On the concluding day of the World Government Summit (WGS 2016), Yusuf Islam, more commonly known by his previous stage name ‘Cat Stevens’, held a key note speech at the GEMS Education Hall entitled “Journey to the Peace Train.”
During the session, the renowned former singer, songwriter and now turned philanthropist, described his personal journey of finding Islam and how it had a significant and lasting impact on his life and career.
Speaking about his heritage – being born in England and raised as a Christian, he reminisced: “What was going on outside the church was much more exciting. This was the big world. The world was geared towards one thing - making it. Making it was the idea of the ‘American Dream’ – the idea to get rich, to be on top, to stay healthy, and maybe even have a beautiful woman later on by your side, if you’re lucky.”
He then made the decision to do his best to become successful. Citing ‘the Beatles’ as a great example of successful songwriters ‘making it’ he decided to embark on a similar journey. He developed a great talent for creating catchy songs and achieving big hits.
“I then went on the road and that was when the beginning of my career really began,” he explained. “On the road, I often found myself staying up late, partying, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol to the point I couldn’t take it anymore. I then contracted tuberculosis. After being admitted to the hospital, I became aware of mortality, and started realizing the certainty of death.”
It was from this moment on that Stevens created a new catalogue of songs that reflected his new perspective on what he wanted his music to be about. While performing on the road, he began to look for answers, and read books of different faiths and religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, numerology and much more. He said, “Before death comes, I wanted to know what was going to happen. I needed to know.”
He then composed some big hits related to his search and the events that occurred around him, such as ‘Miles from Nowhere’ and ‘Peace Train’. “While on tour, there was the Vietnam war. Then we were suddenly entering the space age and now the moon was the new battlefield.” He explained that while he was making all these records, peace did not come with it, and that he still felt unfulfilled.
Then a major turning point occurred in 1975, when Stevens visited his record chief’s house in Malibu. “The water was looking good that day, so I went for a swim. As I went into the waves, I began to get tired and exhausted, and didn’t realize that the current was pulling me out of the land - and not any closer. At that point I thought it could be the end. At that point, I called to God, and said if you save me I’ll work for you. Then the waves pushed me back on land and I was alive. I thought what next? Where do I go?”
He then found his answer a little while later, when his brother gifted him the Quran from his travels. Stevens said” “I’m an open minded person. As I read the Quran, one of the biggest things that struck me was the clarity in the first commandment. I thought to myself, so that is what it is and means. Religion wasn’t as alien as I was led to believe. The Quran talked about how humanity is a family, how it was just one race and one family with no distinction. I knew this was a book from God.”
Fast-forwarding to today, he explained that after becoming a Muslim, he started realizing the challenges facing Islam around the world and got involved with education and set up Islamic schools.
In his concluding remarks, he shared a key message - about the need to share knowledge like the Quran, and how this was an opportunity for all. He stressed: “When humans reach a level of comprehension with each other, there are no battles and no battleground. It is important that we share our learning. And to share this knowledge, let us use the advantages of mediums like technology - while maintaining good character.”
The World Government Summit has convened over 3,000 personalities from 125 countries. The summit concludes today (February 10) at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.