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February 2007

Yusuf (Cat Stevens)

H.E.A.R. is happy to honor Yusuf for his great contribution to music and his many humanatarian works! We congratulate Yusuf on his new music release, "An Other Cup"!

Yusuf Bio

Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, the son of a Greek Cypriot father and Swedish mother, Yusuf Islam grew up above the family shop in Londons theatre district, situated at the northernmost junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street, near the heart of Londons West End.

While studying at Art College he was auditioned by a record producer, Mike Hurst, formerly of the pop-folk trio the Springfields. The resulting tracks impressed the Decca Record chief so much that the young artist - now known as Cat Stevens - was selected to launch the new Deram Label, which also signed new British talent such as David Bowie and the Moody Blues.

Cat Stevens went on to become one of the biggest solo artists of the 1960s and 1970s, penning such classics as Matthew & Son, Moonshadow, Wild World and Father & Son and selling over 60 million LPs.

Following a bout of TB early in his career he undertook an ongoing search for peace and ultimate spiritual truth. After almost drowning in the Pacific Ocean at Malibu he received a translation of the Koran as a gift from his elder brother, David. His spiritual quest for answers was fulfilled and he embraced Islam in December, 1977. Six months later he changed his name to Yusuf Islam, walked away from the music business to start a new life and raise a family.

Today, Yusuf Islam is arguably one of the world's most famous converts to Islam. His pioneering work in the field of education resulted in securing a landmark decision by the British government to certify and support Islamic education throughout Great Britain. The three schools he founded in Londons Brent district Islamia Primary, Islamia Girls' Secondary and the Brondesbury College for Boys consistently top the boroughs examination league tables.

His U.N.-registered charity, Small Kindness, provides humanitarian relief, through direct aid as well as social and educational programs, to orphans and families in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and other regions of the world.

Since 1994 he has once again turned his attention to the recording studio, releasing ten albums to date under his Mountain of Light label. His Sarajevo concert in 1997, to celebrate Bosnian culture, was his first public appearance for 20 years. Recently he has contributed to a number of major charity concert events including Nelson Mandela's 46664 AIDS benefit concert at the close of 2003 in Cape Town where he coupled with Peter Gabriel and the Soweto Choir to perform Wild World, and also a fund-raising concert in Jakarta to aid the victims of the recent tsunami where he premiered a new song, Indian Ocean, inspired by the disaster.

In 2003 Yusuf Islam was awarded the 'World Social Award' for his humanitarian relief work. Previous recipients of this award include Pope John Paul II, Steven Spielberg, and Sir Paul McCartney.

In November 2004, he was honoured with the 'Man for Peace' award by a committee of Nobel peace laureates.

More recently, in November 2005, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Gloucestershire for services to education and humanitarian relief.
Yusuf Islam is currently working on a stage musical based metaphorically on his spiritual journey and has completed the recording of a new album of spiritually inspiring songs, called An Other Cup. It will be his first mainstream release in 28 years and marks 40 years since he first entered the music industry in 1966.

  • He has often been asked why he gave up music so completely and did not find a way to accommodate his faith and his career.  “I gave an interview in 1980 to a Muslim magazine and they asked me about music and the future, and I said I'd suspended my musical activities for fear that it may divert me from the true path," he recalls.  "But I also added that I couldn't be dogmatic and say I'll never make music again.  There's nothing in the Koran that says music is forbidden; yet when I looked at the music business I realised it was definitely a negative infringement on what I wanted from my spiritual life.  I didn't want to have to worry about it, so for me that meant giving away my guitars and getting down to the job of living, starting the charitable work I wanted to do, and having a family life."


  • Ultimately, he says, the reason for his return to pop music is simple.  "The language of song is simply the best way to communicate the powerful winds of change which brought me to where I am today, and the love of peace still passing through my heart.  I feel gifted to have that ability still within me.  I never wanted to get involved in politics because that essentially separates people, whereas music has the power to unify, and is so much easier for me than to give a lecture."

    • Although Cat Stevens’s conversion to Islam and departure from making music 28 years ago took the world by surprise, it was actually the culmination of a decade-long spiritual quest.  "To some people it may have seemed like an enormous jump," he says.  "But for me it was a gradual dawning, and my songs had already primed me for it.”    


