien, you can do better than that. Peace.
HH | 29 June 2010

Not comfortable with the SJ stuff. But Cat Stevens is fine.
Angela Luciano | 21 October 2010


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