Unofficial Biography of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The Unofficial Biography of Shaykh Hamza

Last update April 21, 2019
you're good for Islam in this country.

So even though he had his own reservations, about some of my attitudes, which I think were probably justified at that time. But despite that, he was also very encouraging."36

Aside from ISNA speeches, he was also personally involved in Deen Intensives and Rihla's.  Teaching students lucky enough (or smart enough) to know of him and able to attend his camps / programs.

Establishing the Zaytuna Institute

After extensive work in the community, as Imam of Santa Clara Mosque, and giving talks and lectures around the country, Shaykh Hamza put his plan in place, and in 1996, he joined with Dr. Hesham Alalusi to found "The Zaytuna Institute".

It would not be until 1998 that they broke ground in Hayward, California and established a physical building. The building was purchased for $750,000 and needed a lot of work for use.29

In its own words: "Zaytuna Institute is a non-profit, educational institute and school founded and run by people committed to reviving time-tested methods of educating and transforming human beings. It is our belief that Islam offers a cohesive understanding of the world and a praxis for it that is able to cut through the illusion of contemporary nihilism and materialism."

About 2008, when the new Zaytuna College building was completed close to Stanford, the original Zaytuna building was closed down.

His Teachers

“I have teachers from every single Arab country in the Arab world.  Every single one...I have a teacher from one of the Arab countries.  And my teachers were amazing” 29 – Shaykh Hamza

It's difficult to identify all of Shaykh Hamza's teachers, as he travelled so much, and mentioned so few of his adventures. Of his known teachers (In no particular order):

  1. Murabit al Hajj (Mauritania)29
  2. Shaykh Khatri (Mauritania)37
  3. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah - Fiqh29
  4. Shaykh Mohammad al-Yaqoubi  (California) - Maliki FiqhZ
  5. Shaykh Abdullah Ould Siddiq (United Arab Emirates)- Maliki Fiqh 29
  6. Shaykh Baya bin Salik (United Arab Emirates, Mauritania)29, 38a
  7. Shaykh Bashir Shaqfah (United Arab Emirates)29
  8. Muhammad Shaybani (Abu Dhabi)29
  9. Hamad al-Wali (United Arab Emirates)39
  10. Habib Ahmad Mashur al-Hadad29(Yemen)b40c
  11. Muhammad al-Fatrati - Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt29
  12. Shaykh Ahmad Badawi  (Sudan) - Hadith40
  13. Sidi Bou Said (Tizi, Algeria) - Quran41
  14. Shaykh Ahmad Dughan (Saudia Arabia)
  15. Shaykh Hasan al-Ghimari
  16. Shaykh Sayyid Ibrahim al-Hasawi
  17. Shaykh Ahmad Jabir Jibran
  18. Shaykh Abdullah al-Kadi (Saudia Arabia)
  19. Shaykh Muhammad al-Kittani
  20. Shaykh Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki
  21. Sidi Bou Said (Bilal ibn Rabah Madrassa - Tizi Algeria) (Most likely Quran)
  22. Shaykh Ahmed Jibran (The Last Muhadith of Mecca) 41d

Of the Islamic Sciences he has studied:29

  1. Arabic grammar, Morphology and literature
  2. Qur'an
  3. Hadith terminology and transmission
  4. Qur'anic recitation (tajweed)
  5. Theology (aqidah)
  6. Fiqh: Maliki jurisprudence
    1. Some of the Texts: al-Risalah , sections of Aqrab al-Masalik, al-Fiqh al-Maliki fi Thawbihi al-Jadid (Islamic Institute of al-Ain)42
  7. Usul: Legal foundations
  8. Logic
  9. Dialectics: Adab Al-Bahth wal-Munadharah
  10. Tawqit: Astronomy
  11. Ethics
  12. Spirituality: Tasawwuf
  13. Ibn Ashir

Moving to Light Speed - 9/11 and beyond

(I said to one of my teachers) "I really need to sit with you".
And he said, "You have everything you need. Just go out and defend the Muslims, and Inshallah, Allah give you Tawfeeq."
42
-Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Seeking help after 9/11)

 

"Afghanistan is probably one of the greatest crimes against humanity…certainly in modern history. It's not less tragic then much of what happened in World War II"42
- Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

 

"I think that the attack on Afghanistan is a tragedy, and that it is has very frightening consequences."43 -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

And then two airplanes were crashed into the World Trade Center. 

Many events occurred both before and after 9/11; the simplest explanation is that Shaykh Hamza did what he could during that chaotic time period. The US was in shock and marching towards war.  It was a difficult time for all Muslims in the West.

He has been attacked roundly by Non-Muslims and Muslims alike for his actions and statements during that time.  (Some of his own acquaintances would admonish him publically for some of his statements.)e

Speaking of that time, Shaykh Hamza reflected later about life before and after 9/11,

"On Sept 11, my life was changed very radically; I thought I had a busy life before Sept 11. It was actually slow, calm and enabled me time to reflect and time to think about things at a deeper level; What I found after September 11, things began to move so quickly that I really missed the opportunity of just being able to sit back and deliberate."

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" 42-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"  44-Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Seven days after the Twin Towers fell, President Bush requested to meet with a Muslim leader.f Shaykh Hamza thought about the request, and after speaking with Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah on the matter, he went to the White House.  Shaykh Hamza discussed why he went:

I was invited and the invitation came through a person who works inside the White Houseg... He was a close friend of mine and his son was asked to find a scholar in the United States to meet with the President and express views and the president wanted to express his views.

So, I was asked to do that.  I took counsel with my Shaykh, Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah about doing that.  And he told me that that I should do it.  So I went to the White House I did meet with the President.  And I did talk, I was given an opportunity, it's quite extensive.45

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.46

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... 

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.47

I was invited in with four other religious leaders it was a cardinal who ended up getting scandalized in Massachusetts over the
covering up the pedophilia problems.  And then there was a Jewish rabbi, Franklin Graham and myself representing the Muslims.48

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.

 

They had said that they were calling this operation...to find out who did it...there's no war yet, The war was declared later...and they called it Operation Infinite Justice.  

We were in the elevator going up, In the White House.  And I said to these religious leaders, "That's blasphemous."

And they all agreed, like they nodded their heads.  And I said "Shouldn't we say something?" 

Like that's like saying, America's God!  They said "Yeah we should say something." 

So, we appointed the cardinal and so when we were leaving, he didn't say anything.  

So I said, "Excuse me, you know that this operation to find out who did this", ...Right there's no war..."It's called Infinite Justice and only God's Justice is Infinite."  

So I consider this (Speaking truth to a Ruler).  I said something that I hope on the Day of Judgment benefits me.

I said it's blasphemous to say that and offensive to Muslims.  

And he said "really?"

I said "Yeah". 

He said "Get the, Call the Pentagon, get them to change it, we don't have any theologians in the Pentagon."  

That's what he said.  

So, they changed the name.  That's my little footnote in history.  You know, this guy that got the name changed, but it became a war.  That wasn't what I was saying.  There's this idea somehow I was more concerned about the name than the actual war.  There was no war (at that time).   48

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…"47

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

Nearly 20 years later, Shaykh Hamza reflected,

To be fair to him (President Bush) I think...he did horrible things afterwards with the War in Iraq and listening to the neo-cons and what happened, it's terrible.  And a lot of people died because of his misadventures.  But initially we have to be grateful that he went to a mosque almost immediately. He did that news conference, he talked about how Muslims are good citizens of this country.  So he actually did the right things initially and I think it benefited us as a community.  Unfortunately today we have a whole other problem with with just the rhetoric has been so aggressive.48

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