Musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, performs during the International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city, northwest of Santiago, Chile, February 27, 2015. Photo credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

Yusuf Islam wows huge crowd in Chile

By Karin Friedemann

TMO Contributing Writer

Musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, performs during the International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city, northwest of Santiago, Chile, February 27, 2015. Photo credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

Musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, performs during the International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city, northwest of Santiago, Chile, February 27, 2015. Photo credit: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

In 1971, Cat Stevens’ rendition of the Christian hymn, “Morning Has Broken” reached #6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 in the US Easy Listening Chart in 1972. My family’s church sang this hymn every Sunday of my childhood. Also in 1971, he provided nine songs to the soundtrack of the black comedy Harold and Maude, a film which was very important in my impressionable youth. But by 1977 the pop singer Cat Stevens had already embraced Islam and taken on the name of Yusuf Islam.

“To some people, it may have seemed like an enormous jump, but for me, it was a gradual move to this,” he stated regarding his conversion.

Yusuf Islam stopped performing music for almost 30 years and used his wealth to busy himself with humanitarian service.

“A lot of people would have loved me to keep singing,” he said. “You come to a point where you have sung, more or less … your whole repertoire and you want to get down to the job of living. You know, up until that point, I hadn’t had a life. I’d been searching, been on the road.”

He finally found and married the ‘hard-headed woman’ he had prayed for in his song, Fauzia Mubarak Ali, on 7 September 1979 in London, and had five children with her. He became re-interested in music when his son brought a guitar back into the home.

I was very impressed with Sister Fauzia’s performance in 1987, when she and her husband came to Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan campus to promote the cause of Islam. Yusuf’s speech was interrupted by hecklers including a stripper who shouted out that she was a liberated woman, to the point where he left the stage and on stepped his wife, who calmed everybody down and explained Islam from the point of view of a woman. It made a long lasting impression on my 16 year old self, though it took a lot more travel before I made a decision to embrace Islam.

I visited an innocent Muslim prisoner yesterday who began to sing the old Cat Stevens song that I hadn’t heard in years, “Trouble, oh trouble set me free…” I was so surprised that he knew the song, being 20 years my junior and from a foreign country. It was an amazing moment.

This inspired me to learn the chords on my ukelele. Which I did, thank you very much. Learning a song once in a while is so important for keeping one’s youth.

While I was searching for the song online, I found out that just last week, February 2015, Yusuf ‘Cat Stevens’ Islam gave a deeply moving, almost two hour superstar performance at Festival de Viña del Mar 2015, Somos el Canal Histórico in Chile. I cried when I watched it!

While his songs on cassette tape formed my youth and guided me towards Truth even beyond where my parents could lead me, I had never actually watched the man perform. The man is a superstar, but with the most humble mannerisms, even in front of a crowd of thousands.

Except for the white sneakers, the adorable grey bearded man on stage could be assumed to be any grandfather from the Arab or Pakistani community anywhere in the west. Except that he is surrounded by an amazing sound system, magnificent stage display, light show, and multi screens… old ladies crying, lovers holding each other, so much love, the entire audience knew all the words, despite English not being their native language.

“We’re in the mood for children!” is one of the only comments he made between songs. At another point, after a rocking number he spoke, “You can see why I used to dance.”

Honestly my heart broke at that moment. At the pinnacle of success as an artist, he is still dealing with this conflict of religion in his old age. His period of introversion was so very important, to gain knowledge, but it was righteous that he decided to use the power of his music for the common good. His songs were the soundtrack to my young adulthood. Without Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam, there would be no me as I know me.

Although I could not interest my teenager in the Cat Stevens songs from the 70s, he still remembers Yusuf Islam’s English-Arabic rendition of Tala’ al Badru ‘Alayna from the Bosnia album, which used to play in the family car when he was a toddler, back when I used to have a working CD player.

In September 2004, Yusuf Islam appeared on the US No-Fly List and was prevented from meeting with Dolly Parton, who is the biggest Christian songwriter in America. Homeland Security claimed there were “concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities.” The two recorded a version of his song “Peace Train” on her album, anyway.

One of the coolest things he has done with his power in this life was suing media companies for slandering him. Every dollar that he won, he donated to charity.

In a very emotional moment near the end of the show, the female host reappeared all covered up in respect, wearing a black shawl. The love and deep gratitude, the crowd’s adoration was so thick and sincere.

Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.


Syrian Singer Abu Ratib Pleads “Not Guilty”

Michigan Islamic Examiner/Heather Laird

Abu Ratib January 26, 2010. In a Federal court hearing in Detroit on Monday January 25, 2010, singer Abu Raitb pleaded not guilty to the charges of making false statements to the FBI, false oath in a matter relating to naturalization and attempted unlawful procurement of naturalization.

Abu Ratib also known as Mohammed Masfaka is a beloved singer of Islamic songs. He has millions of fans throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and is respected by not only the common person but by government diplomats as well. He is considered by some Michigan residents to be one of the leading Islamic singers of all times, and is believed to have written more songs than the also popular Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Sami Yusuf.  He is the Chair of the International Union for Islamic Art.

After reading the nine-page indictment put forth by the FBI, one wonders what this case is really concerned with achieving. The document states questions asked and answered and some discrepancies in the answers. More specifically, the case mentions that Abu Ratib left off of his immigration papers a low-level job that he held for a short period of time. How many people in the United States everyday leave off previous employment on job applications. His other offense was not mentioning or mentioning incorrectly compensation. I am quite confident this happens everyday in the US as well. In fact, can everyone say Treasury Secretary?

All sarcasm aside, this is serious when it comes to immigration, and I would be on the first line of defense for my Country if you told me an immigrant left off their application that they were affiliated with some group that would harm United States citizens. But, this is not the case here. The government is saying that they knew he worked for an entity that was approved a 501(c)3 status – meaning an organization that already had some governmental scrutiny.  And, he did so here in the United States, so it was not covert or anything. How would or could he know that the government, because of its policies with Israel would change their opinion about their foreign policy? Holy Land Foundation was prosecuted and the first trial was declared a mistrial, the second received a conviction and now it is currently on appeal. So, we are prosecuting an individual because of guilt by association with a group that may or may not be considered affiliated with terrorism, but that the US Courts have not yet decided on, and not because we think “he” was a terrorist, but because he left off information from an application.

Why would we do this? The immigrant story is one that most of us are familiar with in folklore. People come to America to build a better life. They believe the will have certain unalienable rights that they do not have elsewhere. I am positive that the Masfaka family believed they would have in America what they could not find elsewhere. But, the reality for some immigrants is of another nature. Some immigrants are targeted as assets for the government. And because they are immigrants or of immigrant status can be intimidated or coerced into becoming informants or spies for the United States or have their citizenship revoked. They trust their new government. Aren’t we all raised to trust the authority in our midst – our police officers, our government. If you are a minority in the United States, a different reality exists. However, the majority is taught to trust government.

So, if you are an immigrant likely your first language is not English. You come to America wanting to be an American, and fill out your paperwork and then you are a citizen. The process is only not that simple. If the government at any time deems it necessary to use you, then they can very meticulously scrutinize every piece of paper and every conversation you have had to find a small detail left out here, a mistranslation there, etc., until an error is found or omission which to the government translates as a lie and you have now become a defendant.

What Masfaka seems to really be guilty of is not having legal representation with him at critical junctures in his immigration process. But, how many immigrants do not, and are not being prosecuted? We can presume many. This man was targeted, because of an Islamaphobic attitude that has been allowed to prevail in the United States. It is forbidden for Muslims to spy. For a man to take the stance of refusing to commit a sin in his faith is to stand for his freedom of religion. This is one of the positive rights that Americans are supposed to enjoy. It seems in this case, Masfaka may have taken that stand and is now being punished for it.

The result of this case has two very negative implications for the United States. First, it seems to tear at and shred our Constitution a little more. Not providing that blanket of freedoms that we promote as being unique to us. Second, this particular Defendant is Internationally known and beloved. And here we are again, post the Obama Cairo speech being seen as double-speak on the International scene. You say you want peace, but your actions appear to be targeting  and punishing people who do not fit the bill of terrorist.

Muslims will help their Country. No one wants corruption in the Muslim community. Why can’t we ask American Muslims to help in cleansing this Country of corruption instead of thinking the only way to do so is through seeming coercion and intimidation.

The Muslim community is praying for the Masfaka family that these charges are dropped. The American Muslim community prays for its Country in hopes that America can find a new approach and fight for all its citizens.