Unofficial Biography of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The Unofficial Biography of Shaykh Hamza

Last update Nov 21, 2013

Meetings with Bush

"My initial reaction was, 'Whoever goes into the places where Rulers are, they will have tribulations' That's a Hadith, and I proved it right…again" [78] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

"I would say in terms of the response of the United States, I was deeply troubled by it, I think it was a very aggressive and really in many ways, I don't think it was justifiable"  [79] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Seven days after the Twin Towers fell, President Bush requested to meet with a Muslim leader. A Muslim aide in the White House knew Shaykh Hamza personally, and he contacted Shaykh Hamza requesting him to meet with President Bush.  [XXVIII]

Shaykh Hamza thought about the request, and after speaking with Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah on the matter, he went to the White House.

In parallel, while Shaykh Hamza was in Washington, the FBI sent several agents to his house to question him regarding some statements he had made earlier that year.

"He isn't home," said his wife. "He's with the president."

The FBI agents did not seem to believe her; they called the White House to check.

"He's got 100% security clearance," said the voice at the other end. The FBI agents did not return. [80]

Back from Washington, Shaykh Hamza organized a talk to explain what had happened at the White House. The lecture was given away free by Alhambra Productions at that time.

"It was a very difficult trip. I was asked by somebody I know. People probably know he's working in the White house. He's a Muslim, son of a very prominent Muslim.

He called me up and said, 'They're asking for somebody to come and talk to the President, and represent the Muslims'. And he said, he thought that I would be the best person, in my estimation, "So can you do that, can you come?"

I talked to Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah. And he said it was a Fard on me, "You have to go."

I went, and I was part of about 30 religious leaders there. The Head of the Mormons was there, Head of the Franklin Ministries, his son Franklin Graham. The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in America. Just a lot of prominent religious leaders (were there): The Tibetan lama, there was one of the Heads of one of the National Sikh Organizations and a Methodist Bishop, a lot of different people.

From that group, a handful, six of us, were asked to meet with President Bush in the Oval Office.

I put forward 4 points. We were given quite a bit of time, I was allowed to say all the points that I wanted to say.

I gave a copy of the "Essential Qur'an" and I had spent the night before going through it and putting stick'ems on all the verses that I thought were the most pertinent. I said, 'I know you're very busy, so if you don't have time to read the whole thing, read these verses.'

And then I gave him a book, "Thunder in the Sky", which is a book that Thomas Cleary translated on the humanistic use of power. How to use power to benefit humans and not to harm them. I also gave him a piece of Calligraphy that Mohammed Zakariya did (he did the Eid stamp).

When I called him (Mohammed Zakariya), he's in Virginia, he lives a few miles away from the Pentagon, he was writing what's called a Hilya in calligraphy, from the Shifa of Qada Yad, and it was a description of the Prophet SAW from Amr bin Al-Aws. When he heard the explosion, he told me the sentence he was literally writing was, "He would never repel an evil with another evil. But he forgave and he condoned."

The beauty of this, is that only Allah can do this. That's for Mohamed Zakariya, because Allah is the Author of this. Allah is the one who has decreed all of this. And that was for Mohammed Zakariya. It was a moment for him, and then it was related to the present.

That's our teaching, that's his description, and that's why we know that no matter what America has done to Muslims anywhere, our teaching is that we don't pay evil for evil. And that's Islam, it's not all this rage and anger that's out there. That is Islam, and it's a hard thing to do, but when you remember, that this is dunya, and you're looking at infinity, you're not looking at dunya, you're not looking at 50, 60, 70 years, you're looking at infinity. And you want Allah to forgive you for your own evil.

Isn't that what we all want? We just want forgiveness on Yuom al-Qiyyama (The Day of Judgment), because we're all guilty.

We think that we're independent of Allah. We're all guilty from that perspective. But the point is, here he is writing that, and I told him (President Bush) that, "this is what he was writing, when the Pentagon was struck, 'That he does not repel an evil with an evil.'"

