LONDON, England — The refusal to allow Singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, into the United States on national security grounds was a “slap in the face of sanity,” a Muslim group has said.
Islam was stopped from flying into Washington on Tuesday from London after his name appeared on a security watch list.
His plane was diverted 600 miles to a Maine airport, where Islam was questioned and detained before being sent back to Britain Wednesday.
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Islam has become a prominent member of Britain’s Muslim community since abandoning his pop career and changing his name in the 1970s to devote himself to charity work and peace campaigning.
He is head of the Islamia Schools trust and has met UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as Prince Charles and Home Secretary David Blunkett in his new role.
Islamia Schools are affiliated with the Muslim Council of Britain, whose deputy general secretary, Mohammad Abdul Bari, expressed anger at Islam’s treatment.
“He is a very moderate man. We have absolutely no idea why this has happened. He is very well respected in the Muslim community,” Bari told UK’s Press Association.
“We are really appalled at what is happening. It is a slap in the face of sanity. If prominent, well-known personalities are treated like this, then how can there be bridge building?”
A spokesman for Islamia Schools also expressed disbelief at Islam’s detention.
“Everyone who has heard the news has been pretty sympathetic,” the spokesman, who was not identified, told PA. “He is more famed now as a peace activist than he was as a singer.”
The Muslim Association of Britain condemned the decision by U.S. authorities, which followed a move last month to prevent an Islamic professor taking up a teaching post in America.
Association spokesman Anas Altikriti said such actions prevented “open, constructive and positive dialogue” between the U.S. and Muslims around the world.
“It seems that the U.S. officials would rather that the untrue and distorted images of Islam and Muslims persist in the minds of its own citizens,” Altikriti said.
Islam, who was born Stephen Georgiou, took Cat Stevens as a stage name and had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including “Wild World” and “Morning Has Broken.”
He abandoned his music career and changed his name in the late 1970s after being persuaded by orthodox Muslim teachers that his lifestyle was forbidden by Islamic law, PA said.
But last year he released a re-recording of his 1970s hit “Peace Train” to express his opposition to the war in Iraq.
Apart from his schools work, Islam also has founded a charity raising money for orphans and families affected by war in areas such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq.
He has criticized terrorist acts by Muslims, including the September 11, 2001, attacks and the school seizure in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month that left more than 300 dead, nearly half of them children, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement on his Web site, he wrote, “Crimes against innocent bystanders taken hostage in any circumstance have no foundation whatsoever in the life of Islam and the model example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.”
After the September 11 attacks, Islam issued a statement saying: “No right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: The Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity.”
In July 2000, Stevens was denied entry to Israel amid reports that he had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Hamas, PA reported. Israel and the United States consider the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization a terrorist group.
In a statement released by his record label Universal Music at the time, he said: “I want to make sure that people are aware that I’ve never ever knowingly supported any terrorist groups — past, present or future.”