Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Yusuf Islam: A legend on a mission

Return ...  Yusuf Islam is touring with his son.

Whether through the legendary music he created as the singer/songwriter Cat Stevens in the 1960s and ’70s, or through his dedication to continue to establish and fund charities in the name of Allah as the Muslim convert Yusuf Islam in the ’80s and ’90s, no single man’s life seems to have touched and inspired so many generations across so many geographical borders as that of Dr. Yusuf Islam.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Yusuf crossed a bridge and began to reconnect with his massive following in the West. Doing what he does best, inspiring with words and beautiful songs, he began writing a new body of poems in the language he knows best — English.

“Inspiring” may be an understatement, but it’s the only word that comes to mind when sitting down to talk to this star of East and West. Learning about his new projects, one cannot fail to notice the genuine warmth and generosity that glows out of the legendary man who has witnessed so much — and done even more.

This is the fearless emissary who in 1990 voluntarily went to Iraq on a peace mission and returned home with four hostages. This is the philanthropist who continues to donate half of his royalty income to charity. This is the humanitarian who continues to travel the Peace Train to promote a better understanding of Islam and its message of peace for the world.

Today, along with serving his loyal group of older followers from the ’70s, Islam is targeting a new, much younger, audience: Children ... with his Islamic children’s songs in English. He is also heavily involved in education and has spent over two decades developing the “faith-based curriculum”. Islam is on a mission to create a better tomorrow for future generations.

He is renowned for being one of the first to write nasheeds for Muslim children growing up in the West. It was in 1981, that Islam wrote the widely popular song, “A is For Allah,” for his daughter, Hasanah — the first song he had written since embracing Islam. “It was the first time an Islamic song had been done in English,” explained Islam. “There is a community that wants to hear beautiful songs with a strong moral view. I base the words on the meanings of the Quran and Hadith, and tune it toward their level; I produce it for that audience.”

And the results have been nothing less than fantastically successful. Today, he has over 200 songs that touch on spirituality, family, peace and harmony.

His venture into education began in the 1980s. In 1983, he founded Islamia Primary School, one of England’s first Islamic faith schools. Five years later, he would open the Islamia Girls’ Secondary School which regularly tops the GCSE examination league tables as one of the most successful secondary girls’ schools in London.

This year, Islam competed a new type of educational center: The Maqam. Located in London, the Maqam is an exhibition and cultural center with the goal of creating a broader understanding of Islam, emphasizing the commonalities between the Abrahamic religions and strengthening ties between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

In recent years, the media has been bombarded with negative coverage of Islam, a religion that is based on peace and humility. Therefore, the Maqam Center is more crucial now than ever. Islam hopes that the Maqam will help ease tensions by presenting Islam in a positive light to the Western world. The Maqam will have many facilities, including a masjid, lecture halls, exhibition gallery, performance spaces and rooms for workshops and classes, as well as a youth and community center and public café. His vision is to educate people about Islam in order to build a healthier and spiritually tolerant society.

The Maqam will promote visits from the community and schools which will be encouraged to use the center as a teaching aid to help deliver various aspects of the customized curriculum. Professional development, teacher training, Quranic studies, life skills, languages and creative arts will be just a few of the courses offered at the center.

The curriculum is arguably one of Islam’s greatest achievements. The International Board of Educational Research and Resources (IBERR) “Skills for Life” is faith-based, but utilizes modern educational methodology. “We cannot separate God from our daily life,” states Islam. “Skills for Life presents a road map of knowledge designed to help students navigate their way through the often perilous waves of modern life, through understanding the incredible unity and wisdom behind the existence of all things — to learn how to live in the sight of God, with oneself and with others.”

Having studied in Catholic school, Islam remembers how difficult it was to be young and to try to grasp the purpose of our existence and the meaning behind the mystifying universe. “It was ritualistic teaching and very instructional,” explained Islam. “We must put ourselves in the shoes of the children, and see how they see things in order to get through to them.”

He realized there was no single syllabus that linked a comprehensive and holistic view of life for a child growing up in this disparate age of wealth and poverty, racism and prejudice, religious and secular and therefore, he decided to create one based on God and morals.

“This is something that combines modern teaching methods with faith-based principles in order to provide a basic essence for children to learn from and thus become model exemplars of humanity to have hope, appreciate the wonders of existence, and improve conduct.”

Whether Islam is trying to change the future or simply entertain us, he is truly a person of many facets and endless generosity. He is the man behind the legend and the legend behind the change.

If you’d like to donate to Al Maqam Center visit www.themaqam.com

For info on Yusuf Islam and his work, go to www.yusufislam.com