Steven Georgiou was born in Marylebone, London, England. Georgiou developed an interest in piano at a fairly young age, then, inspired by the popularity of The Beatles, at age 15 he learned to play guitar. Often, he would climb to the rooftop above his home, and listen to the tunes of the musicals drifting from Denmark Street, which was then the centre of the British music industry.
Though he enjoyed art, he wanted to establish a musical career and began to perform originally under the stage name "Steve Adams" in 1965. At that point, his goal was to become a songwriter. In 1965 he signed a publishing deal with Ardmore & Beechwood and cut several demos, including "The First Cut Is the Deepest."
Georgiou began to perform his songs in coffee houses and pubs. Thinking that his given name might not be memorable to prospective fans, he chose a stage name Cat Stevens, in part because a girlfriend said he had eyes like a cat, but mainly because he said, "I couldn't imagine anyone going to the record store and asking for "that Steven Demetre Georgiou album."
In 1966, at age 18, he impressed manager/producer Mike Hurst, who arranged for him to record a demo and get a record deal. The first singles were hits. "I Love My Dog" charted at #28, and "Matthew and Son," the title song from his debut album, went to #2. "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun" reached Britain's Top 10, and the album Matthew and Son itself began charting. The original version of the The Tremeloes cover hit, "Here Comes My Baby" was written and recorded by Stevens.
Over the next two years, Stevens recorded and toured with artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Engelbert Humperdinck. Stevens placed several singles in the British pop music charts. Some of that success was attributed to the pirate radio station Wonderful Radio London, which gained him fans by playing his records.
His December 1967 album New Masters failed to chart in the U.K. The album is notable for his song "The First Cut Is the Deepest," a song he sold to P.P. Arnold that was to become a massive hit for her, and an international hit for Keith Hampshire, Rod Stewart, James Morrison, and Sheryl Crow. Forty years after he recorded the first demo of the song, it earned him two back-to-back ASCAP "Songwriter of the Year" awards, in 2005 and 2006.
Stevens contracted tuberculosis in 1969 and was close to death. He spent months recuperating in hospital and a year of convalescence. During this time Stevens began to question aspects of his life, and spirituality. He took up meditation, yoga, and metaphysics; read about other religions; and became a vegetarian. As a result of his serious illness and long convalescence, he wrote as many as forty songs, many of which would appear on future albums.
Stevens enjoyed a string of successes over the following years. 1971's Teaser and the Firecat album reached number two and achieved gold record status within three weeks of its release in the U.S. It yielded several hits, including "Peace Train," "Morning Has Broken" and "Moon Shadow."
His next album, Catch Bull at Four, released in 1972, was his most rapidly successful album in the U.S., reaching gold record status in 15 days, and holding the number-one position on the Billboard charts for three weeks.
While on holiday in Marrakech, Morocco, shortly after visiting Ibiza, Stevens was intrigued by the sound of the Aḏhān, the Islamic ritual call to prayer, which was explained to him as "music for God." Stevens said, "I thought, music for God? I’d never heard that before – I’d heard of music for money, music for fame, music for personal power, but music for God!"
In 1976 Stevens nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu, California, and says he shouted: “Oh God! If you save me I will work for you.” He says that right afterward a wave appeared and carried him back to shore. This brush with death intensified his long-held quest for spiritual truth. He had looked into "Buddhism, Zen, I Ching, Numerology, tarot cards and Astrology." Stevens' brother David Gordon brought him a copy of the Qur'an as a birthday gift from a trip to Jerusalem. Stevens took to it right away, and began his transition to Islam.
Stevens converted to Islam in December 1977 and adopted his Muslim name, Yusuf Islam, the following year. In 1979, he auctioned all his guitars for charity and left his music career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community.
In November, 2006, he told the BBC, "It's me, so it's going to sound like that of course ... This is the real thing.... When my son brought the guitar back into the house, you know, that was the turning point. It opened a flood of, of new ideas and music which I think a lot of people would connect with."
A new pop album, Roadsinger, was released in May 2009. The lead track, "Thinking 'Bout You," received its debut radio play on a BBC program on March 23, 2009.
On October 30, 2010 Yusuf appeared at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, singing alongside Ozzy Osbourne. Yusuf performed "Peace Train" Ozzy performed "Crazy Train" and The O'Jays performed of "Love Train."
On March 2, 2011, YusufYusuf launched a new tour website (yusufinconcert.com) to commemorate his first European tour in over 36 years scheduled from May 7 to June 2, 2011.
He has been given several awards for his work in promoting peace in the world, including 2003's World Award, the 2004 Man for Peace Award, and the 2007 Mediterranean Prize for Peace.