'It suited Ramadan': Yusuf Islam praises UAE’s 'well controlled' response to Covid-19

The British singer-songwriter, who lives in Dubai, explains how staying at home made him more focused during the holy month

Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens narrates the guided tour through the galleries of the new Islamic Museum Australia.   Arts and Life for a story in A&L by Saeed. Feb. 2014. 
Photo credit is Aminah Islam
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This year’s Ramadan was unlike any other.

With many mosques across the world closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Muslims had to pray in their homes. There were no Ramadan khaimahs where people could meet to share a meal after evening prayers. Going to each other’s homes was also not an option, so for many, the community aspect of the holy month may have been affected.

However, the social limitations may also have made this Ramadan more introspective, as it did for Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens.

"Normally in Ramadan, you like to go to the mosque for the last prayer of the day. That wasn't possible since all the mosques are shut," he told Rolling Stone magazine from his home in Dubai.

“We had to do everything at home, but that was good for me because it made it more intense and more concentrated. It’s a spiritual month and you don’t have to be going out and gallivanting everywhere. It kind of suited the month. I became more reflective. I read more during this Ramadan than I have during previous ones.”

The Peace Train singer, who was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, also praised the UAE for the way it has handled the pandemic.

“It’s actually not too bad here. You need to wear masks and have gloves, but they’ve just eased things up a little bit and some shops are open," he said. "It’s quite well organised in the shops. I haven’t gone in myself, but they apparently monitor you and measure your temperature. It’s quite well controlled. Everything here is not too bad, to be honest. We haven’t been affected so far.”

Islam has rerecorded one of his most famous albums, Tea for the Tillerman, which turns 50 in November.

Islam didn’t intend to redo the classic album note for note. The British songwriter said he instead sought to make something original and record more up-to-date versions of the songs.

The new recordings give a new twist to many of the celebrated songs on the album. Longer Boats has been given a funk redressing with guest vocals by rapper Brother Ali, whereas Wild World now has a triple-time tango feel to it.

Though the rerecorded Tea for the Tillerman will come out on Friday, September 18, the new version of Where Do The Children Play? has already been released.

"If you listen to Longer Boats, nobody would have expected James Brown to jump in the middle of it and start funking around, but that's exactly how we did it," Islam told Rolling Stone.

"And I got to sing a duet with myself after 50 years, which is incredible. In Father and Son, the voice of the son was taken from a recording of me in 1970 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. And now here's me at 70 singing with myself when I was about 22. It's amazing. It's virtual reality for you."