Cat & Mosque

updated 04/06/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 01:00AM

WEARING A LONG JACKET AND PRAYER CAP, YUSUF Islam, the former pop star once known as Cat Stevens, fumbles with a microphone at a London press conference. "I used to be more familiar with these in the past," he says with a grin. "I guess I'll have to get used to them again."

Baby, baby, it's a wild world indeed. Two decades after renouncing rock stardom—and the riches and trophy girlfriends, including actress Patti D'Arbanville, that went with it—to become a strict Muslim, Islam, 50, is promoting I Have No Cannons That Roar. On the compilation album that benefits victims of civil war in Bosnia, he wrote two tunes and sings one of them. And his departure from pop music hasn't dulled his showbiz savvy. Cannons, he says, "is not destined to hit the top of the charts." Nor is a Cat Stevens tour likely anytime soon. "Some people are saying this is Yusuf Islam coming back to music," he says. "But there is nothing about the music industry that interests me."

Still, for Yusuf Islam anything is possible. Born Steven Demitri Georgiou, the son of a Greek restaurateur in London, he launched his career in 1966 and eventually sold 25 million albums with such hits as "Peace Train" and "Wild World." His spiritual conversion came, he says, after nearly drowning at a Malibu beach in 1974. "I said, 'Oh, God, if you save me, I'll work for you.' " Discovering the Koran soon after, Stevens changed his name in 1978. Now living with his wife of 19 years, Fawzia Ali, and their five children in London, where he owns a hotel catering to Muslims, Islam allows his brood to enjoy Cat Stevens tapes and may produce a CD of his old songs. "Music does have a place in our lives," he admits. "But it has to be for a noble objective."

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