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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 September 2006, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Muslim perspective
On Sunday 24 September 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Yusuf Islam
Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens

ANDREW MARR: Back in the 60's and 70's few solo artists were as popular as the great Cat Stevens, with tracks such as Father and Son, Moon Shadow and Wild World, he sold over 50 million albums.

And then, following a near-death experience he converted to the Islamic faith, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, sold all his guitars, left the music business apparently for good.

Two years ago he was refused entry to the United States, his flight to Washington was diverted, he was taken off it, sent back to London after his name appeared on an FBI "watch list".

On Tuesday the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens will stage his live comeback after more than a quarter of a century. He's going to play in front of an audience including Bill Clinton, Michael Douglas and Richard Branson.

The event in London aims to raise money for global poverty and in November he's going to release his first album in 28 years. Yusuf Islam joins me now from our London studio. Good morning, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

YUSUF ISLAM: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Good morning. Well let's start of with this new album and the music. It's been an awful long time. What made you decide that you wanted to pick up a guitar again and start writing songs again?

YUSUF ISLAM: Well, it's a long story, but I mean there's, when I left music you know back, about 28 years ago, I did it for many reasons and one of them was to sort of, get a life, you know to actually start enjoying the fruits of a family and what I discovered at that time was of course Islam. And now I believe, you know, after having been a Muslim so many years and having learned quite a lot, that there's a very good reason you know to come back and sing again.

ANDREW MARR: And, everybody watching, most people watching will want to know sort of what the songs are going to sound like. Are we going to feel that they're like your Cat Stevens' songs, that era, is it going to sound very different?

YUSUF ISLAM: It's me - so it's going to sound like that of course, because although some people may have you know, doubts that that would happen because for a long time I was making records without using the guitar and just using the spoken word, etc. and, you know, educational lectures, whatever.

But this is like, this is the real thing, so when my son brought the guitar back into the house you know that was the turning point, I think. And it opened a flood of, of new ideas and music which I think a lot of people would connect with.

ANDREW MARR: And these are new songs that you've been writing yourself over the past year or so, are they?

YUSUF ISLAM: Yes - one of the songs actually that has been chosen to launch the album is, interestingly, begins with a part of an old song, back in 1974, a song called The Foreigner. And so therefore there's a close link, and there's one song in there which I wrote in 1968 which I never got to record and very interestingly, in that song, it's very poignant because at one point I say when I'm talking about dreaming, you know, of a better world, I say "I'm not the only one". And ten years after I wrote that song, that was written in 1968, John Lennon wrote his anthem, you know, "Imagine", and in that song he said the same thing so we're not alone.

ANDREW MARR: So you were not along in that sense as well. Have you got to the bottom of this extraordinary incident when you were on your way to the United States and the plane was diverted and you were grabbed by the FBI - do you think it was a case of mistaken identity, do you know any more about that?

YUSUF ISLAM: No explanation has actually been given although now I can travel to the US, you know, they're welcoming me. But you know, again, strangely enough, it seems to resound similarly to the kind of thing that John Lennon went through back in the Nixon days when President Nixon was going through this, you know, unpopular war and there was an election going on and they refused him entry into to the United so you know you see similarities, but the reason was never given. But you know I'm ready to forgive and forget providing I can have a good welcome when I get there.

ANDREW MARR: Now, you must be one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent Muslim voice in the country. What do you say to, what do you feel when you see some of the more extreme members of your faith, that character who was barracking John Reid for instance the other day?

YUSUF ISLAM: Well, what you've got to look is the fact that these are individuals, and, you know, instead of blaming Islam, when a person actually doesn't abide by basic etiquette of Islam life and behaviour. You can't blame Islam, you have to look at the individual who stands outside of the norm and does that kind of thing. So therefore I would say, you know, when people go outside of limits and start to use Islam as their banner, you know, one must know a little bit more about Islam before you can judge, you know, what he's saying, what he's doing. But you'll find that you know that doesn't resonate with the majority, obviously, of Muslims in this world, and all the teachings of Islam.

ANDREW MARR: And how did you respond to what the Pope said, were you offended by that?

YUSUF ISLAM: Well, you know, I went to a Roman Catholic school so at one point I used to believe that the Pope was infallible and this only proves that obviously he's not, because the kind of interpretation he had of Islam, he should read, you know, Gandhi and find out what he said about Islam, he said far from being spread by the sword it was the prophets, the prophet Mohammed's integrity, his belief and faith in his mission, his patience and mercy, that spread Islam, nothing to do with the sword. So he should have looked elsewhere if he wanted to quote, but we respect the Pope and his position, I do believe he has retracted in a way that statement, and that's all to the good.

ANDREW MARR: But it's a difficult time clearly for the Muslim community, the mainstream Muslim community in this country, and I guess across the west?

YUSUF ISLAM: Difficult, but at the same time you know, if you're going to learn to fly you have to have a wind to help you. And I think there are many good things and many convergences of where good people want to join together and make this world better. I think in Britain also there's a golden opportunity for the Muslims to, you know, to help, to join in, you know, with the building of this country and its ideology.

And I think there's a lot to do and I see it as positive, you know, I once wrote a song called Moon Shadow, so you know, in that song I explained that whatever happens to you, you know, there's always something good to look forward to, that's what I believe.

ANDREW MARR: Yusuf Islam, former Cat Stevens, thank you very much.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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