Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cat Stevens's birth name was Stephen Demetre Georgiou. He was born on July 21, 1948 in London, England to a Greek Cypriot father and a Swedish mother. He has since changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He is best known as a popular singer-songwriter during the 1970s who adopted the faith of Islam after a near death experience and became an outspoken and controversial spokesman.
Stephen Demetre Georgiou was born to parents who already had a son and daughter. They all lived above the restaurant that his parents operated in Shaftesbury Avenue within the West End of London. Although his father had a Greek Orthodox background, Stephen was sent to a Roman Catholic school. When he was approximately eight years of age his parents divorced, although they both continued to live above the restaurant. Later, his mother moved back to Sweden and took Stephen with her where he briefly attended school for six months. At age 17 he attended art school.
Early music career
Stephen Demetre Georgiou decided that his name was not commercially marketable in the 1960s and so he began to call himself Cat Stevens. ('Cat' being a hip jazz term of the period and Stevens referring to a variation in spelling of his legal first name.) As Cat Stevens he published several songs and at age 18 in 1966, he had his first hit with I Love My Dog and then went on tour with moderate success. On August 14, 1967 his voice joined with other recording artists on the airwaves of Wonderful Radio London bemoaning the loss of the pirate radio station which had helped create his first hit record. (See IFPI 'Conflicts of Interest'.) It was around this time that Variety editor Peter Bart refered to Cat Stevens as 'looking like a homeless person'.
Illness and success
Later that same year at age 19, he entered a hospital and was diagnosed with tuberculosis; his career seemed over. However, in the following ten years Cat Stevens sold 40 million albums. His most popular songs included Peace Train, Morning Has Broken, Moonshadow, Wild World, Father and Son, Matthew and Son, and Oh Very Young. Many of them were performed only with him playing either the guitar or piano. In 1971 he also wrote music specifically for the film Harold and Maude. For several decades two of these songs were unavailable except in the film; but have since been released on the disc Footsteps in the Dark. He also had a hit with a cover of Sam Cooke's Another Saturday Night.
According to an episode of VH1's Behind The Music, Stevens nearly drowned in a freak accident near the end of the 1970s. He pleaded with God to save him. Stevens was known to comment, "I said 'please, God, I'll do anything for you, I'll work for you...'" And thus, Stevens began to find peace with himself and began his transition to Islam (interestingly, a song from his 1972 album Catch Bull At Four, entitled Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head, may have been a sign of things to come). He converted to that faith in 1978 and he legally changed his name to Yusuf Islam which seemed to follow the same sort of reasoning why he had originally adopted his stage name, since his name now described his faith. (See Islam in the United Kingdom.)
Muslim faith and Islam's musical career
Following his conversion Yusuf Islam abandoned his previous career as a pop star known as Cat Stevens. At one point he wrote to the record companies asking that his music no longer be distributed, but his request was denied.
In 1985, Yusuf Islam decided to return to the public spotlight for the first time since his religious conversion when he became aware of the hunger crisis threatening Ethiopia. He attempted to join with other artists as part of the historic Live Aid concert and he wrote a special song for the occasion, he was however excluded from the line-up.
He has since resumed making recordings featuring Islamic lyrics accompanied only by basic percussion instruments in his compositions. He also produced an album called A is for Allah as an instruction for children. Among his other interests is a Web site on the Internet called Mountain of Light (see link below.)
Political and religious controversy
In 1989 Yusuf Islam created both political and religious controversy when he made comments supporting the Iranian fatwa pronounced on the life of Salman Rushdie, following the author's publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. This religious edict held that it was the obligation of all Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie.
"Salman Rushdie, indeed any writer who abuses the prophet or indeed any prophet under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death."
The public reaction to this speech was negative. It resulted in a backlash against Yusuf Islam with a drop in his record sales. This prompted Yusuf to add that a death sentence can only be carried out by the authority of a court in an Islamic society and that he is opposed to anyone taking the law into their own hands by murdering Salman Rushdie. (See links below for more details.)
