Toward the end of our journey from London to Washington, the plane was diverted. The captain announced something about "heavy traffic." After landing in Bangor, Maine, six tall, blue-uniformed officers boarded and surrounded me and my daughter.
"Is your name Yusuf Islam?" they asked.
"Yes," I confirmed.
"Do you mind coming with us and answering a few questions?"
At that point my heart stopped, and my daughter's face turned aspirin-white. This was the start of the nightmare.
Three FBI agents escorted me away from my daughter and asked me questions. At first, it sounded like they might have me mixed up with somebody else, as they repeated the spelling of my name.
"No. Y-u-s-u-f," I carefully spelled out. The agents looked a bit puzzled.
As they continued asking questions, some of their queries were obviously not related to me, so I thought this must be a matter of simple mistaken identity. Whether it was a mix-up or not remained unclear because they weren't under any obligation to give me a reason; the green visa waiver form I had so neatly filled in earlier had effectively denied me any right to appeal or answers. It was only when an immigration official read out to me a legal reference number that he mentioned some implication with "terrorism"--no further details necessary.
The most upsetting thing was being separated from my daughter for 33 hours--not knowing how she was or when and where we might be united. Because my phone was confiscated, I couldn't contact my family.
God almighty! Is this the same planet I'd taken off from? I was devastated. The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work. Even further back, one month after the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in New York meeting Peter Gabriel and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the World Economic Forum!
Had I changed that much? No. Actually, it's the indiscriminate procedure of profiling that's changed. I am a victim of an unjust and arbitrary system, hastily imposed, that serves only to belittle America's image as a defender of the civil liberties that so many dearly struggled and died for over the centuries.
Need I say that any form of terrorism or violence is the antithesis of everything I love and stand for? Anyone who knows me will attest to this. I have spent my life in the search for peace and understanding, and that was mirrored clearly in my music. Since becoming a Muslim, I have devoted my life to education, charity and helping children around the world.
Consistently I have condemned the attacks of 9/11, stating that the slaughter of innocents, the taking of hostages and coldblooded killing of women and children have nothing do with the teachings of Islam. I've openly and publicly repudiated the actions of groups that resort to such acts of inhumanity--whatever their names. Any allegations to the contrary are fabricated. The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of all of humanity.
Ever since I embraced Islam in 1977, people have regularly tried to link me with things I have nothing to do with. Take the Salman Rushdie case as an example, or the regurgitating of the accusation that I support groups like Hamas.
I am a man of peace, and I denounce all forms of terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for anyone to suggest otherwise. The fact that I have sympathy for ordinary people in the world who are suffering from occupation, tyranny, poverty or war is human and has nothing to do with politics or terrorism.
Thank God my daughter and I were relieved of our ordeal and delivered home safely. I also thank all those who prayed for me and supported me through this dark episode; I have never harbored any ill will toward people of God's great Earth anywhere--and wish the reverse was also true.