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From Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam - the pop singer who converted to the Muslim religion

Updated on October 30, 2016

The hit songs and spiritual searching of Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens has remained one of my main sources of inspiration and influences as singer-songwriter and I often still listen to his songs old and new. For me his story is one of spiritual searching and that is something I can understand well. His inner quest for the truth is brought out in his lyrics and we can follow in his footsteps if we listen closely.

Best Cat Stevens albums to buy

Cat Stevens album Tea For The Tillerman

Tea For The Tillerman
Tea For The Tillerman

Longer Boats - Cat Stevens

Best Yusuf Islam albums

Sad Lisa (live) - Cat Stevens

Into White by Cat Stevens

The First Cut Is The Deepest: an early hit by Cat Stevens

Stevens had hit singles in the pop charts many years ago with Matthew and Son, The First Cut is the Deepest and Lady D'Arbanville. He re-emerged after a break caused by ill-health when he was suffering from TB in 1968 and nearly died, as a singer-songwriter with a talent that would stand up well against Dylan and all the others of the late '60s.

His songs were soul-searching, introspective and at times very very different to anything anyone else was writing and recording. Cat Stevens could go from a song of the yearning for love but not finding it in How Can I Tell You? through to spiritual questing songs like On The Road To Find Out. They were songs that people could relate to on a very human emotional level but also there were songs that asked philosophical questions and showed that the writer was, indeed, on a journey looking for a spiritual truth that made sense for him.

Miles From Nowhere

Cat knew there was much more to life than the wealth and fame he had and made it quite clear in his lyrics that he was on a spiritual search. On Miles from Nowhere from his hit album Tea For The Tillerman he sings:

"Miles from nowhere, guess I'll take my time, oh yeah, to reach there. Look up at the mountain I have to climb, oh yeah, to reach there. Lord, my body has been a good friend, but I won't need it when I reach the end."

On The Road To Find Out

On the same album, in On The Road To Find Out he concludes: "Yes, the answer lies within, so why not take a look now, kick out the devil's sin and pick up a good book now, ooh."

This was almost prophetic because many years later he was indeed to do that when he announced his conversion to Islam and devoted his life to the teachings of the Koran.

Longer Boats

Many of his songs were very open to interpretation. Longer Boats tell us that: "Longer boats are coming to win us, they're coming to win us, they're coming to win us, Longer boats are coming to win us, hold on to the shore."

But what are these "longer boats"? To my mind he could well be referring to cigar-shaped UFOs, especially when he adds "or they´ll be taking the key from the door."

The subject of UFOs is shrouded in mystery and the big question is, will the doorway to knowledge about what they are ever be unlocked or will the authorities and the beings who operate the craft keep that door bolted?

Sad Lisa

In Sad Lisa, I have always felt that Stevens is writing about a ghost. He sings:

"She walks alone from wall to wall, lost in her hall, she can't hear me, though I know she likes to be near me, Lisa, Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa."

And the song ends:

"I'll do what I can to show her the way, and maybe one day I will free her, though I know no one can see her, Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa, Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa."

Into White

Many years ago I am sure I read that Into White was inspired by an LSD experience that Cat Stevens had had. Although searching online for info about him and his songs I can find very little in agreement with my opinion, I am going to stick with my memory of what the lyrics are about. The imagery of the song is very psychedelic:

"I built my house from barley rice, green pepper walls and water ice, tables of paper wood, windows of light, and everything emptying into white."

Stevens had another massive hit album with Teaser And The Firecat and it includes more songs that talk about his search for spiritual truth. In The Wind he sings: "I listen to the wind, the wind of my soul, where I'll end up, well, I think only God really knows..."

The Muslim religion

In 1977, following a second near-death experience in which he nearly drowned but asked God to save his life, Stevens found the truths he had been looking for in the Muslim religion and he converted to Islam. He also changed his name to Yusuf Islam to reflect his new faith.

It's as if his song was prophetic and that God really did have a plan for where Cat Stevens would end up. He would become the Muslim that he is today.

© 2009 Steve Andrews


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    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you but I do not know without looking it up!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Philippines

      As a Cat Stevens fan, I enjoy your writing about his songs and relate them and his life experience to his eventual conversion to Islam. Would you know anything about who he married? When, and if he has children?

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for sharing that, Mick!

    • MickS profile image


      9 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England

      watcha B of E

      I saw Cat at several venues in the 60s, Once at a place called Epping Hall, half a crown on a Thursday night:-) amongst a lot of stuff, he sang Matthew and Son, and the story is, he came into Epping on the Underground and passed the factory, British Matthew, and wrote the song before the show, and we were the first to hear it?



    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, lxxy!