    • In 1968, having already achieved pop stardom in his native UK, his career was suddenly derailed when he contracted tuberculosis.  “Because I was close to death, I started to think more purposefully about the meaning of life and why we are here,” he says.  “That was the beginning of my search for something beyond, that eventually led me on a long journey to find out."
    • Having spent a year in recovery, he returned to recording with a new introspection and sensitivity.  Throughout his hugely successful career in the 1970s, “I was always seeking, and my songs reflect that very clearly," he says today.  "I was looking beyond the surface of the material world and wanted to find some higher truth.” 


    • A major turning point in his life came while he was swimming off the coast of Malibu, California.  "I was in the ocean and suddenly I'd lost it, I had no power to swim any more," he remembers.  "I was fighting the ocean and I had nobody with me.  Yet I did have someone.  I called out, 'God, if you save me I'll work for you.'  A friendly wave swept me in to shore and from that arose within me a deep conviction and belief that there is a higher control over one's life."
    • In 1976 his brother gave him a copy of the Koran.  "I began to read it and found a totally unique form of revelation in terms of the communication between God and man," he recalls.  “Today what some people think about Islam is something completely different form what I discovered when I started reading the Koran.  It was that final discovery of the Koran and the message it contained which brought me home and from that moment my thoughts and all the things I had been leading to made sense.”


      • Acclaimed around the globe for his devotion to peace and charity, Yusuf has received a series of prestigious awards for his life's work.  He was named as the 2004 “Man for Peace,” voted for by a committee of all Nobel peace laureates and presented by Mikhail Gorbachev


      • Since converting to Islam and leaving the music business 28 years ago, Yusuf has channeled the royalties from his Cat Stevens records to charitable causes, including a string of Muslim schools he personally established in London.  His pioneering work resulted in a landmark decision by the British government to certify and support Islamic education throughout the country. 


      • His U.N. registered charity, Small Kindness, provides humanitarian relief to orphans and families in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and other regions.  He is also one of the few individuals to finance women to attend university in Baghdad. 
      • He donated the royalties from the Cat Stevens Box Set, released in October 2001, to charity – with half going to The September 11th Fund and the remainder to orphans and homeless families in underdeveloped countries.



      • Yusuf's celebrity has made him a media and government target.  Over the years, his beliefs and actions have often been misunderstood and misrepresented.  He accepts this as a reflection of how extremists on both sides have attempted to use Islam as a combatant in a global struggle.  
      • Yusuf was not heard from in public for a decade until 1989, when it was erroneously reported that he supported the death sentence ordered by the Ayatollah Khomeini against novelist Salman Rushdie for writing "The Satanic Verses."  It was what he calls a "monstrous myth": 


        • Yusuf was speaking to students at a university in London about his journey to Islam when he was asked about the fatwa (Islamic legal pronouncement) calling for the death of Rushdie.  “Of course, I was going to be a prime target for a question on this issue,” so he responded with a simple statement of what he understood at the time of Muslim law.  “I was simply a new Muslim who had stated something which I considered quite plain and obvious.  If you were to ask a Bible student what the Ten Commandments are, you would expect him to repeat them honestly, and you wouldn’t blame him for doing so…”
        • “What I said was that, like the Bible, the Koran defines blasphemy without repentance as being a capital offense.  And that’s all I stated.  I never supported the fatwa.  It was very sad to see such irresponsibility from the 'free press' and I was totally abhorred.  I released a statement the very next day after I read the headlines, completely contradicting what they’d said, but that never got the headlines.  Of course, once the damage is done, everybody perceives you for what they’ve seen on the front page.  It was a matter of me learning the hard way.”
          • In September 2004, Yusuf was on a United Airlines flight from London to Washington when the plane was diverted to Maine because he had apparently been mistaken for someone on the post-9/11 "no fly" list.  He was deported back to England the following day, and an international controversy was provoked.  “It was like I was reading a script where I was the star, and I didn’t even know what the plot was and how it was going to end.  Perhaps it was about the fact that my name happens to carry my religion with it.”


            • When The Sun and The Sunday Times in England published articles agreeing with the U.S.’s actions, Yusuf sued the newspapers for libel.  He received a substantial settlement from both papers, along with published apologies and acknowledgements that he had never supported terrorism.  He donated his settlement to help orphans of the Asian tsunami. 
          ”It seems to be the easiest thing in the world these days to make scurrilous accusations against Muslims,” he said at the time.  “In my case, it directly impacts my relief work and damages my reputation as an artist.”



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