“I Prefer to Sing a Song”

Now I’ve been cryin’ lately,
Thinkin’ about the world as it is.
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?
– Cat Stevens, Peace Train

This morning I was looking on YouTube for that wonderful old Cat Stevens song, Peace Train, and stumbled upon a documentary of the songwriter that I found really thought-provoking. I’d known Cat Stevens had converted to the Islam religion many years ago, but I hadn’t really known much about Yusuf Islam’s (Cat Stevens’s) spiritual life beyond that. I’d heard rumors that he had supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I remember reading about Yusuf Islam  being suspected of terrorism and detained at an American airport when trying to enter the U.S. a decade ago. But the music he’d given us as Cat Stevens in the 70’s didn’t correlate in my mind with terrorism and religious extremism – it did not compute – so I’d just pretty much ignored all the rumors and kept the old Cat Stevens and his music alive and well in my thoughts. Basically, I took what was useful to me – what touched me and inspired me in his music – and ignored the other stuff.

Then this morning, as I was looking for Peace Train, I found a 51-minute documentary on Yusuf Islam’s life. Fifty-one minutes. In internet time, where we are used to bits and pieces and snatches and soundbites, 51 minutes is a LOT of minutes to invest on one YouTube clip, right? But I was interested enough that I figured I would go ahead and start the clip for myself and when I got bored I’d just turn it off and go on to something else.

I pushed “play” and began to watch the documentary. Before I knew it I was already 35 minutes into it, then 40, and then it was done! And I found the entire 51 minutes fascinating! So interesting, in fact, that I started scribbling down quotes for myself, to remember later.

The documentary addresses Cat Stevens’s career as a musician, his conversion to the Islam religion and changing his name to “Yusuf Islam”, the Salman Rushdie fatwa, and Yusuf Islam’s detention for suspected terrorism. Through the entire documentary Yusuf Islam comes across, to me, as sincere and genuine, intelligent and well-spoken. He says he never supported the fatwa against Rushdie and I believe him – I figure he doesn’t have a whole lot to gain by denying his support for the fatwa, and he might actually be risking a fatwa on his own life by saying he doesn’t support the fatwa on Rushdie’s. He claims he’s never been a part of any extremist Muslim terrorist activities, and, again, I believe him – from my own observation, terrorists (whether Muslim or otherwise) seem to be pretty proud of their terrorist activities and don’t spend their time denying what they’ve done. And when, in the documentary, we see Yusuf Islam addressing a gathering of Muslim leaders he’s not inciting fanatical extremism, but is telling them, instead: “We need inspired leadership to guide us back to the elevated path of wisdom and away from the temple of politics and ignorance.”

As someone who identifies as a Christian Scientist, I have now and then felt the sting of prejudice that comes from ignorance and fear. Maybe that’s why I’m able to feel some empathy for Yusuf Islam. In the documentary he puts it like this: “I was being painted in the same colors as all this often kind of political stuff.”

Islam says, “There’s certainly a change in the wind… There’s a chance for a new understanding of the moderate middle path of Islam because the extremes have been exposed. A lot of people have missed the whole point – including some Muslims who have gone off on their own strategy of trying to improve the world through some kind of devious means.”

I, for one, am glad that Cat Stevens converted to Islam. He believes he was led by God to do so. I believe God, Love, leads us all down our own unique path – and I believe every path leads to Love, in the end. Maybe every religion and non-religion needs adherents with reasonable voices – voices that speak of peace. Maybe the Islam religion needs the voice of Yusuf Islam speaking and singing for it and helping lead the way towards Love.

“I don’t really want to get involved in politics,” Yusuf Islam says, “I prefer to sing a song.”

Now, I’ve been happy lately,
Thinkin’ about the good things to come
And I believe it could be;
Something good has begun.
Cat Stevens, Peace Train

Of all Cat Stevens’s songs Peace Train is the one that has most inspired me. Here’s the Youtube clip for Peace Train that I was looking for this morning:

And here’s a link to the documentary:

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