BBC BLOGS - The Reporters: Razia Iqbal
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The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens

Razia Iqbal | 13:00 UK time, Friday, 8 May 2009

catstevens_300.jpgIs music compatible with Islam?

This is a question which has concerned the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens for some time. When he decided to convert to Islam in 1977, he changed his name to Yusuf Islam and turned his back on music - pop music in particular.

Only recently has he toyed with songwriting again, mainly instrumental pieces and music for children (A is for Allah), having devoted the last three decades of his life to education and humanitarian work. After dipping his toes into album-making three years ago, with An Other Cup, he has now made the decision to sign a contract with his old record label, Island, and release an album, Roadsinger, which sees a return to his gentle, melodic glory days.

We spoke earlier this week, and I asked him about his relationship with music in the context of his faith. He replied that music was not right for him when he converted, not least because he had been embroiled in a world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But he appears completely comfortable with making pop music now, and may even be going back to touring.

There have been Muslim scholars who have said that music is forbidden both by the Koran and by the Hadith. And we are well aware of the manifestation of extreme interpretations of this, in the shape of the Taliban. But Yusuf - as he is now known - has taken what he describes as an "open view" on music and the Koran.

"I have music in me and the joy is to share it", he told me. It isn't surprising that his new album sounds a lot like his 1970s material. He hasn't listened to anything for decades and regards himself as a "musical pod, buried for a long time and now opened up and discovering treasures like they were yesterday".

One of the songs (only available as a bonus track if you order the album online) is about the time he was prevented from entering the United States, suspected of being a terrorist. It was a case of mistaken identity, which he lampoons in the song, Boots and Sand (also featuring Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney).

As a high profile British Muslim, he was, by his own admission, chosen as a mascot for various organisations and marched out at conventions. Now, though, he wants to go back to what he knows best: Writing and performing songs... and thinking.

Yusuf, the pop star, may reach a whole new audience in a completely different way.


  • Comment number 1.

    If you listen to the albums (rather than just the hit singles) that Yusuf recorded at Cat Stevens you will hear that he was, from 1970 onwards, a thoughtful and highly spiritual musician. It's good to have him back on the recording scene. "An Other Cup" is rather a mixed bag but there is much excellent music therein. Long may he continue to perform and record the music that he's moved to create.

  • Comment number 2.

    Why does everything have to be compatible with Islam? Why can't Islam just be? The question is the wrong way round:Is Islam compatible with music? would be more truthful. In any case music is a golden language that we can all embrace regardless of political or religious bias.If music is a foundation stone in common humanity, religion is not even an atom.

  • Comment number 3.

    Nice plug

  • Comment number 4.

    By-eck LondonJazz, I hope you aren't refering to my comment. I try to be as broad-minded as the next...but come on!Cat Stevens!! Yuk......

  • Comment number 5.

    Razia Im sure you have a beautiful cat that gives you endless hours of pleasure, loves being stroked, played with and purrs away like a Farrari but please, endless nonsense and waste of public money has gone on in the *art world* that in any other area would be considered a total scandle and frankly fraud in the name of *art* And I DONT mean Yusuf .

    Please ! the cat needs some canines, they need sharpening and some rear ends need to feel an investigative journalists *cat* sinking into them.

    Here's a starter for ten (maybe) how and why did The pUblic happen in Sandwell, how did it come to be seen as a good way to spend 50 plus million? in an area sodden with deprivation, crying out for health care, education facilities and decent infrastructures.

    Remember now a cat on the prowl needs some teeth "open them up and discover treasures like they were yesterday"

    ps I hope you can take my bit of naughtiness on the chin - maybe take an "open view" on it ;)

  • Comment number 6.

    If music is in your soul it will always find its way out and given his iconic status from the days when capitalist was a dirty word rather fitting that the artist formerly etc is resurrecting his career at a time when the 1970 Laurel Canyon melodic sound has never been more fashionable or in tune with the times.

    So many young poets in bands have nothing to say. If nothing else it will be interesting to see whether Yusuf will be an old poet with nothing left to say (like Mick Jagger) or one who can still find relevance like the return to form chart topping Bob Dylan. I guess the acid test is this. You put a vinyl of Dylan from that era on the record player and you are blown away. Put on Cat Stevens and it is little more than a pleasant enough period play. I'm not holding my breath.

  • Comment number 7.

    One other point worth making is this. Yusuf is lucky that his status and back catalogue prospects give him the opportunity to take up at will this kind of opportunity. Other people who love music and would love to communicate in music are given no such breaks in life if they are born with auditory integration problems, often linked to eyesight problems not picked up by the state eye test. (hard to detect squints).

    We now understand the microbiology that determines these hearing and eyesight problems and can certainly fully correct the eyesight problems these days. (Sound therapy is music based and can work wonders however for some).But it is expensive and politicians in all parties could not give a stuff. Much more interesting to feather their own nest than make the case for spending more public funds in upgarding the standard eye test paid for by the State and reintroducing eye testing in schools where one in five may benefit from an eye test that is the equivalent of the Fosbury Flop surperceeding straddling the bar in high jumping. (for those old enough to grasp the analogy. For those not enough to say that there has been a huge quantum leap made in how we can correct eyesight in recent years. More details at

    If only a Yusuf Islam or even a Joanna Lumley would take up this cause and shame our politicians into doing something..........

  • Comment number 8.

    thatotherguy2, I absolutley agree. Everyone should have the chance to express themselves through the greatest art humans have developed. In my own experience music is at least equal to our orafactory sense in unlocking our subconscious mind.Who hasn't on hearing a familiar melody has had a backflash into a memory long forgotten? (Ahhh Vivaldi, what happy memories!)

    Music is as an important subject as maths.The sooner third-rate politicians stop treating music as a fourth-rate subject in schools the better.

    Please lets keep Joanna Lumley and all the other feckless celebrities out of politics.Isn't it bad enough?

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes, it might be best for Yusuf Islam to separate music and poliics, in case he embarrasses himself like this again:

    I wouldn't call that a very ""Open view""

  • Comment number 10.


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