I am here to talk to Yusuf Islam, the Muslim singer and humanitarian formerly
known as Sixties icon Cat Stevens, about his charity concert for child refugees at
Westminster’s Central Hall tonight.
But the mass shooting at Florida gay club Pulse by an alleged Islamic State
terrorist has overtaken us. “This guy is demented, a distortion, and it is
detestable and horrendous, but it does not reflect Islam,” says Yusuf, 67, who
looks like a benign if nattily dressed cleric.
“Yes, some people will try and associate this incident with Islam as a whole —
Donald Trump, probably — and that’s criminal.
You wouldn’t blame the whole of Britain for those football hooligans who have
gone to Marseille.”
He sounds slightly exasperated, once again compelled to defend the faith he
embraced in 1977 after almost drowing off Malibu.
But with Orlando gunman Omar Mateen’s father stating that homosexuals should
be “punished by God”, and fears of an attack at London’s own Pride celebrations,
I wonder if Yusuf will express solidarity with the gay community when he gets
on stage tonight.
“I don’t think I need to,” he says. “That’s the problem with tagging these things
with ‘Islam’. The most important thing Islam preserves is the privacy of one’s
It’s up to you how you behave behind closed doors or in the privacy of your own
bedroom. We are here for a humanitarian cause and we don’t want to dis-focus
from the issue, which is the lone refugee.”
Of the estimated five million people displaced by the murder spree of IS, the war
in Syria and unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan, one million have sought refuge in
Europe, and 95,000 of those are children travelling alone.
It is these children, who may have experienced nothing but conflict, and who
may never know a stable home or school life, that Yusuf wants to help.
So through his charity Small Kindness he has hooked up with Save the Children
and Penny Appeal to highlight their plight. He has recorded a new song, He Was
Alone, created the campaign hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, and arranged the gig.
The disparate likes of Ricky Gervais, Steve McQueen, Naomi Campbell, Emma
Thompson, several Kardashians, New Order, Queen and Miley Cyrus’s Happy
Hippie Foundation have all pledged support.
The idea “came out of just watching the news on a daily basis: seeing the tragedy
unfolding, refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, trying to get to safer
lands”, says Yusuf (I’ll call him that to avoid confusion).
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