Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, performed at a concert in Beirut Lebanon last Saturday as part of his first-ever Middle East tour.
The first show, which took place last Thursday in Doha, Qatar, drew a sell-out crowd. Although he has played private shows in the region before now, the Doha concert was a public debut and his first Middle East concert.
Yosuf Islam is providing a mix of songs: half are Steven's well-known earlier songs and half are songs composed in the decades after he embraced Islam.
The Arab Spring is close at hand throughout the tour. It takes on a different form in Yusuf Islam's concerts as he sings about love, reconciliation and freedom of nations.
On Saturday, during his show in Beirut Lebanon, Islam explained that the uprising of the Arabs reminded him of the sixties when people all around the world were marching for peace. To embrace this new movement, Islam wrote "My People", a song which tackles the issue of people's right to freedom and the need to take decisions without hurting others. He added that this song is dedicated to all the nations who are seeking freedom and liberty peacefully.
The musician's fans in Beirut rallied overnight to be able to listen to his music that Islam says can help bridge cultural gaps. Islam commented in his interview with Al Arabiya that music is a powerful art that plays the role of connecting people as it is not restricted by boundaries, color or nationality. He stated that music is a part of human civilization that we can use to help people to come together, explaining that when words coincide with beautiful music it can be a very powerful tool to unite people under same topic: love. He added "when the audience comes to the show, you see Muslim and non-Muslim, old and young gathered to listen to a universal art."
The singer, who left his career at the peak of his stardom in the seventies to devote himself to humanitarian causes, has gradually made a return to music.
"Music is an issue which is still under debate," he said, "because there is no clear indication in sacred text, either in Qur'an or authentic and unambiguous hadith. It is something that is subject to discussion and research."
"In the beginning, ... when I heard some of the hadith or some of the reported hadith, I was a little bit careful and thought, OK I'm gonna withdraw until I know more, until God makes it more clear to me. I left. I got busy with work and education and charity and raising a family."
Islam revealed that the horror of 9/11 acted as the trigger behind his musical comeback. Seeing escalating tension between people across the world, Islam wanted to make a contribution towards reconciliation and felt the urge to pursue this ambition through his greatest passion: art. He wanted to channel his passion and share his experiences of tolerance with a world that was increasingly becoming divided.
"In 2001, when 9/11 happened, the world looked like it was going to explode and I realized that there is a chance for me perhaps to come back and sing about peace and try to bring people together again with love and wisdom," he said.
He also stressed the importance of education in helping to combat the prevalence of misconceptions about Islam and other religions, and to help break down the barriers which often divide people from different backgrounds.
"Obviously knowledge and education is going to be critical in helping to overcome problems," he said, "for a long time Islam was looked upon by the Orient and the image of Islam was created by the Orientalists, but for those westerners who were brave enough to break through the wall and discover what Islam is, they found, like me, so many things that enrich and come from the heritage of previous revelations of Christianity and Judaism."
"Yusuf Islam enthralls crowds in Lebanon" Al Arabiya February 21, 2012
Jim Quilty, "Yusuf Islam Pays Musical Pilgrimage to Lebanon, Singing Cat Stevens Favorites" The Daily Star February 21, 2012
"Yusuf Islam impresses royalty with first Middle East public performance" UAE National February 21, 2012
Peter Townson, "Yusuf Islam: I have always tried to be honest in my art" Gulf Times February 20, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today