Yusuf Islam, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, says his book explains the actions and decisions
he 'made in real life'.
The eminent musician and humanitarian Yusuf Islam – previously known as Cat Stevens – has returned to the spotlight with a project that is perhaps his most personal work to date.
In his first book, Why I Still Carry a Guitar, the 66-year-old speaks
– powerfully and with some dry humour – of his spiritual journey since converting to Islam in 1977, and tackling the many misconceptions that came along the way.
“There have been too many myths circulating for a long time and I felt it was time to put a few of them to
bed,” he says. “I hope to write a more comprehensive autobiography in the future – inshallah. Till then, this
book will certainly fill the gap.”
How did the idea for this book take shape?
We were hearing stories about Muslims in certain countries lamenting my return to writing and singing with a guitar
again. Some even thought that I had left Islam – God forbid.
Because of the climate of conservatism, which has dominated certain Muslim communities and their perception of Islam
recently, I decided to address some of these issues face-on by laying down the principles of Islam and its approach to leisure and entertainment.
The evolvement of the science of
Fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is a fascinating subject, but it is also not a closed subject. What is halal and what is haram have been stated clearly by Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon
him) in the Quran and Sunnah [the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed].
But where there are grey areas, there are
allowances for different opinions. During the early days of the Khilafah [early rulers who came after the
Prophet Mohammed], Muslims had a much more open and receptive attitude to the cultures they came into contact
with. And ijtihad [interpretations by scholars of topics not covered in the Quran or Sunnah]
was a major instrument of its ability to progress and deal with new questions or challenges.
Many have to learn that entertainment and music can be socially and intellectually centred and, if used correctly, a
powerful means of change.
One of the most interesting features of the book is that it is different from your songwriting voice. While your songs are rich and heavy with metaphor, in the
book you have adopted a crisp and direct writing style. Was that a conscious decision to appeal to as many people as you can?
Perhaps I did it subliminally. In music you can use metaphors with ease – if a person doesn’t understand the parable
they can still enjoy the melody of the music.
If, however, a person reads a book and misses the meaning of its metaphors, this will be extremely disheartening for
both the reader as well as the author.
So, my objective was not to write another song, but to reveal some of the clear thoughts and interesting backgrounds
that lay behind the decisions I made in real life. That way everybody gets to understand the basic message of the book – as well as looking at the pictures.
Since your last album, 2009’s The Roadsinger, you have been exploring different forms of
writing. You wrote and composed the musical stage play Moonshadow in 2012 and now this book. Did you use different
creative approaches for the different mediums?
Every medium has its rules. Content dictates form in most cases. Most of my songs in the past and up to today are
stories and provide a picture or an emotional scene for the listener to feel, enter and take part in.
The theatre is a world in itself. The possibility for creating experiences that move people is increased many times
over. In the end, the best stories are usually about a battle of good over evil – that has never changed.
[thenational.ae, 10. Sept. 2014]
Book Launch of ‘Why I Still Carry A Guitar’,
The Spiritual Journey of Cat Stevens to Yusuf…
A special night was had at The One and Only Royal Mirage with the launch of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam’s book Why I still Carry a Guitar, where he writes about his journey to Islam, why he
gave up music for 25 years and his return to music and performing.
An excited crowd of local personalities and media gathered to see the man himself and to get their books signed. See here pictures of Yusuf with Iain Fairservice, managing partner and group
editor of Motivate, publishers of the book. Fairservice explained, the idea for the book came about when the two met ‘up in the air’ when they were seated together on a flight and they got
Heralded as one of the greatest songwriters of his time Cat Stevens walked away from his fame and music and converted to Islam and became Yusuf and has spent the past years working on education
and humanitarian projects. He received ‘The Man For Peace’ award in 2004 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. His educational work continues through his
foundation and website www.mountainoflight.com.
Singer Cat Stevens opens up about his return to music at book launch in Dubai
Music fans around the world will have been delighted with the news that the singer-songwriter Cat Stevens is heading back on the road this year.
And at a special event in The One&Only Royal Mirage on Tuesday, to launch his new book ‘Why I Still Carry A Guitar – The Spiritual Journey of Cat Stevens to Yusuf’, he opened up about his
return to music.
The writer of beautiful songs such as ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, ’Wild World’, ‘Peace Train’, and ‘Father and Son, famously turned his back on stardom for Islam in the late 1970s and took
the name Yusuf Islam.
Earlier this week he announced a six-day tour of Canada and the United States this December.
The ‘Peace Train Late Again’ dates will be the ‘Morning Has Broken’ star’s first series of shows there since 1976.
At the launch, Yusuf explained to a captivated crowd why he chose to write the new book, released by UAE-based publishers Motivate.
He said: “I was thinking about writing something as I’d been criticised from certain quarters for picking up a guitar
again and I never took that lightly – I believed it was time to explain.
I hope the book will explain a lot of the riddles of my turnings and directions.”
The book only came about after a chance meeting on a plane between the singer and Ian Fairservice, the managing partner of the UAE-based publishing house.