That's the beauty of our Deen. That's a true story, it's not made up. Because, Mohammed Zakariya is a true Sadiq, He's Truthful, he doesn't lie. And I believe him, I don't need any witnesses, the angels were the witnesses. Those are our two just witnesses.

The points that I made, the first was emphasizing and that it had to be reiterated again and again that Islam does not have anything to do with this. That this is not the teaching of Islam, it's the religion that teaches mercy, compassion and when it uses martial force, it uses it with just laws. Non-combatants are never involved.

It's based on legitimate authority, not on vigilantism. We don't believe in vigilantism, we don't believe in outlaws.

We don't believe in Robin Hood. It's kind of interesting: in this culture, Robin Hood is a hero. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

Then even more bizarre, and I told them this on 60 minutes, I doubt they'll put that on there. I said Samson is the first suicide bomber, and he's in the Bible. If you don't know the story of "Shamsoon", Samson was in the temple of the Philistines, he was an Israeli. He asked, 'where are the pillars that hold the temple up?', and he goes and in chains, he pushes them, killed himself and everybody else. As revenge for the Israeli's against the wrongs of their enemies.

I was taught that as a child, he was a hero. That's not in the Qur'an, it's conspicuously absent from the Qur'an.

The second point was the danger of Polarization. That this could polarize the world. And we could get a self-fulfilling prophecy of Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations': China, Islam vs. the West. Nobody wants that, there is no benefit in that, except for warmongers. People that make money off of the death of other people.

And then the idea of consensus. I had already talked to Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, and I also conveyed that to some Arab Ambassadors, that I felt that there should be a summit meeting of the most prominent Muslim Ulema in the Muslim world to declare Terrorism as inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and that it is prohibited by Ijma and that there should be an Ijma of that.

This should be rejected, and I also suggested that there should be one done of the Abrahamic religions in somewhere like Rome or Jerusalem or somewhere there's a declaration that it is not consistent with the teachings of the Prophets the taking of Innocent lives, whether it is State Terrorism or individual terrorism, it is rejected by religion, and let them be seen as what they are: political means to political ends.

That's not what the Prophet's came to teach. They came to teach Prophetic means to Prophetic ends.

The last was about oppression. That this country had a responsibility in creating just regimes because of the power this country has. That we have to recognize the oppression and extreme circumstances in the Muslim world that breeds the type of extremism that exists in some parts of the Muslim world.

I think that Muslims are incredibly moderate. I think the Iraqi's have displayed incredible patience and perseverance and lack of animosity and hatred. I think the Muslims are a testimony. One thing, Ismail Faruqi said, he was in debate once, and I heard this from somebody that was present and a man he was debating was just saying how terrible the Muslims were and Ismail Faruqi said, "You see the Muslims now with their corruption, and you go to their countries and you can laugh at how corrupt these countries are and despicable, but have you seen us suffer? Have you seen what happens to us when we get afflicted with pain and suffering? Then you'll know who we are".

He said "because when we lose all our money we don't jump out of buildings". We say "Mashallah, La Kuwata illa Billah". And that's the truth. You know the Muslims have been incredibly patient in the light of all this….

…I was asked to be the guest that night, of the First Lady, and I was told that there was going to be a speech, I had no idea that it would be, the way it was, I really didn't. But that's the situation I was in. And my intentions in it were trying to do what I could do, in this type of crisis. I mean you just, you have to do what you think is the right thing and the best thing for the overall benefit and I would say not just for Muslims but for everybody. Al-Mas lahul-ama. Because we have a concern for humanity in general, and certainly for the Muslims in particular.

Always, the Ummah is paramount, but we're also supposed to be caretakers of humanity. That's a task that we're given by Allah. So we should not act without the rest of humanity in our considerations.

