Three Converts, Three Religions: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Cat Stevens
The imminent release of “Trouble No More” -- the latest installment of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series; this one covers his controversial 1979-81 “Christian period” -- recalls the long-gone age of high-profile rock star conversions.
Dylan became a Christian, George Harrison dived into Krishna consciousness, and Cat Stevens embraced Islam, and each demonstrated, yet again, that Leftist dogma is false. The content of one’s religious beliefs does matter, and influences those who take their religions seriously.
Both Harrison and Dylan were widely criticized for their sanctimony. Reviewing Harrison’s 1973 album “Living in the Material World” in New Musical Express, Tony Tyler called the record “so damn holy I could scream.” In their book The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Tyler and his co-author Roy Carr say of Harrison:
[I]t’s difficult to see why he travelled all the way to India to import a God who, by the sound of him (“The Lord Loves the One [That] Loves the Lord”) is as intractable and selfish as the petulant Jehovah of Victorian Sunday schools.
Reviewing Harrison’s “Extra Texture” album in Rolling Stone in 1975, Dave Marsh criticized the album’s “vague cant and astral pomposity,” and concluded:
Finally, we are faced with the fact that Harrison’s records are nothing so much as boring. They drone, and while chants and mantras may be paths to glory in other realms, in pop music they are only routes to tedium.
Harrison’s first wife Pattie may have agreed: she cited as one of the reasons for the breakup of their marriage his “obsessiveness” with his devotional practices.
Born-again Bob Dylan was similarly received. Performing in San Francisco on November 1, 1979, his first concert after his conversion, Dylan played only his new, Christian-themed songs. Reviewing the concert for Rolling Stone, Robert Palmer opined that “the unrelenting sermonizing grew tedious.” Reviewing Dylan’s 1980 album “Saved” for Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder called him “a perfect caricature of a Bible-thumping convert.”
The following year, reviewing Dylan’s subsequent album, “Shot of Love,” also for Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson quoted a lyric from one of the songs, “Trouble”:
"Nightclubs of the brokenhearted / Stadiums of the damned," Dylan intones, and you wonder if these places could possibly be any worse than being trapped in a room with this record.
After Cat Stevens converted to Islam and started calling himself Yusuf Islam, there were no scathing reviews from Rolling Stone, because there was no music. Stevens/Islam quit the music business, as Islam forbids music except for nasheeds, songs praising Allah that are usually performed a cappella.
Islamic tradition records:
[T]he Prophet said that Allah commanded him to destroy all the musical instruments, idols, crosses and all the trappings of ignorance. (Hadith Qudsi 19:5)
Muhammad is also depicted as saying:
Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. (Reliance of the Traveller r40.0).
Islamic apologists in the West like to claim that only “Islamophobes” think Islam forbids music, but Cat Stevens certainly believed it did. Nothing was heard from him for decades. Then he began to resurface. Now he is a respected and venerated elder star, calling himself “Yusuf” without the “Islam” and singing pop music again. But as recently as 2010, there was published on YouTube a nasheed in which the author of “Peace Train” sang:
I’m praying to Allah to give us victory over the kuffar (unbelievers).
This bellicose prayer was in line with Yusuf Islam’s earlier post-conversion behavior. In 1989, he enthusiastically endorsed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for insulting Islam. In a BBC panel discussion, he said that, rather than burning Rushdie in effigy:
I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.
He further explained that if he were in an Islamic state and was ordered by the relevant authority to kill Rushdie, he would do so.
In 2004, Yusuf Islam was barred from entering the United States because of suspicions that he had been financing jihad terrorism. He acknowledged that some of his money may have gone to jihadis, but he claimed to have given money to them unwittingly.
Yusuf Islam has worked hard to soften his image, as George Harrison and Bob Dylan also did after the enthusiasm of their conversions wore off. But Harrison and Dylan had only to fight against perceptions that they were preachy and self-righteous. The former Cat Stevens had to try to demonstrate he was not a supporter of jihad terrorism and mass murder.
After their conversions, George Harrison and Bob Dylan became, at least in the eyes of some, annoying; Cat Stevens, by contrast, became dangerous. Harrison and Dylan never called for or approved of violence against anyone. Yusuf Islam did.
This is because of the content of the religions they each embraced.
Cat Stevens took up a religion that exhorted him to “kill them wherever you find them” (Qur’an 2:191, 4:89, 9:5) and “strike the necks” of the unbelievers (47:4). Given that the Islamic religion mandates death for blasphemers, it is not in the least surprising that Yusuf Islam endorsed the death fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Yusuf Islam became an endorser of brutality and murder because his new religion endorsed brutality and murder.
The Leftist media darling and renowned pseudo-intellectual “scholar of religions” Reza Aslan has claimed that religions are entirely what their followers make of them:
If you’re a violent, war-mongering person, you can find justification in any scripture. If you’re a peaceful, pluralistic person, you can find justification for your views in the exact same scriptures.
The conversions of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Cat Stevens show that Aslan is, as always, wrong.