    • lxxy profile image


      10 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      Well, if the Beach Boys did theirs, and lets not forget about the Beatles Sgt. Pepper...everyone's got their drug album. ;)

      "Cat knew there was much more to life than the wealth and fame he had and made it quite clear in his lyrics that he was on a spiritual search."

      Indeed, this is something cool about that Cat. And many artists..good artists...not these people we oft see on eMpTeeVee looking to shake some booty and make some cash. Fo'shizzy. ;)

      Great hub, Bard.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I totally agree, Writer Rider! Thanks for posting!

    • profile image

      Writer Rider 

      10 years ago

      Cat Stevens has a haunting voice and fabulous lyrics.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks, James! As you can see from the selection of recordings on offer above, as Yusuf, he is still doing The Wind.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      I was a huge fan of Cat Stevens back in the day.  His songs were highly original, as was his vocal style.  That song you mention, "The Wind," is an absolute favorite.  There is a transcendency happening in this music.  It is nice to be reminded how much I enjoyed this music at one time.  I'll have to bust it out anew.  Thank you for this finely written and thoughtful piece.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for posting too, MM! And what you have said confirms what I just replied to Pete and Maricarbo.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Pete and Maricarbo, I agree with you both and I would just like to point out that Yusuf is doing both these things - he is working to help bring understanding of Islam for westerners and he is still singing and writing songs!

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      10 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Cat Stevens was a huge part of my "young impressionable" listening years. He has such a unique voice and his songs are so thoughtful and personal -- quite a contrast to the pop music playing at the same time. I guess I was too young/naïve to appreciate the spiritual nature of his lyrics then.

      I recently saw Yusef on The Colbert Report. He's obviously promoting his new album but had to take some pointed questions about the Muslim thing (which, of course, so many Americans do not understand and equate with terrorism). Still, it's good he is getting exposure. I hope he continues to open people's eyes with his music. Thanks for writing this hub, Bard of Ely! MM

    • maricarbo profile image


      10 years ago

      I think God would have liked for Cat to have used his talents to glorify HIM.  But if he feels fullfilled in what he did, so be it.  There is only one God, and HE does not care what we call him.  Could you imagine that wonderful voice singing songs of praise to God?  Ahhhh.....He would entice everyone, maybe even to start a personal relationship with God. It seems to me that lately, God is much ignored in our world, and there are those who want to say he doesn't exist.

      God could care less what we name ourselves, but I'm sure Joseph is honored by it.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      10 years ago

      Cat Stevens is a person that could be a link from western thinking to Moslim ideals. He could make us understand that the hate mongers are not the real Mosilms no more that the KKK are the real Christians.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you! I think the point is that Yusuf is confident now of what he believes and has found a successful relationship but when he was younger and at the height of his success as Cat Stevens, whilst he was confident on stage off it he was searching and unable to settle on any pathway or find lasting love. So it has been a story of success and a happy ending for him.

    • andromida profile image

      syras mamun 

      10 years ago

      nice hub.its very nice to learn about Cat Stevens.I heard his voice in your youtube link.He sounded like someone extremely confident about what he is doing,and he really dare to express his true feelings through his songs.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Hi Lou! Yes, Cat Stevens has always been one of my favourite singer-songwriters! Putting this together has been interesting for me too and I am left wondering if some sort of "clean up" campaign was done following his conversion as I am also sure I read many years ago that he was involved with Guru Maharaji and gave money towards the Divine Light Mission, which would not have surprised me but I can find nothing on this at all. I can also find nothing apart from a couple of comments about Into White being an acid-inspired song! My memory is very good and I know I saw this years back too. Was I reading lies whenever it was I came across all that? Have these things been removed? I am sure someone knows - another mystery! It makes no difference to me whether Cat/Yusuf took acid or if he was into Maharaji's stuff for a while!

    • Lou Purplefairy profile image

      Lou Purplefairy 

      10 years ago from Southwest UK

      I grew up listening to Cat Stevens (among many of the 60's and 70's music artists in the rock, pop and folk genre). A lovely hub with many interesting facts I did not know. My favourite Cat Stevens songs is "Moonshadow", and "Love me, Love my Dog". Reading this hub has made me root out my Cat Stevens CD's! Thanks!

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am glad you found this of interest, GW! Although I am not personally a believer in Islam and preferred Cat Stevens' old songs and performance to what he does now, I can fully understand why he made the decision to convert to the religion and am glad to see that he has found what he was looking for in life - I am still looking!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      So interesting to read about some one about whom I had no knowledge, thanks

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      10 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Kushal!

    • Kushal Poddar profile image

      Kushal Poddar 

      10 years ago from Kolkata,India

      Wonderful hub


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