Muslim Group Objects to Expulsion of Former Pop Star

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - An Islamic civil rights group says it will hold a noontime press conference in Washington on Wednesday to condemn the expulsion of Yusuf Islam -- the former Cat Stevens -- from the United States.

Islam boarded a U.S.-bound flight in London on Tuesday, and the plane, headed for Washington's Dulles airport, was diverted to Bangor, Maine, after his name showed up on a U.S. watch list.

A Department of Homeland Security official said Yusuf Islam was denied permission to enter the United States "on national security grounds." No one's giving a specific reason.

CAIR describes Yusuf Islam as an internationally-known Muslim activist and educator who recently spoke out against the Russian school massacre. His reputation as a peace activist dates back to his pop music days in the 1970s, when he had a string of hits, including "Wild World" and "Peace Train."

Yusuf Islam will be returned to London on Wednesday. His daughter, with whom he was traveling, was allowed to enter the U.S., press reports said.

"When internationally-respected Islamic personalities like Yusuf Islam and Professor Tariq Ramadan are denied entry to the United States, it sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad in a press release.

Homeland Security officials recently revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar who was supposed to begin teaching at the University of Notre Dame this fall.

CAIR has described Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, as a moderate and a reformer, and Notre Dame said it knew of no reason why he should be denied a visa. But Ramadan is a controversial figure in Europe, where some accuse him of anti-Semitism.

The expulsion of the former Cat Stevens, who is much better known in the U.S., drew a skeptical response from many Americans on Wednesday.

Yusuf Islam said he was horrified by the 9/11 attacks on America. In a 2001 interview with VH1, he said, "My heart reaches out to those families who have lost loved ones in that terrible tragedy. He said those who committed the atrocity "tried to derail humanity in some sense. But I still believe in such a thing as a Peace Train out there, somewhere and I hope that one day it'll arrive."

In the same interview, he said, "The whole idea of killing of innocent women and children has no place whatsoever in Islam."

In 1989, Islam was blasted for supporting the fatwa, or death sentence, the Iranian government imposed on author Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses.

Islam later said he was misunderstood when he tried to answer tricky questions.

In the 2001 VH1 interview, Yusuf Islam said he never actually supported the fatwa. "I, as a new Muslim, couldn't really deny certain laws within Islam," he said. "But as for asking, or calling people to assassinate people outside of the law, or to take the law into their own hands, I didn't accept that at all..."

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