Something that I really want to emphasize here, I thought that the most profound person and the one that seemed to be the most genuine person of all these people that I met, was Rabbi Joshua Habberman. What he said to Bush, he defended Islam.

I looked over at him, we were In this room, it was the Roosevelt room or something, and there was all these (dignitaries there)…Mayor Giuliani was there, and the Governor of New York, and the chief of staff and all these big (people), and he was sitting in a corner reading something in Hebrew. Everybody else was smoozing and doing all that.

I went over and sat next to him and said "What are you reading?"

He said, "I was reading the Psalms."

He was, he just seemed like a genuine person. We spoke quite a bit, He felt most comfortable (with me) I think.

He just said "You know the tragedy of this, is that American's are so ignorant of Islam. And they don't know the greatness of the Civilization, they don't know history and they really think this represents in anyway, Islam."

He said, "This is the real tragedy" and he said "And I'll tell you, I know as somebody who has studied Islam, the easiest religion for a Jewish person to convert to is Islam".

Wallahi, that's what he said to me.

"Your Shariah is not that different from what Musa was given.  Moses”, he said, "was given."

And there are good people out there. You know, that person was a genuine, that's what I got from him, and I asked him, are you a student of Martin Luber, he said "Yes".

And that's what Martin Luber was about, having real regard for other human beings. I think that as, we Muslims need to inculcate that in our relations with these other people…

…One of the Bishops said to the President, in the Oval Office, "You have to remind the American people what the Bible tells us, 'Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord". That's what he said, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord". Don't make this vengeance. Because that's what people want, they want vengeance, and vengeance is not from any of the Prophetic traditions.

And the other thing and I did say about 'Infinite Justice', it's an Attribute of God. It's like saying you’re God. And he was shocked, and he said, 'We don't have any theologians down at the Pentagon, and they name this stuff.' And they changed the name.

Alhamdulillah, but see, that's the thing; demystify power and a lot of it, is just a lot of ignorance.

…He seemed to be listening very attentively to what I had to say…when I mentioned a couple things, he confirmed it, said 'Absolutely I agree whole heartedly with that.' I was told, he had mentioned to one of the aids there, the presentation and points made and explanations were useful. I was told that.

(Later) Four or five times he specifically came up to me, shook my hand very firmly and thanked me in what seemed to me a very hearty thanks for just coming. And edifying him…

…That was my take on it. I was impressed. There were only 3 of us that spoke in that meeting. Graham's son, Franklin Graham, said a very short thing that he was willing to go wherever to service the troops, if there was going to be a war. The Jewish man said that he really hoped that the President would reconsider that, that he felt that war was the worst thing to do. And he was emphatic about that. But I did feel that he did listen, and that he asked people to pray. He asked the people there to go back to their communities to really ask people to pray…

…Afghanistan, I did mention Afghanistan to him. I said that I felt that the Afghani's have been so hard hit and there's been so much death and destruction there, that they can't take anymore. And that the vast majority of those people are innocent people. I mentioned that more Innocent blood is going to further polarize the world, and there is going to be more Muslims that view America as inherently belligerent towards the Muslims. And that it's going to turn into a Christian-Muslim type thing.

He said that it was a major fear of theirs. He said, "I was rebuked for using the word Crusade."

He said, "When I said it, I didn't mean it in a religious connotation." But it was the first word that came to him, because it is an English word that indicates that. If you look it up in the dictionary, that's what it means. So, there seemed to be a real serious concern there.

And I think the deliberation here, because it looked like they were just going to go and bomb like crazy. And it seems like, and I'm really hoping and praying to Allah SWT, that it doesn't escalate. But it is slowing down a little bit…" [81]

Well it did escalate, and they did bomb like crazy.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Reflections

"I played little league and high school baseball. I was actually the captain of my high school baseball team.

And in baseball, when you play in the little leagues, it's split; you have Peewee league, Little league and the Majors. And in Little League, the balls are very slow.

