When I was a kid, Cat Stevens was one of my favorites. Had a lot to do with something I sensed about his spirit, I think; he seemed like such a gentle guy, and I was drawn to his perception of the world. When I was feeling bad, I brought my troubles to him. He conveyed such tolerance, and empathy—I'd lay the disc on the turntable, set the needle in the grooves, and something about Cat's music made it all seem better, or made my burden feel a little lighter because it was shared.
Next thing I know, he's not Cat any more. He's converted to Islam, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Auctioned off his guitars, and I only read about him every couple of years, some humorless comment from him in the paper about Islam or western culture that made him seem like an alien. In '89, after he was widely reported to have been supportive of the fatwa demanding the murder of Salmon Rushdie, I was sure that Cat was gone, forever.
Happily, this is not so. Persuaded by his children, he has slowly emerged, and is singing his old songs, and writing new ones. And Yusuf Islam or not, he is Cat, or at least a synthesis of the two. The kindness in his eyes is unmistakeable.
On this day, especially, when the proposed erection of a mosque can stir millions to intolerance, it is good to remember that our humanity connects us too deeply for the trivialities of isms to ever really cleave us apart.
Yusuf Islam, performing another song featured in Almost Famous—and unmistakeably Cat: