The gospel according to Yusuf Islam

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)

Enter Jesus.

…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?

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12 Responses to The gospel according to Yusuf Islam

  1. steve says:

    in answer to your question – Yes! I do love thinking like this, although it’s such a change from how I learned. In the past, it seemed we could not acknowledge truth or beauty that originated from someone who was not a believer, but that’s just living in denial. Non-believers certainly are capable of truth and beauty – they just haven’t learned what it is they are actually pointing towards.

  2. John, I’m exactly the same way when it comes to movies. I can see the Gospel in a lot of movies that others cannot. I think God speaks to me through film: He knows how I think, He knows my history, and He uses those things to speak directly and personally to me.

    When it comes to music, I don’t hear the Gospel unless I hear the name of Jesus or Christ or Messiah. When contemporary singers sing about “Him,” how do I know they don’t mean their boyfriend or, in the case of your article, Mohammed? George Harrison used to sing about his “Lord,” and he was singing about Hari Krishna. So, when it comes to music, I’m very skeptical. But when it comes to movies, I’m not. But I can see how you, as a musician, can think about music the way that I, a visual artist, think about film.

    God knows what speaks to us, individually, and He uses those things for His purposes. He is truly a personal and loving Father.

    Thanks for your post.

  3. Stephanie Taylor says:

    John, this is a subject, finding God in ‘secular’ music, that has been on my mind a lot lately. I can listen to a song and am able to “use” it to meet my spiritual needs at that moment. I find Sade’s “Lover’s Rock” very helpful, although she never indicates that she’s referring to God. But, is there a danger there? I hope you respond to the post above or mine to share your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  4. Bare Plowman says:

    YES !!!! : )

  5. Ralph Gaily says:

    You are spreading confusion John, and I suggest you rethink this and clarify your thoughts in the light of the plain Gospel. It is getting very late, and the younger believers do not need to be led down some artistic primrose lane by a “leader” and his artsie imagination at the helm. Speak the Truth clearly, or hold your tongue! Islam is definately not the way!

    • jwfisch says:

      Once again…. I have never and would never say Islam is the way. What I have said that once you have come to know the gospel, you can find it all over.

  6. Ralph Gaily says:

    Hearing the Gospel in the music of a dedicated follower of Muhammed…. an embracer of Islam??!! I think not…. unless it is “another gospel” that you are hearing….or, imagining. The good news that is the only, real One is a narrow road indeed. The little trails that meander off the Main Pathway are filled with dangers as we are warned of. The last days deceptions will be extremely subtle….. like a snake slithering through the grass…. quiet and unseen…. until stepped on. Get back on the Main Pathway John…. and be patient and enduring of the rest of us sheep that might not have the artistic gifts and lofty thinking you enjoy. The Table at the wedding will be filled with simple people of simple, but true faith in the One that saved us. The so-called emerging church is off in the weeds…. not watching their step. Be a true leader! Don’t be one of the phonies driven by financial needs/wants, (or a distorted desire for a following) that manipulate the flock in order to fulfill some personal rebellion. I am your age and also have endured much, but His people are real and need real contact in order to have real examples of Christians, and experience real relationships and have real converstions, and share real love….. cyberspace has many voids, and it is too tempting and too inclined toward leveraging of minds without accountability by real believers in real time. Be careful you and your wife are not emerging a rebellious group of spiritual folks who hear what they want to hear as they hide behind their console in isolation from others. Ralph Gaily

    • jwfisch says:

      Excellent warning and received gratefully. As to the music, I am not at all suggesting that following another path will lead to truth. I am suggestion that once you know and have embraced the gospel, you can find it in unlikely places, even pieces of other paths. I found it in three songs in a row on Yusuf’s album. No one can stop me from worshiping the true God over that and thanking Jesus for my salvation.

      • Ralph Gaily says:

        John, I appreciate your reply. My concern, to be more clear, is that new believers, or “seekers” of Truth, see you lifting up someone like this and pointing to him for all to recognize. I was also a Cat Stevens fan long ago as a new believer, and “heard” the gospel in his music… I thought in my newness. When he bailed, I wondered what happened to him. I’ll bet many bailed with him to keep up with him. Music is such a powerful, moving force…… driving the messages home…. piece-mealed, distorted, or correct….. driving it home like a locomotive carrying its cargo. This is very confusing to someone starting out along the Path…. they don’t deserve, or need, confusion….. even when it is nicely packaged in artful wrapping paper, and appearing like a gift of some sort handed to them by someone they trust. Rethink your position.

  7. Kurt Brown says:

    The road to Jesus started long before I knew I was on it…or even who was walking with me. More times than I would admit I am on the road to Emmaus and I have missed the fact that he was walking with me the whole time.

  8. Kathy Willis says:

    For Ralph – I’m sorry I don’t see it your way and I am a seeker. If anything, your comments have made me afraid to continue my search for truth, goodness, and good work. I embraced The Catch because it was open to all people regardless of their belief system, and where one might be on the road. I believe John is encouraging us to recognize that there is truth and beauty in all of us, regardless of our faith.. I am happy for you that you are so secure in your faith.

  9. Meaghan-Margaret Evans says:

    I just love thinking like this too!
    I was welcomed home last week through The Catch email. It was amazing and nearly knocked me off my computer chair. It was just like a personal private audience with God. From His lips to my ears. Since then I have been broken open and on the way to more Life. It is as if the unused 80% of my brain has kicked in and working well. Cat Stevens /Yusuf rings a bell for me. God meets us where we are. Years ago I wrote a poem. “God Speaks to Me in Sparrows” I was sitting on a park bench by a pond under a Willow tree and a tiny Sparrow landed on my shoulder! I was motionless. It stayed there for about 30 seconds, turned its head and made a chirp into my ear. It hopped down the the seat of the bench and down again to my feet. I looked down to see it had no tail feathers and hopping was all it could do. I guessed that tail feathers had a lot to do with a bird’s navigation. I don’t know. All my life things like this have happened. I have had a blessed life in very different ways but a blessing is a blessing and now I don’t question it I just pass it on to His glory.

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