Muslim convert Cat Stevens gets peace award in Rome

ROME (AFP) – Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev presented singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, with a peace prize, two months after he was refused entry to the United States on “national security grounds”.

The “Man for Peace 2004″ prize was presented at a ceremony in Rome city hall marking the opening of the Fifth World Nobel Summit, an annual gathering here of Nobel peace laureates led by Gorbachev, who won the prize in 1990.

The award is given annually “to a distinguished personage of culture and entertainment for peace messages, fraternity and integration between nations”.

The 57-year-old singer said rock and roll had contributed to the development of society “in the strangest ways, expressing the necessity to abolish taboos and to move forward, but also in giving young people the possibility to express their hopes and weaknesses”.

“For me it was a way of expressing my ideals for a better world,” added the singer, best known for mellow 1970s hits as “Morning has Broken,” “Wild World” and “Peace Train”. He converted to the Muslim faith in 1977.

Gorbachev used the occasion to call on fellow Nobel peace laureates present in Rome — including Shimon Peres, Lech Walesa, Rigoberta Menchu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Jose Ramos Horta — “to write a letter to all the other Nobel winners in order to propose initiatives which can facilitate the process of peace in the world”.

Islam was recognized for his charity “Small Kindness”, which works to alleviate the suffering of children and their parents in countries hit by war and has so far assisted thousands of people in Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro and Iraq.

A previous winner of the “Man for Peace” award was Italian actor and filmmaker Roberto Benigni for his film “Life is Beautiful”.

Islam was deported from the United States last September after being denied entry on “security grounds” and was released without charge. He was travelling to the US capital when his flight was diverted to Bangor, Maine where he was detained before being transferred later to Washington for his flight back to his native Britain.

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