When you move up to high school ball, they get faster. By the time you get into College and Pro-Ball, you can barely see them.

And all of us felt in many ways, at some level, we were people that had been up at bat against very slow pitches, and suddenly now we're up against Major League pitchers.

And they're saying 3 strikes, you're out, and you haven't even seen the first pitch. You literally haven't seen the first pitch.

…These people are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions, to illicit responses from you that are already pre-determined. And if you don't know how to deal with that, if you're not trained to do that, you can easily end up doing things that are a disservice to the community.  And I have felt the pangs of that, painfully." [82]   -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Much later, Shaykh Hamza defended his actions during the final months of 2001.  He stated that he did not have the training to step into the international light, and did the best he could.

He would open up about those days, during an interview with Haroon Sellers, [XXIX]

"For people who are familiar with my work, amongst some of them, there was this idea that I made this 180 degree turn (after 9/11).  And it's simply not true.  And for people that really knew me before…it was very consistent with what I think, what I believe.  So I was thrust into certain situations that I personally don't believe I was prepared for, I really wasn't.

To use a sports metaphor, it was like someone in the little leagues suddenly getting thrust into the big leagues, and without having any training.  And the speed of the pitch was so much faster. 

I certainly did not have any media understanding.  I did theoretically, but actually living it, experiencing it, seeing how your words can be maligned.  I hadn't experienced that before as an individual.  I'd read about it.  I'd heard about people, who had it happen to them. 

To experience it, is very different….What does that mean to be in front of millions of people?  What does it mean, when CNN has a camera in your face and they're asking you a question, and you're realizing this is going out to millions of people.  And I have to say, what is going to be the most judicious statement that I believe, and the least harmful, to the Muslims overall.

So, I was put into a position that…I was certainly not neither ready for, nor fully cognizant of its import.  So, that was a major lesson for me.  That people are being paid, these interviewers are being paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars because they're very clever people. If they want something, they know how to get it.  They know how to elicit a response.  And, if you don't know how that game works, you can be abused and manipulated.  And that was a lesson. 

But overall…the latter half of the decade of the 90's, about '96 onward, I was having a lot of introspection about the state of the Muslim community.  And you'll see that in talks that I gave.  I think a good one is the Stations of Gratitude and the duties of Brotherhood, where I did talk about certain things that were very troubling in the Muslim community, and that was long before 9/11. 

So, when people saw me suddenly. People that didn't follow a lot of my talks, they didn't know what I was all about.  They might have seen me once at ISNA, or heard me a few times, and they really didn't follow my thought.  As because I had been teaching for a long time, and I have a lot of material out there, particularly recorded material, not as much written material, which is part of the problem, because in written material, it's much less difficult to misunderstand.  Oral speech is actually very complicated, because the grammar is not in the speech" [83]

On his Blog, Shaykh Hamza wrote about his Radio interview about Jihad,

"I once said on a radio program, `Jihad is never used in the Qur'an to mean war.` [XXX] Many people misunderstood my statement and in response, quoted several Qur'anic verses that used various derivations of the verb "jahada."

In the Qur'an, various forms of the word occur four times. In Surah Taubah, it is used in the indefinite form, which can be understood to exalt it; however, according to some of the great usuli scholars, it is for generality, as not all of the Usuli scholars stipulate a negative before an indefinite to mean a generality (people who know usul will know what that means), and so it refers to the general struggle of Muslims, which obviously includes going out to defend themselves but is not limited to that type of struggle only." [84]

Weapons of Mass Destruction

"And I shake, for the children`s hearts, that were petrified, as the bombs dropped on Baghdad. And I feel ashamed, that I`m in this country, when things like that that can happen in our lifetime.
And we reject it…we reject it. We will speak the truth, and we are American`s and we are Muslims."   [85] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

"They say it's not about the oil. But…it's about the Oil”  [86] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

"I have never supported War. I do not believe in War in the modern world. I am totally against War. I am against War in all of its Modern manifestations. Because all I see is human suffering, when I see War. And therefore I want to end War."  [87] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The Decade After

"Regarding the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, I once heard a student of Keith Kritchlow, who's a professor here in England in Sacred Architecture. And I heard this professor give a lecture, and he said, "It is almost a perfect design, but there`s only one problem. It's lacking the intermediary piece."