In 2003 Yusuf once again recorded the song Peace Train for a compilation CD which also included David Bowie and Paul McCartney. He performed in Nelson Mandela's 46664 Concert with Peter Gabriel for which he both performed and recorded in the English language for the first time in 25 years. Yusuf explained that he reason why he had stopped performing in English was due to his own misunderstanding of the Islamic faith:
"This issue of music in Islam is not as cut-and-dried as I was led to believe," he said. "I relied on hearsay, that was perhaps my mistake."
In September 2004 it had been reported that he might release a new version of Father and Son with Ronan Keating, lead singer of Boyzone. In December of that year, he released it in time for the Christmas singles chart, and it debuted at Number 2, behind Band Aid 20's Do They Know It's Christmas?. The proceeds of Father And Son were donated to the Band Aid charity. Boyzone also had a hit with a cover version of the song.
Denial of entry into the United States
On September 21 2004, Yusuf Islam was travelling on United Airlines Flight 919 from London to Washington. While the plane was in flight, the Advanced Passenger Information System flagged his name as being on a no-fly list. Customs agents alerted the Transportation Security Administration, which then diverted his flight to Bangor, Maine, where he was detained by the FBI.
The following day Yusuf Islam was deported back to England. The US Transportation Security Administration claimed there were "concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities." The United States Department of Homeland Security specifically alleged that he had provided funding to the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas, although it did not offer any proof of its allegation.
His deportation provoked a small international controversy and led British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to complain personally to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations. Powell responded by stating that the watch list was under review, and added:
"I think we have that obligation to review these matters to see if we are right."On October 1, 2004, Yusuf Islam was reported to have requested the removal of his name
"I remain bewildered by the decision of the US authorities to refuse me entry to the United States."
Man of Peace Award
On 10 November 2004, Yusuf Islam was presented with a Man of Peace award by the private Foundation of former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev to Yusuf Islam for his "dedication to promote peace, the reconciliation of people and to condemn terrorism." The ceremony was held in Rome, Italy and attended by five Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
As a footnote to the actions take by the U.S. government in deporting Yusuf Islam as a terrorist, the The Sun and The Sunday Times British newspapers had published reports in October, 2004 which stated that the U.S. was correct in its action. On February 15, 2005 a British court ruled that both newspapers had defamed Yusuf Islam by publishing false statements about him. Both newspapers acknowledged that Yusuf Islam has never supported terrorism and that to the contrary, he had recently been given a Man of Peace award. Yusuf responded that he was:
"... delighted by the settlement" which "helps vindicate my character and good name. ... It seems to be the easiest thing in the world these days to make scurrilous accusations against Muslims, and in my case it directly impacts on my relief work and damages my reputation as an artist. The harm done is often difficult to repair."
Yusuf Islam today
In 2005 Yusuf Islam lives with his wife and five children in London where he is an active member of the Muslim community. He has founded the charities Muslim Aid and Small Kindness to assist African famine victims. He continues to enjoy all rights to both his songs and recordings that he previously made under the name of Cat Stevens. A box set of his music, as well as remastered versions of his original albums recorded under the name of Cat Stevens has since been released on CD. His web site today lists all of his available albums where he states that most his royalties are then donated to charity.
This list excludes the many compilation albums which have been made. The years link to the relevant year in music.
As Cat Stevens:
- Matthew and Son (1966)
- New Masters (1967)
- Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
- Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
- Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
- Catch Bull at Four (1972)
- Foreigner (1973)
- Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)
- Saturnight (1974)
- Numbers (1975)
- Izitso (1977)
- Back to Earth (1978)
- Box Set (2001) compilation containing many rarities and live tracks
As Yusuf Islam:
- Article - Islam is a Home of Tolerance, not Fanaticism
- - Articles about Cat Stevens
- - Articles about Cat Stevens
- Yusuf Islam's web site
- Mountain of Light
- Cat Stevens site
- CatStevens on how he came to Islam
- BBC news story on Islam's complete vindication from allegations made by The Sun and The Sunday Times
- IMDb profile
- Press claims that singer Cat Stevens promotes killing Rushdie (NYT article – free registration required)
- Yusuf Islam's statement on the Rushdie affair (archive.org version as catstevens.com was offline intermittently)
- Yusuf Islam's watchlist status under review
- Cat Stevens wants off U.S. 'No Fly' List
- Yusuf Islam's Audio of 'Life of the Last Prophet'
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