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Islamic World News

Searchlighting Islam

Actor Will Smith Embraces Islam

Searchlighting Islam
By Yusuf Islam (Formerly Cat Stevens)

Sadly for all of us, the world seems to have lost its balance and is now reeling out of control. A violent group cold-bloodedly murdered innocent civilians, hijacked a religion and a large army is out for justice - but more innocent lives will get destroyed.

It seems to me that someone like myself, having seen life from both sides-East and West-is rightly placed to comment and confront certain myths and try to reduce the demonization of a religion, which is still appallingly misrepresented. In an old song of mine which today uncannily seems to sound like a metaphor for September 11, "Tuesday's Dead." I wrote, "I'm like him, just like you, I can't tell you what to do, like everybody else I'm searching through what I've heard."

Like other Westerners, I was wary of approaching Islam when I converted 23 years ago. I found that my songs were asking questions," Islam said. "But I was averse to religious dogma ... I wanted a more spiritual way of finding what's right and wrong."

During this personal search, I wrote well-known songs, such as "Peace Train." I never said where the train was going. I didn't know. The train was a symbol, rolling on the edge of darkness," Islam said.

In my search for answers, I turned to Buddhism, Eastern mysticism and even Pythagoras of my own Greek heritage. However, it was not my own search, but my brother David Gordon's travels that led me to the Islamic religion. After returning from a trip to Jerusalem, David bought me a copy of an English translation of the Qur'an as a present.

I discovered something different from the negative images portrayed. As well as belief in the one God of this universe, it was quite a revelation to find that the word Islam itself came from Salam or "Peace." A notion light years away from the violence and destruction we have all seen in recent weeks.

Scanning through the pages of the Qur'an back in the late 1970s, it amazed me how close Islam was to my religious upbringing as a child. Prayer and charity, paradise and angels were mentioned; the Gospels and Torah of Jesus and Moses respectively were referred to. Soon, the Quran was carrying me beyond home and customary landscapes, to a new religious shore inhabited by people I was always told to be suspicious of-Arabs and Muslims.

But surprisingly, the Quran was full of stories and instruction from the history of mankind as a whole. It did not speak in favor of one special race against others. It said although we may be from different countries and tribes, we were all human born of the same original parents, Adam and Eve. The Quran directly says: "The best of people are the most God-conscious." In 1977 I was listening, and quietly decided to embrace Islam.

Since then, I am still surprised how little people know about a religion of over one billion fellow humans. After the nightmare of September 11 and what followed, it's vital that people get to understand more about Muslim beliefs. This is why I feel it is necessary to write and shine a searchlight on Islam's hidden reality.

Most newcomers to a faith go through an initially zealous phase-call it "born again" -followed by a period of measure and maturity. Muhammad Ali, the boxer, is good example of that learning curve. I was no different.

All I wanted was to be as far away from showbiz lights as possible. So suddenly it was blackout. I stopped drinking but still continued in the studio to make records. Naturally, what the public didn't see was my spiritual growth, subtly softening the ragged edges of my character. The media likes big paintbrushes and, as usual, bypassed such details.

I announced the end of my career as Cat Stevens and sold all my instruments, giving the proceeds to charity. Having assumed my new name-Yusuf (as in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob) Islam-I grew my beard slightly longer and donned long white clothes-an image which instead of representing a spiritual disciple, to untrained westerners' eyes, now looks shockingly similar to their idea of public enemy No. 1.

Drinking, partying, celebrity girlfriends-turning my back on such a life-style was newsworthy for a time, but it wasn't really gossipy enough to continue writing about. But at that time it was impossible for me to explain, so I shunned interviews and flashbulbs. The small number of fish-lens photos and garbled headlines that did come out, for many, were nothing but a confirmation that the Wild World I'd sang about had gone a bit wilder.

But beyond the well-known "O Baby, Baby it's a Wild World," chorus line, only a few recognized how uncannily some songs had double-tracked my future. The song, "The Boy with a Moon and Star on His Head", almost paints the whole story. Peace Train, Changes IV, Morning Has Broken--the list goes on and on. In one explicit lyric, "On The Road To Find Out," I actually mention picking up a "good book"!

For years after entering Islam I was too busy raising a family and establishing schools for little Muslim children to stop and explain. I didn't realize how vital communication with the public was. At that time most of the media didn't seem very interested in my new life anyway-they were waiting for another sensational headline. That ungraciously came with the publication of the "Satanic Verses." Lamentably, what most people missed in that whole chapter was in the small print.

Still a relatively new Muslim, but being a well-known personality, I was invited to join a letter campaign requesting the publishers of the controversial novel to think again. I did, but they ignored the plea.

Suddenly the media tried linking me to supporting Iran's Fatwa on Salman Rushdie. The fact is that I never did support the Fatwa. Such is the irony. You wouldn't ask a Christian to deny one of the Ten Commandments; equally, as a new Muslim, I couldn't deny that the Quran, just like Leviticus in the Bible, forbade blasphemy and if there is no repentance, made it a capital offence.

But what most people-including many Muslims-fail to recognize, is that the Quran repeatedly calls on believers to repent, to uphold the rule of civility and not to take the law in their own hands. Clerics and extremists who call for the assassination of civilians outside the recognized bounds of the Islamic State without due process are wholly out of line with the limits and spirit of Islam. The Koran states, "And do not let your hatred of some people… cause you to transgress (the law)."

My songs of love and harmony and I were now associated with death edicts and even the Ayatollah! That was a time of great emotion and uproar. I released a statement clarifying my position, but the press preferred to ignore it-perhaps for them it didn't go far enough.

At that time, I was still learning, ill prepared and lacking in knowledge and confidence to speak out specifically against forms of extremism. I wish to avoid making that same mistake again.

Today, I am aghast at the horror of recent events and feel it a duty to speak out. Not only did terrorists hijack planes and destroy life last September, but also they hijacked the beautiful religion of Islam and split the brother and sisterhood of mankind.

The targeting of unsuspecting civilians going about their daily work was energized by nothing but blind irreligious hatred. Yet we should remember, this kind of atrocity has been a common occurrence, year upon year, in many lands. My memory of the prolonged suffering and death of two hundred thousand people in Bosnia at the end of last century is something that I cannot easily forget.

However, it is also good to hear spiritual and political leaders across all countries and cultural divides making it clear that such acts of murder as were witnessed in the U.S. have nothing to do with the universal beliefs of Muslims; it's also important that retaliation does not become a representation of Christian wrath.

The Koran states: "Repel evil with what is better and he, between whom and you was hatred, will become as a warm bosom-friend."

So out of the shadows of death, positive signs are arising, human beings are beginning to feel each other's pain. Tragedies can sometimes help breakdown the barriers of prejudice. In Chicago, three days after the attack, non-Muslim neighbors-Christian and other denominations-held hands in a circle to form a human chain around a Mosque in which Muslims were praying. That chain, in the form of humanitarian aid, should stretch to those innocent and blameless people of Afghanistan and all fellow human beings like them who are still starving on the knife-edge of life and death.

If humanity can be revived through honor and deeds of compassion and charity, it is hoped that the tragedies of the past will herald a new tomorrow and a new sunrise of moral understanding for people all over the world. Our future is still glimmering brightly in the searchlight of children's eyes.

I belonged to that idealistic movement which grew up in the Sixties and Seventies with undiminished dreams and hopes for a more peaceful world. There are multitudes of people around the world who don't want more wars and destruction. And I am still one of those.

Conflicts on earth seem endless, like day follows night. Life goes on and, regrettably, wars and terrorism are still very much with us. But nothing should stop us "dreaming about the world as one." Let's hope those words of my song "Peace Train" will one day be fulfilled.


Actor Will Smith Embraces Islam

Muslim leaders across America acknowledgeing Will Smith for embracing Islam religion after completing the Muhammad Ali biopic. Smith was introduced to Islam while learning about the legendary boxer's life.

Friends close to Smith claim the megastar is now embracing the religion in his own life and is eager to learn more about it. Director of the American Muslim Association of North America, Sofian Zakkout says, "Muhammad Ali is one of the best examples of Muslims in this country. He's been a wonderful spokesperson for the religion and if Will Smith can continue Muhammad Ali's work that would be wonderful." He continues, "Islam is a peaceful religion and if good people such as Muhammad and Will can carry that message then it would be wonderful. It would be a positive message for peaceful Muslims all over the world."

Smith appeared at the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon in September alongside Ali, defending Islam in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

December 2001
Ramadan 1422
Note from the Editor
Letters to the Editor
Islamic World News
Many in Hawaii
Turning to Islam
Surviving Our Enemy
Women in Islam
The Miracles of Zamzam
Islam is the Fastest Growing Religion
Dawah - Our Obligation
Wisdom in Islam
Stories of the Sahabah
Events Foretold
in the Quran
Math in the Quran
Letter From Mecca by Malik El-Shabazz
Why I Embraced Islam
Eating Together
The Miracle
of the Ant
Sand and Stone
Ramadan Soup
Kid's Corner
Imagine When
You Die
Eid Stamp & Poster