September 28, 2004
I was flying to Nashville last week with my
21-year-old daughter to explore some new musical
ideas with a record label there. Ironically, I was
trying to remain low-profile because of the
speculation that it might have raised in the music
world about a return of "the Cat." Media attention
was the last thing I wanted. But it seems God wanted
Toward the end of our journey from London to
Washington, the plane was diverted. The captain
announced something about "heavy traffic." After
landing in Bangor, Maine, six tall, blue-uniformed
officers boarded and surrounded me and my daughter.
"Is your name Yusuf Islam?" they asked.
"Yes," I confirmed.
"Do you mind coming with us and answering a few
At that point my heart stopped, and my daughter's
face turned aspirin-white. This was the start of the
Three FBI agents escorted me away from my daughter
and asked me questions. At first, it sounded like
they might have me mixed up with somebody else, as
they repeated the spelling of my name.
"No. Y-u-s-u-f," I carefully spelled out. The agents
looked a bit puzzled.
As they continued asking questions, some of their
queries were obviously not related to me, so I
thought this must be a matter of simple mistaken
identity. Whether it was a mix-up or not remained
unclear because they weren't under any obligation to
give me a reason; the green visa waiver form I had
so neatly filled in earlier had effectively denied
me any right to appeal or answers. It was only when
an immigration official read out to me a legal
reference number that he mentioned some implication
with "terrorism" — no further details necessary.
The most upsetting thing was being separated from my
daughter for 33 hours — not knowing how she was or
when and where we might be united. Because my phone
was confiscated, I couldn't contact my family.
God almighty! Is this the same planet I'd taken off
from? I was devastated. The unbelievable thing is
that only two months earlier, I had been having
meetings in Washington with top officials from the
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives to talk about my charity work. Even
further back, one month after the attack on the
World Trade Center, I was in New York meeting Peter
Gabriel and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the World
Had I changed that much? No. Actually, it's the
indiscriminate procedure of profiling that's
changed. I am a victim of an unjust and arbitrary
system, hastily imposed, that serves only to
belittle America's image as a defender of the civil
liberties that so many dearly struggled and died for
over the centuries.
Need I say that any form of terrorism or violence is
the antithesis of everything I love and stand for?
Anyone who knows me will attest to this. I have
spent my life in the search for peace and
understanding, and that was mirrored clearly in my
music. Since becoming a Muslim, I have devoted my
life to education, charity and helping children
around the world.
Consistently I have condemned the attacks of 9/11,
stating that the slaughter of innocents, the taking
of hostages and coldblooded killing of women and
children have nothing do with the teachings of
Islam. I've openly and publicly repudiated the
actions of groups that resort to such acts of
inhumanity — whatever their names. Any allegations
to the contrary are fabricated. The Koran equates
the murder of one innocent person with the murder of
all of humanity.
Ever since I embraced Islam in 1977, people have
regularly tried to link me with things I have
nothing to do with. Take the Salman Rushdie case as
an example, or the regurgitating of the accusation
that I support groups like Hamas.
I am a man of peace, and I denounce all forms of
terrorism and injustice; it is simply outrageous for
anyone to suggest otherwise. The fact that I have
sympathy for ordinary people in the world who are
suffering from occupation, tyranny, poverty or war
is human and has nothing to do with politics or
Thank God my daughter and I were relieved of our
ordeal and delivered home safely. I also thank all
those who prayed for me and supported me through
this dark episode; I have never harbored any ill
will toward people of God's great Earth anywhere —
and wish the reverse was also true.