Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meeting Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf Islam

Meeting Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf Islam
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I am tempted to write this after reading the write-up; “Yusuf Islam plays first LA show in 33 years.” Check this link for the story.

Well I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens center in London. That was in 1994 when I went to England on government of India’s field grant to further pursue my doctoral research. I was living in Colliers High road next to Sainsbury supermarket in South London.

One of my friends also doing research and who use to meet me at the School of Oriental and African studies invited me for a ‘Zikr’ one Sunday evening at the Islamic center Kilburn. I was bit late that day but I caught speaker saying why and how he converted to Islam.

I remember he was saying it all happened during a swimming session was in Australia. I was swimming in a secluded beach and was caught up in a storm and whirlpool and thought it was the end of his life; the speaker said adding I looked up at the skies and prayed to be saved and promised to devote my life in service of the Lord.

Miracle does happen and at that point of time the tide that caught me threw me on the shore and I was fortunate to be alive and since that day I started looking for a faith, he said.

It took him long to decide choosing my new faith and finally when I was convinced about the Islamic faith, I underwent the process of ‘Sahada’ and then announce the change of my heart.

The meeting was organized on the carpeted floor of the Islamic centre. There will be about 25 – 30 people gathered there. Somehow I was able to move from the back to the front row and eventually I sat next to the speaker who was saying I had tough time in choosing my new name.

Finally among list of choices, I settled with the name Yusuf Islam, he said. Frankly at that point of time I had no clue about Yusuf Islam and did not know who Cat Stevens was.

Yusuf Islam looked to me a big Maulana, a turban headed white man and I thought he could be Muslim priest from Turkey or Arabia. I was surprised the way he was speaking English, he sounded like a white sahib.

There were some other surprises in store for me. In that gathering, I found many white ladies weaning ‘hijab’ and sitting there. It was my first brush with Islam outside India and I was surprised seeing a bunch of white ladies in Islamic attire. Since then I had to reformulate my entire conception that I was having about the white ladies.

The speaker was saying he had further problem in choosing his attire. How should I look was the big question to me, he said. After looking at the getup of Islamic believers from across the world, I finally decided to give myself the Afghan look. The beard and the turban suited me well, he said.

After the speech there was the ‘Dua,’ and there was time to exchange pleasantries. Since I was sitting next to the speaker, I had the opportunity to shake hands with Yusuf Islam at the earliest. I saw after shaking hands with me he touched his chest and addressed me as brother as he asked which country I come from?

I told him India and hearing it could see the chuckle on his face hidden by graying beard. In flash seconds, a stream of thoughts descended and vanished on his face.

He asked what I am doing in London. I told him I am there researching on the theme the demand for partition of India and the British policy 1940-45. He wished me best of luck. I remember telling me fi aman Allah, the Islamic way of saying Goodbye.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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