SHAFAQNA – “MUSIC is universally present in this world, even in the jungles, oceans and deserts; birds sing, seas crash, and the wind howls. Nature has its own magnificent song in praise of the Creator.”
Those words was written by none other than Yusuf Islam, once known as music superstar Cat Stevens, and probably the world’s most famous Muslim convert. In fact, those words are one of the guiding thoughts in Yusuf’s new book, Why I Still Carry A Guitar, a moving work that sheds light on the mystery behind how one of the world’s foremost music superstars in the 1970s disappeared after embracing Islam in 1978, and why he has returned to recording and performing music, without losing any bit of his gift to touch our souls.
UNDERSTANDING THE MAN
I reached out for this book purposefully looking for something. I wanted to understand the story of Yusuf Islam. I wanted to know the mystery behind the man. So when I started reading and reached the words above, I just stopped, looked up and breathed a huge sigh that combined relief, realisation and reflection.
Yusuf’s words left something in me, something I couldn’t shake off. It was like a light bulb switched on inside my head that made me realise that music has a true powerful force that we underestimate and trivialise by commercialising it’s more superficial aspects. Distracted by the more sexual, glamorous and cheap headturning lyrics and visuals, we forget music’s supreme power for human inspiration.
After my brief epiphany-filled pause, I looked back at the book and held it tighter than usual. It had a beautiful cover with an exquisite photo of Yusuf Islam, looking pensive and holding his acoustic guitar. In fact, at first glance, the picture of Yusuf looked more like a Romantic art piece than a picture. That beautiful image, coupled with the provoking title, Why I Still Carry A Guitar: The Spiritual Journey Of Cat Stevens To Yusuf, was a combination that was at once both extremely intriguing and arresting.
It was late at night but I couldn’t stop reading. I just couldn’t. His stories and lessons and reflections reminded of my own journey. I was (and still sometimes am) a music producer and entrepreneur with my own internal struggles with music’s more mindless and sexual energy in today’s pop world.
Many a time I dismissed my more secular decisions as simply commercial pressures, ignoring the gnawing feeling that I “settled” and sold out since the very first hit song. I stopped again in my reading, this time at these words: “I picked up the guitar and began to play. Soon after writing a new song and contemplating the issue, I realise that perhaps I had another job to do.”
Yusuf knows that he has been given an ability to write music that inspires people. He feels it is God’s plan for him. It was through his study of fiqh(Islamic jurisprudence) for over 25 years that he eventually came to the conclusion that the subject of music and its non-permissibility wasn’t as “black and white” as it was always made out to be. And how he has to continue doing what he does best to “enable people to realise that Islam does not forbid what is good and meaningful in art and music; it simply does not sanction what is vile, mindless or vain.”
Yes, music can and should serve more than what it has done for humankind. Music can do more to strengthen and inspire the human spirit and free itself from the “hedonistic pursuit” label it has been given, naturally, through the mindless art and artists’ excesses put on display for the world to see.
I should know. When my mother declared to her friends that her son was studying music, she was met with remarks like “So which pub will your long-haired son be playing his guitar in?” even though they KNEW that I had short hair, played the piano and looked more like a nerd than a rock star. Despite my mother telling them I was studying Music Production & Engineering didn’t change any of her friends’ preconceptions about music.
After a marathon reading session, I finally reached the last word on the last page and closed the book, a sense of satisfaction filling my entire soul. I may have started reading Yusuf Islam’s Why I Still Carry A Guitar to learn more about this amazing man. In the end, I learnt more about myself.
By Ahmad Izham Omar – Omar runs some TV stations, a production house dabbling in movies and TV shows