Nr. 49 Dec. 4, 2006
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
In Islam there are great reservations about
music's power of temptation. How do you justify
your return to the pop business?
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
How should we imagine your search?
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.
Music seems to be an important part
of your identity. How did you manage to live
so long, keeping it repressed?
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.
How much of Cat Stevens still remains
in Yusuf 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.
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?
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.
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?
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
Legend wants to say that you found Islam simply
after the near catastrophe. Doesn't such a change
sound a little cliche?
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.
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?
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.
Your old records still sell splendidly.
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.
Are you proud that your 4 daughters and wife
wear the head scarf?
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.
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?
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.
What are the most important messages
that you impart to them?
The most important is to be found in the Islamic
What then have some young Muslims misunderstood,
the suicide bombers who caused a massacre in
the London Underground, and others who plan
They never went to an Islamic school.
Islam teaches one to value life.
Then obviously there are greater misunderstandings
within the Muslim world.
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
Do you hope to go on tour after the democrats
win in America?
I'm an optimist. I'm always hopeful.