And what he said is, the Dome represents Heaven, and the Octagonal base represents Earth. But there is not an intermediary piece, and in Architecture, this is something that is lacking, because we always need that intermediary piece and you'll see this in many sacred structures; A third piece.

I went up to him, and this is Ilham, Alhamdullilah, I went up to him, after the lecture and said, "With all respect to your knowledge, I'm not an architect, and my knowledge is very little in this field. But you are mistaken; there's a reason why they left out that piece."

And he said, "What is that?"

And I said, "This represents the meeting of Heaven and Earth, without intermediary, because this represents the meeting that the Prophet (SAWS) had with his Lord, without the mediation of Gabriel."

And he literally just said, "Wow", which is the way non-Muslims say 'Subhanallah'." [88] -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Shaykh Hamza has taken on a larger role in the Post 9/11 world.  Where before, he was re-educating Muslims at a personal level, he has moved forward to present his Dawah to the World. 

When the Danish Cartoons became an international topic, Shaykh Hamza was invited to Denmark to speak to the groups there.

Among his many numerous activities in the past several years have been the creation of an Islamic Educational TV show for the Arab world entitled "Rihla" (Journey) or "'Yalla Shabab" on MBC. 

The focus for the show has been to overshadow Arab Soap-Opera's that premiere specifically during Ramadan.  With several years behind it and a high ranking, the show is doing quite well in the Middle East.  Many Muslims now recognize Shaykh Hamza on the streets of the Middle East due largely in part to this show.

At the international level, Shaykh Hamza entered the ranks of the UN. 

"He is a member of the C100, a division of the world economic forum, a high level group to strategize in ways which bridges can be built between the West and the Muslim world. He was also a special advisor to the United Nations high level committee, "The Alliance of Civilizations" and was a discussion leader at the UN's meeting in Doha." [89]

Influence

"I always take that with a serious grain of salt, like being the most influential Muslim Scholar in the West, because I'm having trouble influencing my 16 year old right now."   -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

In 2009, The Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre [XXXI] published the "500 Most Influential Muslims" publication amid much criticism.  Shaykh Hamza was ranked 38th Most influential in 2009, and 42nd in 2010.  He was the only North American Muslim to break the top 50 list.  The short text on Shaykh Hamza bears printing:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson is the Western world's most influential Islamic scholar. He is seen as one of the foremost authorities on Islam outside of the Muslim world, having spent a decade learning at some of the premier institutions in the Islamic world. He runs the incredibly successful Zaytuna Institute in California.

Hanson is fundamentally an American scholar. His popularity, and accordingly his influence, stem from the fact that although his knowledge of Islamic scholarship is comparable to that of important scholars in Muslim countries, his application of it is rooted in the lived experience of a normal American. In his speeches he is able to relate Islamic teachings in a way that American Muslims find easy to understand.

Hanson is one of the founders of the Zaytuna Institute. This institute is one of the most well respected centers of Islamic education in North America. It has been groundbreaking in combining cutting edge educational technologies with traditional Islamic education-setting the standard for Islamic education in the West. Hanson has built a huge grassroots following, particularly among young western Muslims.

Author

Around 2003, Shaykh Hamza began to increase the number of books he published per year. His books are typically translations of pre-modern Islamic Arabic texts (assumedly because there are so many Masterful books written in Arabic, what’s the point of creating new texts)

Some of the books he has authored: The Burda (2003), Purification of the Heart (2004), The Content of Character (2004), The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (2007), Agenda to Change our Condition (2007), Walking on Water (2010) and The Prayer of the Oppressed.

