Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Yusuf Islam and Music

I think most people admire Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) for his altruism but its his propensity for introspection that fascinates me. Since embracing Islam about a quarter of a century ago, he hasn't allowed himself to be pigeon-holed and continues to reassess his relationship with his faith. His evolving views about music serve to illustrate the case in hand. In fact, in this particular case he has felt it necessary to communicate these feelings via a document on his website entitled Music: A Question of Faith or Da'wah?.

Regardless of all the other unnecessary controversies surrounding me at the moment, I was saddened to recently hear that some voices in the Muslim community have been criticising me because of various record companies re-releasing and advertising a DVD and other past music albums. They appear to be making it out to be a question of Faith; it seems they have not yet understood certain fundamental truths about these issues. So I decided to respond and pray for Allah’s assistance to make the matter clear.

The issue of music within Islam is an ongoing debate amongst Muslim scholars; some argue that it is totally Haram (prohibited) and others argue that its allowance depends on the song’s conformity to Islamic values and norms. Whilst I agree that some songs and musical influences are haram, this judgement does not apply to every singer or every single note and crotchet played.

Different opinions about music indicate that it is not to be taken as a question of faith (‘Aqidah), but is simply a matter of understanding (fiqh).
He told Nigel Williamson of The Guardian:

"I don't think I ever actually said music was blasphemous. But I needed that break. I had to get away from the business because I didn't want it to divert me from my chosen path. I found what I was looking for and the Koran gave me the answer to the big questions in life. It would have been hypocritical to go on as before and be a phoney imitation of myself. But I never said I'd never make music again. It was just that there were a lot of other things I had to get on with in my life."

Yet he insists he has no regrets about cutting himself off from music for so long. "To be what you want to be, you must give up being what you are," he says. He still disapproves of the "negative aspects of what music encourages, like partying, drinking and sex". But at it's best he says music is a force for "healing".
The article posted on his website does provide one of the most ironic references I have come across for a while though:

Interestingly, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the ‘Ulema have recently decided that the songs I sang as Cat Stevens provides a good example for the youth, to show that there are positive aspects to some music and art. Maybe the ‘Ulema in other countries should take a closer look at what’s happening to their youth, before the gulf between them becomes irreparable and too wide to bridge. We must be able to provide an Islamic alternative.
Who'd have thought? The Iranian theocracy being lauded for their liberalism!


Anonymous said...


Here's an old song that comes to mind...ahem...

"Happy birthday to you.."

Best wishes and peace to you and Africa entire.

Mohammed bin Bath

Leo_Africanus said...

May God grant you a thousand camels!