From Stephen Demetre Georgiou to Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam
From Greek Orthodox to spiritual rock star to Muslim activist: the spiritual journey of a lifetime
"Many people cannot understand why someone, who apparently hadeverything, would suddenly quit and dedicate himself to something sowidely misunderstood," Islam told the university crowd. "I try to tellpeople that I didn't have anything before my conversion -- I didn't knowmyself, and I had no concept of what I was meant to accomplish. From theday I became a Muslim -- December 23, 1977 -- I was floating on air. BecauseI had finally found out who I was."
In conversation, Islam is gentle and funny -- sometimes evenself-deprecating. One minute he seems almost bemused by histransformation from an icon of popular culture to an active proponent ofone of America's fastest growing religions. The next moment, thepiercing brown eyes that went straight to the heart of a generation ofmusic fans turn serious.
He is discussing his faith.
"There are five prayers in a day," he said. "That may sounddifficult to some. Quite frankly, it's as long as it takes you to have acup of tea. It just means rather than looking and working andconcentrating on this world and ... the goodies of this life, it'slooking toward and focusing on your Creator, and your ultimatedestination."
Since his conversion, Islam has lectured worldwide to tell othersabout his faith. Today his new recordings -- including spoken and acapella compositions -- are about Islam, released from Londonon his own Mountain of Light label.
Islam said that while many people may have lost the ability tocommit to an ideal, becoming a Muslim energized his inner and outerexistence while stilling the uncertainty of his restless soul. It was not so much a matter of change as an example of "evolution ordevelopment," he said. His tendency to thoughtful searching dates to hisCatholic school days.
"One of the most important questions I ever asked one of the nuns... I said, 'Sister Anthony, when do the angels start writing down yoursins?'" Best as he can remember, the sister said one year beyond hischronological age of 7.
Despite a strict Christian upbringing at school, the lights ofLondon's arts and entertainment community lured him. "I wasn't clever," he said. "I probably couldn't have gotten intothis university. But I was artistic, so I thought I could do that for aliving. I soon found that most artists don't die rich. So what should Ido? I know! Music."
With the Beatles as living proof, music seemed the fastest way tomake a million. His dad gave him a guitar. He finagled a recordingsession, performing his own song, "I Love My Dog." His career took off,but for an introverted young singer at the mercy of publicists whowanted to make him larger than life, it was an unpaved road fraught withmistruths and pitfalls.