His book "Prayer of the Oppressed" preluded the "Arab Spring" by only 6 months. The Tunisian and Egyptian Government's fell within 6 months of the book's publication.  In the introduction to the text, he speaks of the miraculous nature of the poem (Prayer of the Oppressed),

"On the night we finished the recording in Fes [XXXII] , it was quiet and still when we emerged from the studio, into the cool night air and went for a late dinner. Then, at around three o'clock in the morning…(we) set out with Mohammed Bennis and his fellow singers, in a car, to our hotel to pick up our bags and leave immediately for the taxi stand outside Bab Boujloud. One of the people of goodness in England had entrusted me with a monetary gift to deliver to Sidi Ismail Filali, a sincere servant of God who lives in Fes, spending his days carding wool and his nights calling on God. Because we had to catch an early flight from Tangiers later that day and had a drive of several hours ahead of us, I knew I would not have time to visit him and deliver the gift; so I asked Sidi Mohammed if he would do it. No sooner had I completed the question than we happened to pass by a large, windowless van with a man standing alongside it. It must have been 3:30 AM by now. Sidi Mohammed exclaimed ‘that looks just like Sidi Ismail! ‘

We swung the car around and went back to find that, sure enough, it was Sidi Ismail. We greeted each other, embracing warmly, and Sidi Ismail exclaimed, ‘Glory to God! We just finished the Burdah and a recitation of the Qur'an in its entirety, and in the closing supplication, I asked God to see you tonight! By God, I swear it is true, and I did not know you were in Morocco.’

No sooner had I absorbed the import of what he told me than another surprise awaited me. Sidi Ismail opened the back door of the van revealing about twenty spiritual seekers with radiant faces. As if conducting an orchestra, Sidi Ismail raised his hands, and as he brought them down, the entire group broke into a spontaneous rendition of the prayer of Imam al-Dar'i, the very prayer we had just finished recording with the Fes Singers. This much is true: Sidi Ismail had no knowledge that I was in Morocco at that time, nor that we had just completed the recording of the prayer of Imam al-Dar'i. God is my Witness.

Upon returning to the United States with the recording…my task was largely done, but there remained one missing piece: I had hoped to include the poem's chain of transmission back to Imam al-Dar'i, for the blessing of its lineage and the barakah of its narrators. I asked a close friend and scholar who had the chain, but a few years passed, and it was not forthcoming. I thought perhaps that I should not put the work out and that it was something not meant to be, as I felt insistent on acquiring the chain as a permission from its author, so to speak.

On a blessed journey to Medina last year with my teacher and dearest friend, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, a master of both the inward and outward sciences, I happened to mention to him, while riding in a car in the middle of the Arabian desert, that I had translated the poem of Imam al-Dar'i. He smiled and said, He is in my chain from my father. I then boldly requested from him the chain of transmission. He looked at me and said, God willing. Time passed, and no chain came. I was beginning to believe that the poem would remain in my large collection of incomplete works. Then, on a more recent trip, as I was leaving for Medina again from Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah's house in Jeddah, he gave me the chain, and I felt it was time to release this poem." [90]

How many an author has already published their text before the ink is dry?  Alhamdulillah, for the Ulema who still stand with the traditional way.

Zaytuna College

A large part of Shaykh Hamza's focus from 2007 to 2013, has been to move Zaytuna to the next level; namely, as an accredited Ivy League University. 

Possibly, as part of that effort, he has taken on roles at various Universities as an advisor.  Currently, (in 2011) he is an advisor at Stanford University, in their Program in Islamic Studies [XXXIII] . As well, he advises for "The Center for Islamic Studies" at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union. He also serves as a member of the board of advisors of George Russell's One Nation [XXXIV] . In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal. [91]

Further Education

Shaykh Hamza started his PhD in Islamic Studies at Berkeley University, in 2009.  In 2013, it was still in-progress. [92]