September 11: The Rock of Islam

Seventies pop singer Cat Stevens became a Moslem in 1977 after rejecting his past life of drink and drugs. Here the former rock star — now called Yusuf Islam, 52, — explains how the words of the Islamic Holy book, the Koran, which preaches peace, have been twisted by extremists to promote hate.

Coming to Islam in my late twenties, after years as a wandering pop star, one of the first interesting things I learnt was that the word Islam itself comes from "salam" or "peace." It is a faith far away from the violence, destruction and terrorism we have seen in recent days.

The finger has already been pointed at Muslims and the Arab world. But the display of death and indiscriminate killing has nothing to do with a religion that blends scientific reason with spiritual beliefs, a unifying faith. As a Westerner I had been warned about Islam – that strange foreign religion which seemed to belong to people with a different color and culture. But after being given the Koran in 1976, I discovered the opposite of what I expected. The Koran first showed me a belief in the universal existence of God (Allah), one God for all. It did not speak against peoples; it said although we may be from different countries and tribes, we were all human born of the same original parents, Adam and Eve. The Koran directly says: "The best of people are the most God-conscious".

British Muslims feel nothing but sympathy for those families who lost loved ones in this awful tragedy we've all just witnessed in the US. This is why, today, along with most Muslims in Britain, we should make it clear that such acts of horrific carnage as we've seen on TV and in the newspapers have nothing to do with the beliefs of most Muslims. The Koran specifically declares: "If anyone murders an (innocent) person…it will be as if he has murdered the whole of humanity." It goes on: "And if anyone saves a person it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity."

The Koran does not teach us to live in a different world; rather it is full of stories and lessons from the history of humanity as a whole. The Gospel and Torah – the books of the Christian and Jewish Bibles – are mentioned. So are Jesus and Abraham. In fact it may be interesting to know that there is more mention in the Koran about Moses than any other prophet. Why? Because Islam acknowledges all true faith began with God, and in doing so, it accepts the existence of other cultures and shows how we can all live together in peace. It says: "There is no compulsion in religion" – meaning once a person is of a certain faith there should be no force imposed on that person to change. Elsewhere it states: "To you, your religion; to me mine." So respect for religious values and justice is at the Koran's! core.

But some extremists, among them self-appointed Islamic clerics, take parts of sacred book out of context. This is a dangerous thing. For instance, some would quote verses which say: "Think not of those who are killed in God's way as dead. No, but they are alive, finding their reward with their Lord." This has been quoted to support the action of the suicide bombers. However these verses are actually meant for people who are defending their land under a legitimate state authority, against unjust external invaders. Never does it allow the killing of innocent civilians. In fact, suicide itself is strictly forbidden by the Koran. It says: "Do not kill yourselves…Whoever does this in hatred and injustice we shall cast them into the fire."

Muslims believe in the authority of just government and the principle of consultation. Radical fringe groups of any race, color or religion who organize to threaten or kill innocent people of any country, disregarding God's boundaries of justice, are deplored by the majority of scholars and ordinary Muslims. The problem is that these small groups try to represent Muslims as a whole outside of Islamic law. You find such dissident factions creating their own rules, contrary to the spirit of the Koran.

The Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said: "A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally [outside of due process]." Such knowledge and words of guidance are desperately needed at this time to separate the true from the false.