FORMER pop star Yusuf Islam today said it is vital that young Muslims in Britain are educated about the true meaning of Islam at an early age before their beliefs can be distorted by radicals.
Mr Islam, who as Cat Stevens had a string of hit singles in the 1960s and 1970s, was speaking at Cardiff University at the opening of Centre for the Study for Islam in the UK.
The centre, which will be based in the School of Religious and Theological Studies, will offer Islam in Contemporary Britain postgraduate courses as well as short courses designed for public sector workers such as police officers and social workers in order to promote a greater institutional understanding of the faith.
Mr Islam, who abandoned his musical career and changed his name in the 1970s, is now the chairman of the Islamia Schools Trust and one of the most prominent Muslims in Britain.
He said today it was important that Muslim youngsters channelled their energies into practising the true exponents of Islam such as kindness and goodness rather than the violence and barbarism of the extremists.
Right now there is a more vital role for education to play in painting a truer picture of Islam, he said. If you dont give it to the children in schools, anybody can give it to them on the streets or outside the normal environment for learning.
He said he believed British foreign policy played a significant part in the London bombings of July 7.
I think the video (from al Qaida) told us that, he said. It was not the only factor but it was a major contributory as well as the war in Iraq and the general policy towards Palestine. At the same time we have to look at how the teaching of Islam has been distorted.
When asked about the possibility of radicalism being fostered in university institutions, he said: I dont know the reality on the ground but I know there is an opportunity for any group of extremists, including Jewish ones, to use the university campus for their own purpose and radicalisation programmes.
I think, yes, certain Muslim youths are involved in that. The world is not a closed shop any more. Therefore reaching out in the form of partnership, which it seems the Government is trying to do, in order to reflect a truer picture of Islam is to be encouraged.
He added: I have always felt that Muslims should do more to integrate. Coming to Islam from a Western background, I was slightly surprised early on by the insular approach. I can understand it because many feel insecure and perhaps they werent appreciated or were misunderstood.
Part of the problem is perhaps they dont know how to feel understood. With a new generation of English speaking Muslims we have an opportunity to build many more bridges between the great faiths.
He also said it was vital that Britain extricated itself from Iraq as a matter of urgency.
There are many people in this country, in America and all over the world and not necessarily Muslims, that dont like the war or its taste.
It is an imperative (the withdrawal from Iraq) and if the Government ignores it, it will take that much longer to unravel the problem.
On the new centre for the study of Islam, he said: I welcome and appreciate the opening of this new school and its significance at this point in time in the background of all the events that have gone on in July...the bombings etc.
Of course, there is a distortion in society in which we live. But also there is the fact that Muslims have to do more to try and understand the society in which we live and learn their own faith at the same time and learn to contribute.
Mr Islam was joined by around 400 others at the launch today which included leading figures of the British Islamic community. Ambassadors, scholars and children from the Taibah School in Cardiff.
Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray, director of the centre, said: Cardiff has a long history of Muslim settlement, and is recognised as having one of the oldest Muslim communities in Britain.