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Der Spiegel.
Nr. 49 Dec. 4, 2006
pp. 190,192
Transcribed by Lucy

Islam Values Life

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, talks about his return to the music world, the failures of the West and the relationship of Islam to luxury.

British-born Steven Demetri Georgiou, 58, alias Cat Stevens, became famous in the '60s and '70s as singer and songwriter of such songs as First Cut, Morning Has Broken, and Father and Son. In 1977, he converted to Islam, changed his name and withdrew from the music business. With his newly released album, An Other Cup, this artist announces his return to the popworld.

Spiegel: Mr. Islam, this Saturday you will appear on "Wetten Dass", Germany's biggest entertainment TV show. What drives you to return to the pop machine, which you have denied for decades?

Islam: I've planned very little in my life. Whenever I've tried, things have developed in a such a way that I don't want. I trust my instinct, and at this moment, a pop career feels excellent for me. I also believe that this is right because with all the charitable work, the speaking and teaching, the time is due now for people to be able to relax their senses. Music is well-suited for this and additionally it can encourage people to think. Like my lyrics, which were never superficial, that it to say, stopgaps for pretty melodies.

Spiegel: In the frame of your comeback you avoid using your last name, "Islam". Also on the cover of your new CD, An Other Cup, it says only "Yusuf". Why is this?

Islam: In its essence, An Other Cup is a spiritual record and not a religious one. I didn't want to irritate the public with the impression that I'm coming at them with a lecture. I want to include people, not exclude them.

Spiegel: In Islam there are great reservations about music's power of temptation. How do you justify your return to the pop business?

Islam: Concerning the appreciation of music, there are different interpretations in Islam, and because I didn't want to make any mistakes, I hesitated for a long time. But after I had examined and thought about it a lot I came to a decision that making music is an extremely positive matter.

Spiegel: How should we imagine your search?

Islam: There are actually two schools of thought in Islam. One of them is puritanical, sees music and its derivatives as dangerous for the spiritual life. Then there is another extreme angle, which believes that everything possible is OK and correct. I have tried to bring to life a middle ground which existed earlier in the Islamic tradition and which was lost along the way somehow. Because the Islamic culture historically has been expressed through art and beauty, and music was a part of this middle path; a form to convey the association between ideas and creative art.

Spiegel: Music seems to be an important part of your identity. How did you manage to live so long, keeping it repressed?

Islam: On the occasion of the birth of my first child in 1980, I wrote a poem which became a popular children's song in the English-speaking Muslim world. It was called "A is for Allah". So I played a definite role. A true turning point was the war in Bosnia, where through my humanitarian activities I heard songs which were like an echo of my Greek heritage. What it also was for me, was I realized ever more what an important role music plays for people - above all in difficult times. Through this the Balkans are a further example of my thesis that there can exist a combination of Islamic principles and music.

Spiegel: How much of Cat Stevens still remains in Yusuf Islam?

Islam: Everything that Cat Stevens tried to express can be found today in Yusuf Islam, but in a finer, more complete fashion and manner. Before I chose the name Cat Stevens I liked the name Joseph very much. It was only on showbusiness grounds that we stuck with Cat Stevens.

Spiegel: Along with the new name, you gave the old Cat Stevens the walking papers? Why did your life as Cat Stevens get on your nerves?

Islam: I was exhausted and had had enough of his lifestyle. It was demanding -- constant deadlines, constantly another record that had to be completed. I remember a birthday party of mine in L.A., that I simply ran away from, offended because someone told me I sat in a trap. Because that's exactly what L.A. is - a trap for the stars. I searched a long time for an escape, but didn't find one. I didn't know where to go.

Spiegel: In the mid '70s you swam so far out in Malibu that you nearly drowned. What were you on the look-out for, out there in the Pacific?

Islam: I wasn't getting anyplace, and interestingly I found myself again outside in the ocean. I would have nearly drowned and thought, my future was over. Curiously, the opposite was the case: everything suddenly became clear and I made it back to land where I hoped to receive further signs.

Spiegel: Legend wants to say that you found Islam simply after the near catastrophe. Doesn't such a change sound a little cliche?

Islam: Like most people in the West, I wasn't particularly interested when someone pressed an English copy of the Qur'an in my hand. At that time I read a great deal of spiritual literature; I Ching, books on Buddhism, yoga, literature, but the Qur'an made the biggest impression on me. It represented a totality and unity, which served to calm and assure me.

Spiegel: With your conversion and consequent spirituality, you became a target for many people. Has the obvious criticism and scorn that you received strengthened your choice?

Islam: When I finally made it to the God that I believe in, who is the source of all good things, how should I deny this? I chose freely. If in the process I was to have offended some people, then it's their problem, not mine.

Spiegel: Your old records still sell splendidly.

Islam: Enough, finally, my wife confirms, that we have enough in the bank to take care of her shopping needs. Recently, of course, I did myself a little favor. I treated myself to a Mercedes 500 S-Klass. The kids are bigger now, and when we're traveling as a family, a Mitsubishi is simply too small. It's time that we travel comfortably. In this respect Islam is much more generous than the western religions, where priests or those close to them must give up luxury. In Islam there aren't any such taboos, one doesn't need to give up the world or women.

Spiegel: Are you proud that your 4 daughters and wife wear the head scarf?

Islam: They wear headscarves because we find that Islamic dress maintains a certain modesty between men and women. Clothing shouldn't turn people's heads. Not in the respect that someone bares themselves too much, and not in the sense that someone covers themselves too much. Both of these are my idea of not particulary moderate.

Spiegel: You have established three Islamic schools, two of them private with a cost of £5,000 per year, like one publicly aided. What would you like to accomplish?

Islam: We would like to establish harmony between what the child receives at home and what he learns at school. We don't believe in isolation, we have an integrated curriculum, and our pupils in recent years have had the best test scores in the school district. But we don't place value simply on good grades. The students should learn above all to live right in the world.

Spiegel: What are the most important messages that you impart to them?

Islam: The most important is to be found in the Islamic greeting: peace.

Spiegel: What then have some young Muslims misunderstood, the suicide bombers who caused a massacre in the London Underground, and others who plan deadly attacks?

Islam: They never went to an Islamic school. Islam teaches one to value life.

Spiegel: Then obviously there are greater misunderstandings within the Muslim world.

Islam: After the attacks on the London subway I was invited to a counsel at Windsor Castle to discuss the question of how the asimilation of Muslim youth in Britain can be strengthened. Our proposals were pretty simple. For one thing, stop making the Muslim culture into a second class. Give young Muslims the feeling that they belong to Europe. Islamic civilization is no stranger to Europe, it is a part of Europe. Coffee, the guitar, the table cloth - there are many things with which Islam has enriched Europe. Write it into the history books once and for all, and solve your foreign affairs problem.

Spiegel: Do you hope to go on tour after the democrats win in America?

Islam: I'm an optimist. I'm always hopeful.

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