Friday, October 26, 2007

The Sloganization of Islam

As reported yesterday, the 2006 release by Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) no longer appears on store shelves with the artist's full name prior to the title An Other Cup. When first released, the album's appearance included a simple tea cup, the name, Yusuf Islam, and the album title.

After much research, several questions remain: 1) Why would a man with the cultural capital of Cat Stevens title an album with a name unrecognizable to those unfamiliar with his more recent history? 2) Would the removal of his surname aid the sale of the album in countries reluctant to understand, much less embrace, Islam? 3) Why would a man who has in recent years adamantly denied ties to terrorists and further praised Islam have any reason to publicly shy away from a surname synonymous with a great fear of Westerners?

To answer the first question, Cat Stevens has made a name for himself internationally. In the music industry he is a legend and in the international community he is a highly respected peace activist. When Cat Stevens converted to the Islamic faith in 1977 and legally changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978, he symbolically abandoned his fame and musical career. Artists with hits can't completely abandon royalties and such, but Stevens shied away from the spotlight and devoted himself to philanthropy. Since his conversion, the importance of musical success is measured in much different terms to Stevens than they were as a rising star in the music industry. In his 2006 release, Stevens stayed true to himself and his religion, regardless of the cost by using his legal name.

In part, the second question is tied to the first. Yes, using his legal surname was certainly not going to win new fans or win him a popularity contest. If you didn't like Cat Stevens when he was Cat Stevens, chances are you weren't going to like him under any other name. However, though it might seem the cost to the artist would be great for leaving his full name on the cover of the album, Stevens cited other reasons for not placing his surname on the cover. In an interview with Billboard Magazine around the time of the album's release, Stevens said:

"Islam" doesn't have to be sloganized. The second name is like the official tag, but you call a friend by their first name. It's more intimate, and to me that's the message of this record...That's [the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens] the tag with which most people are familiar; for recognition purposes I'm not averse to that. For a lot of people, it reminds them of something they want to hold on to. That name is part of my history and a lot of the things I dreamt about as Cat Stevens have come true as Yusuf Islam.

Stevens' certainly has not forgotten the name that brought him fame and fortune, but he also recognizes that his legal name is indeed a slogan. Regardless of his background, seeing Islam on the title of an international product would in fact sloganize Islam or at least attach it to the music business. If Cat Stevens were still making music for the money, wouldn't he sell the rights to a few of his songs or at least make a few more albums a decade?

The answer to question two partly answers the third question: Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam, Yusuf, or whatever he prefers to be called, is not shying away from Islam for the sake of selling a few more CDs. The name on the album (at least in the mind of Stevens) has absolutely nothing to do with who might pick that album up. Westerners may fear Islam, but Stevens himself doesn't believe Westerners fear him.

After the controversy in 2004 that resulted in the grounding of a flight Stevens was on and his eventual deportation to the United Kingdom, Stevens filed suit against the British press for their report of the incident and their siding with the United States for taking that particular action. Stevens' name had found its way on to the no-fly list. Said to be a mix up, Stevens has since entered the United States, but the perception of Stevens on the part of Americans is mixed. It was absurd then and it is just as absurd now to think that anyone might take Cat Stevens for a terrorist. In fact, following the attacks on 9/11, Stevens spoke out saying that "no right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action."

Since 9/11, Stevens has worked tirelessly to prove his allegiance to peace. More importantly, since the beginning of his musical career, his lyrics have proved his complete desire for peace.

I have dreamt of an open world
Borderless and wide
Where the people move from place to place
And nobody's taking sides*

(*from "Maybe There's a World" on An Other Cup)


Wordsmith said...

And - Cat Stevens isn't even his 'real' name. It's his "stage" name. Go figure.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Yeah, no kidding. What's in a name, anyway?

yesil said...

names of cat stevens:
1- Demetre Stephen Georgiou
2- Cat Stevens
3- Yusuf Islam
info received from

best wishes....