Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday, but predictably a man named Yusuf Islam turned up to accept it.
Yusuf Islam is, of course, the name adopted by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens upon his conversion to Islam and abrupt departure from the music business in 1977, citing the temptations of the pop star lifestyle as incompatible with his newfound faith. But it’s a stance that has softened considerably in recent years, as the singer has made a slow return—beginning with recordings of religious music and gradually expanding to more traditional pop offerings (often for various charities) with messages of peace. It all culminated on Thursday, when his friend Art Garfunkel—an odd choice if Islam was really as sympathetic to, say, Hamas as the 2004 NSA decision to bar him entry to the United States would have it—presented him with rock’s highest honor, comparing him favorably to…Paul Simon.
The Internet was quick to point out less pacifistic statements of Islam’s, most powerfully—and damningly—Salman Rushdie’s tweet, linking to a 1989 New York Times article in which Islam publicly concurred with the fatwa against Rushdie in the aftermath of the protests over The Satanic Verses, even going so far as to say that if Rushie came to his house, he might “ring somebody who would do more damage to him than he’d like.” “This is who you’re honoring,” Rushdie tweeted.
I don’t know if the Yusuf Islam of 2014 is that much changed from the Yusuf Islam of 1989, though I hope he is. But even if not, I personally have something for which to thank him. In 1996, when I was 15, I went on March of the Living. During the trip, as I was about to drop completely into existential despair, I took out a mixtape made for me by a friend who had previously gone on the trip and who had filled it with songs that felt soothing or somehow meaningful. One of those was “Wild World,” which I ended up listening to on an endless loop for the rest of the trip.
The song asserted that there was an essential kindness to the world. If it could make me believe this, against all obvious evidence to the contrary that surrounded me, then perhaps we can believe today in the power of time and the ability of people to change.
Related: Rock ‘n’ Remembrance