|The Royal Albert Hall fittingly played host to the Night of Remembrance a concert organised by Yusuf Islam to celebrate Islamia Primary School's twentieth anniversary. A beautifully clear (and very chilly) autumn evening added a very British dimension to the assortment of international performances that the eager crowd awaited.
As a new comer to the Royal Albert Hall, witnessing the majesty of the venue was in itself worth the effort. The regally decorated and imposing building, associated in my mind solely with the BBC Proms and other such events, seemed, to me, a novel location for an evening dedicated to celebrating the first Islamic primary school in the country. Surely, an evening of nasheeds and speeches was mismatched with a building dedicated to Imperial Britain? How wrong I was! The grand interior, whilst complimenting the rich diversity of acts, allowed the audience of several thousand to enjoy the evening's performances in acoustically perfect (and very comfortable!) surroundings.
A video presentation highlighting the significance of the Night of Power in Ramadhan started the meticulously organised and skillfully orchestrated evening. Gracefully presenting the story behind the significance of the Night of Power from both the historical and spiritual perspective, the presentation set the tone for the concert celebrating knowledge and art in a spirited and colourful style.
The host for the evening's entertainment was none other than Yusuf Islam himself, the inspiration behind the Islamia School.
Khalid Belrhouzi from France, backed by Qatrunda from Indonesia and Islamia School's choir kicked off the musical part of the evening with several beautiful nasheeds. Without a doubt the immensely talented young voices of Islamia School's choir touched the hearts of every member of the audience. Zain Bhika continued the show with meaningful lyrics punctuated with a rare show of patriotism for his native South Africa. He sang a song dedicated to the struggle the South Africans have lived through and from which we all can learn. This was a novel experience and highlights the fact that we are all the children of Aadam and can learn and indeed admire qualities in Muslims and those of other persuasions alike.
Native Deen, to the obvious pleasure of the younger members of the audience and possibly the bemusement of the older folk, took the stage amidst much expectation after Yusuf Islam's rather cryptic introduction. Their performance of some of their most celebrated raps, including I Don't Need to Get High, was accompanied with their trademark impressive display of drumming that was, as ever, quite exhilarating.
The music was punctuated by three brief messages from scholars and celebrities. The first was from Tim Winter who spoke about every day in the life of a Muslim being a celebration, a time for `Shukr' (thankfulness to God). Prince Nasim spoke next with a personal message from the heart, particularly for the youth, to adhere to their Prayers and to remember those around the world who are suffering particularly with the blessed month of Ramadan fast approaching. Lastly, and to my mind, the most poignant and universal of all the messages delivered on the evening Sheikh Hamza Yusuf took the stage. His message was one of hope and love addressed to humanity at large appealing to each individual that they had a role to play in making the world a better place for us all. His short address, interspersed by several rounds of applause, once again demonstrated his awesome talent in straddling divides and unifying even the most distant of hearts.
The finale to the evening was a rare performance by Yusuf Islam. His short performance included, much to the delight of the many Cat Stevens fans in the audience, a new rendition of the now legendary Peace Train.
In summary, this was a most enjoyable evening celebrating a significant milestone in the history of British Islam. The evening skillfully combined entertainment with education and in so doing demonstrated a truly exhilarating and positive side of Islam. For me, certainly, this was indeed a most memorable night.