Yusuf added: “I think it is one of the most miraculous things, the fact that we now have a wonderful book which I am very
proud of, which explains a lot of things and my reasoning.”
And his reason for picking up the guitar again?
The 66-year-old explained: “Instrumental to that was my son, Mohamed. Because he is the one that brought the guitar back
into the house. It was here in Dubai, where we live, and there we were and he brought the guitar. So one morning after prayers, everyone had gone back to bed. I just got back with my guitar. It
is important and my son is important.”
Cat was humble throughout his speech, yet he still found time for a few light-hearted moments.
First he quipped that he had been living in ‘Jumeirah 2, not Jumeirah 1’, before joking about the name of his forthcoming album ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’.
He explained: “It has a lot of meanings, especially because I’ve just left Universal and joined Sony!”
[7daysindubai.com, 18. Sept. 2014]
Yusuf Islam’s new book a brief chronicle
of a lifelong spiritual quest
When Yusuf Islam made his return to the music world, the reception was as celebratory as it was controversial.
The news seemingly came out of nowhere with the surprise release of his 2006 album An Other Cup, his first since 1978.
Inspiration flowed from the writer of such songs as Words, The First Cut Is the Deepest and Peace
Train with the follow ups, 2009’s Roadsinger and his latest collection, Tell ’Em I’m Gone, out this week.
For the fans, the re-emergence of Islam (known previously as Cat Stevens) was akin to the return of a long-lost friend.
Despite the time apart, Islam’s recent albums and sold-out tours demonstrated he hasn’t lost his knack to inspire through his reflective lyrics and uplifting melodies.
Not everyone shared the sentiment however.
A significant portion of Islam’s conservative Muslim fan-base, those largely acquired during his non-musical years when he was involved solely in humanitarian causes, were dismayed. Some went as
far as labelling his actions un-Islamic.
This constant negative online chatter, not to mention the direct hate mail sent to his management, played a large role behind Islam’s penning his debut book, Why I Still
Carry a Guitar.
“My abrupt departure from the spotlight confused many of my friends and fans,” he writes in the opening chapter.
“Sadly, a few decided to believe strange rumours about my decision based on inaccurate information and myths.”
Published in both English and Arabic, the book is at times a revealing spiritual memoir. Through its brisk 100 pages, Islam details “the spiritual journey” from his conversion in 1977 and his
decisions behind his return to music. More powerfully, the book is a pointed message against conservative Muslims promoting the shunning of the arts due to a misconstruing of their faith.
At a time where Muslims are under an unrelenting critical spotlight, he states, the arts can play a healing role in tackling misconceptions and in building bridges with others.
For such broad and important topics, it seems strange that Islam tackles them in such a brief – if immaculately presented – book. The 15 chapters – each little more than four pages and paired
with some personal portraits of Islam throughout the years – touch upon the major aspects of his spiritual quest without delving too deeply. This is a pity as it would have been beneficial to
fellow Muslim converts facing the same journey.
The end result is a series of revealing yet ultimately frustrating vignettes into Islam’s life.
For instance, that wintry day in December 1977, when Islam strolled into a mosque in London to publicly embrace his new faith, is dealt with in only three paragraphs.
Islam also skips over other potential autobiographical gold mines, such as how his Greek father, Swedish mother and brother all eventually became Muslims.
Another major drawback is the style Islam employs throughout the book. The poetic and reflective prose central to his songwriting is jettisoned for a voice close to polemical.
Initially, one can understand such a decision, particularly in the book’s middle section where Islam details the numerous Quranic passages and Hadiths where music is not expressly banned.
“There was not enough undisputed evidence in Islam’s original scriptural sources of divine knowledge to support the
complete banning of music from human life and its objectives,” he concludes.
Carefully footnoted, these chapters skilfully deal with the controversial topic and are a worthy addition in carrying the academic conversation forward. However, when the same laboured approach
is employed to describing intimate moments, such as playing the guitar for the first time in more than two decades, it becomes cumbersome and robs the moment of any power.
However, it is ultimately the overarching sincerity of the book that makes it a worthwhile enterprise. It also forms the ultimate theme of the book, which is to promote the Islamic principle of
Throughout Why I Still Carry a Guitar, Islam demonstrates how most of the major decisions in his career – from quitting music to setting up his residence and
office in Dubai – are done with the intent to complement the faith.
Such passages should inspire Muslims from all walks of life to keep their focus and encourage Muslim artists struggling to reconcile their faith with their art.
As for Islam himself, the book shows he has come to accept his place as a pop-culture icon, inspirational Muslim figure and a lightning rod for bigots.
Why I Still Carry a Guitar concludes with the message Islam places in a majority of his songs, that peace and resolve are fostered through introspection.
“I am not seeking or asking anyone to follow me, or my various conclusions,” he states. “But only to look within themselves.”
[thenational.ae, 02. Nov. 2014]
Official launch of 'Why I
Still Carry a Guitar'
at the Kuala Lumpur
International Book Fair, Malaysia
- Istanbul, 16. Mai 2017 -