I ran across my 2006 recording of Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens), one of my favorite artists from the 1970s, who left his music career at its zenith in 1977 to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. After 28 years of musical obscurity, he recorded and released, “An Other Cup,” based on new songs and a couple of covers that still have some of that old rhythmical magic that made him famous. And in spite of the obvious Muslim influences, in three consecutive songs, unmistakably strung together, I hear the gospel.
There’s a song called, “In the End,” which clearly states that we will all face the music one day and find out that we didn’t get away with anything. “You can’t bargain with the truth/‘Cause one day you’re gonna die/And good’s going high/And evil’s going down – in the end.” With the following conclusion: “O and every little thing you do/You’d better know it’s coming back to you.” I guess you can’t get much clearer than that. Pure Old Covenant law and consequences.
This impossible (and biblical) demand for moral consistency is followed by a surprising cover of the Nina Simone 1964 civil rights song, later covered by The Animals: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” This song is clearly a confession of guilt and a plea for mercy. “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/O Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” These lyrics are ripped right out of the pages of Roman 7, when Paul states that in his mind he desires to do the right thing, but he often finds himself doing the wrong thing instead, agreeing with the fact that the law is good and right, but admitting that he simply can’t follow it. This leads him to cry out those famous words: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
…and Yusuf’s next song: “I Think I See the Light,” in which he states: “Until I found the one I needed at my side/I think I would have been a blind man all my life/I think I see the light/I think I see the light/(shine, shine, shine)/I think I see the light.”
“So John, are you telling me a Muslim is singing about the gospel of Jesus?”
I’m saying I found the gospel of Jesus in the songs of a Muslim, because Jesus is the only one that can pull off this salvation. Does Yusuf know that? I have no idea, but that has no bearing on the truth and my celebration of it in this music.
I just love thinking like this! Don’t you?