Vol. 3    Issue 03   16-30 June 2008
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
The Holy Quran A Pictorial Gallery
Muslim Minorities in Non-Islamic Milieus
Virtual Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture

Yusuf Islam

In autumn 2008 Polydor records will release a new album of Yusuf Islam’s new songs, 28 years after he bid farewell to the music industry.

As a folk musician, Cat Stevens (as Yusuf Islam was then known) had a legendary reputation. He had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s and some of his songs, such as Moon Shadow and Morning Has Broken, became modern classics.

Yusuf Islam was born in London on 21 July 1948. His father was a Greek Cypriot and his mother Swedish. Christened Steven Demetre Giorgiou, he was the youngest of three children. He experienced the divorce of his parents when he was barely eight years old. He was given a Catholic education and was encouraged by his parents, especially his mother, to pursue his artistic inclinations. He learned to play the piano and the guitar at an early age. At the age of 17 he attended Hammersmith College, where he began writing and singing his own songs. His first hit single ‘I Love My Dog’ became a rage and reached number 40 in the UK charts. His next single ‘Mathew and Son’ just missed the number one slot in 1967.

A catastrophic experience in 1976 changed the course of Yusuf’s life. He almost drowned while swimming in the Pacific. He was caught in a strong current but struggled to swim back to the shore. At that critical moment when he was face to face with impending death, he made a promise to God that if he survived he would carry out His wish. Shortly after the incident, his brother presented him with a copy of the Holy Quran which he had brought from Jerusalem. Steven saw this as a divine signal and was increasingly drawn to the Islamic faith.

In 1977, when he had become a wealthy singer, he moved to Brazil for a year. On December 23, 1977 he announced his conversion to Islam. His last album ‘Back to Earth’ was released in 1978 and thereafter he gave up music. He entered into an arranged marriage in 1979 with Fawzia Ali, a Central Asian Muslim. They have four daughters and a son.

After his conversion to Islam, Yusuf has devoted all his energies and his money for Islamic causes. He started an Islamic school just outside of London in 1983, taught Islamic courses, and has played an active role in educational and communitarian activities. He allowed schools and charities to use his hit songs without any charge. He produced an album called ‘A is for Allah’ for the instruction of Muslim children. He also created his own record label known as Mountains of Light.

In 1985 Ethiopia was in the grip of a severe famine in which thousands of people, included children, died. The misery and devastation wrought by the famine prompted many non-governmental and charitable organizations around the world to organise a series of charity events. Bob Geldof organised a hugely successful Live Aid Concert in London and invited Yusuf Islam to participate in it. Yusuf promptly responded to Bob’s call and even wrote a song especially for the occasion.

On 10 November 2004, five Nobel Peace Prize laureates presented to Yusuf Islam with a ‘Man of Peace’ award for dedicating himself to the promotion of peace and reconciliation among people. In November 2005 Yusuf was awarded an honorary doctorate by Gloucester University for his services to education and humanitarian relief.

Yusuf hopes that his new album will improve understanding between Islam and the West. “It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gap others are sometimes frightened to cross”, Yusuf says.

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