Unofficial Biography of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Last update Dec 1, 2020
nd 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."51  -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,k

"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"52

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.`l 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."53

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."
54  -Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

"They say it's not about the oil. But…it's about the Oil”36-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."  54  -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'."
55  -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."m


"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 Centren 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.

On Solar Energy

"I was inspired by the fact that we had the largest solar installation in the world back in the late 70s; (California)  and out of just passing by there one day, I was so inspired by it, that I asked a friend of mine to see what it would take to get Mauritania completely energy dependent independent with solar panels. 

He did an incredible project for me and I ended up presenting that to the government in Abu Dhabi.  From that, came the largest solar installation in West Africa which is in Mauritania which is providing 10% of the energy to the state of Mauritania and we opened that two years ago in Rockshop (Cityname?) as you fly into Norwalkshot (City name?)  you see just this incredible massive array of solar panels." (Islam, Citizenship, and Religious Liberty – Hamza Yusuf)


Aproximately 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 Feso, 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."56

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 Studiesp. 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 Nationq. In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal.57

Further Education

Shaykh Hamza started his PhD in Islamic Studies at Berkeley University, in 2009.  In 2013, it was still in-progress.58

Danish Cartoons and Contrevorsy

In 2005, A Danish newspaper printed several contrevorisal cartoons that were blasphemous to Muslimsr.  This action was repeated several times leading to a mass shooting at the Newspaper office at "Charlie Hepdo" in France.  Shaykh spoke of his efforts during this time in 2013:

"We've been here before.  In fact when the Danish cartoons happened, I actually went to Denmark and I met with the Prime Minister's Office.  

I spoke to the Danish people, I actually spoke on Danish television reminding them that the Arabs love Danish cheese and that it actually harmed their economy.

Believe it or not, it harmed their economy; because there was a boycott on Danish cheese which sells very well in the Arab world.  And economics is very important.  

People like good ties with other places because they can make money.  In fact, one of the worst things for business, is war.  

Unless you're in the business of war.  Business people do not like instability, they like stability." 58


I thought that if I ever wrote an autobiography, I thought of calling it “American in Mecca.” Or “Renegado.” The Europeans who fled to the Muslim World and became Muslim—they called them renegados.59

Criticism of Support of UAE


US Commission on Unalienable Rights

"I don't get any money from...I've never taken any money.  The honorary I've been given from the government, I've distributed". - Shaykh Hamza


He took counsel from his wife.  Umm Salimah gave him the good advice, when all the Muslims had doubts about what he was doing.   So, even the Prophet did things that everybody doubted - Shaykh Hamza Yusuf50

"On July 8, 2019, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo (under President Trump) announced the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights. The commission, composed of academics, philosophers, and activists, will provide the Secretary with advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights."s

Shaykh Hamza was also appointed to this Commission.  60  Due to his acceptance, he was criticized widely by Muslims for attempting to work with the Trump administration.  In his own words, he felt he had a duty to represent Muslims at the White House.  Speaking of his decision to join:

It's really important to remember that Trump is not the government he is the head of the administration.  And our system differentiates between the government and the administration.  This man was a political appointee meaning that the administration appointed him for a temporary position the civil servants are there all the time.  They're a different kettle of fish and so if we start, if we don't understand even the Commission by people like I joined the Trump,give me a break.

You know seriously, this commission is an independent body of academics.  It is literally illegal by federal law for the State Department to put any pressure on this committee to come up with with what they want. 50

When attacked by an activist at a panel speech about his role on the Commission, Shaykh Hamza responded,

Thank You.  I think there's definitely a lot of criticism.  And like I said, these are hot issues. People are trying to make the best decision that they see.  

Like for me, I've been engaged for a long time, I mean since the 90's (ed: engaged in politics and activism).  Qamr ul-Hooda knows this: in the Obama administration, we were very engaged because there was a lot more access.  And I hope that that engagement helped.  

In terms of this administration, it has a wretched track record with our community.  I think that's why I feel that there should be some voices of counter valence.

One of the things that I've noted about being in the room; By merely being in the room the conversation shifts.  And I've seen this again and again so the
Prophets SAW said, and this is a Sahih Hadith, and I work from my tradition like I believed in Islam. 

The Prophet (SAW) said "Whoever wants to give sincere advice to political authority let him not do it openly, let him not do it openly."

And then he said,  "If he listens, the man gets the reward of giving good advice. If he doesn't, then you have fulfilled a responsibility of just giving sincere advice."

So that's all my intention is.  To give sincere advice.  In terms of representing the community: I don't represent a community.  

I'm trying to represent an Islam that I studied for many years and and I'm committed to the religion.  I see a very fragmented community of people.  The Quran says work together .  The Prophet (SAW) took counsel from certain people he didn't take counsel from everybody. 

 He took counsel from certain people.  He had an inner core group that he took counsel from.  He took counsel from his wife.  Umm Salimah gave him the good advice when all the Muslims had doubts about what he was doing.  

 So, even the Prophet did things that everybody doubted, because he compromised on eight points when at hudaibiya he pretty much compromised on almost every point but he never compromised his principles.  So I try never to compromise my principles.  I hope I don't

 The Prophets SAW  said, and this is Sahih hadith, He said don't curse people in authority, don't deceive them, don't cheat them, don't hate them, because God put them over you. And have piety and patience and know the day of judgment is very close.  I'm looking at it, I feel it every day of my life you know the day of to end people are gonna get their due. 

We'll see on the day of judgment who's who. Either I'll get some lights or I'll be thrust...that's God's decision.  I thank God people aren't my judge, I mean I'm really glad, because God is my judge.  

The Prophet SAW said, Whoever is given something and is grateful, is prevented from something and is patient.  Is wronged and forgives and wrongs and asks forgiveness and then he was silent.  

They said "What?"

And he said They will be safe on the Day of Judgment and they will there will be the rightly guided ones.  

I try to live that I try to be grateful with blessings patients with tribulation I try to forgive people when they wronged me and I asked forgiveness if I've done
anything wrong 

But you know I wasn't elected by anybody.  I'm not I'm not an elected official, I'm not a government employee.  I'm somebody who studied this deen and and I'm trying to spread.  I converted to Islam, I'm not I'm not part of some tribe or something like that.  

I don't have any Muslim ethnicity I'm mostly Irish you know we have we have a bad history too so you know the Irish support the Palestinians because we both suffer from the British, right.  So you know that that's the end and this wasn't meant to be a democratic that was just meant to be a discussion amongst people that are engaged because the name was rules of engagement.  These are people that are engaged so other people aren't engaged and that's fine that that's their prerogative it's a free country, thank God. People can can protest can be against the government or they can try to work to make a better government.  

I mean we are the choices that we have in this country but I'm not judging you. I hope you're successful in your activism. if you want to judge me that's fine it's your prerogative, you know I really and and I I don't think you were rude but that just that level the tone was little but that's good because if sometimes you have to do that if you feel like you've been stifled so I appreciate that you brought that up and God bless you and I just went out you know I think doctor is a Dean it does bring up an important point and I wish we did have more time to discuss because we did we definitely don't want to be used by those who have
nefarious intentions against Muslims and be and to be put in compromising positions and then end up looking like we're validating something that we don't
represent.   50

And later,

I'm the first to admit this this could be a huge mistake.  I mean, we're all fallible.  I have no sense that I'm absolutely right on this one.  I'm a little surprised how a lot some of the people on the other side, feel they're absolutely right. I think absolutism is very dangerous in in the world.  You know this idea that you're absolutely right and I'm absolutely wrong.  

One of my favorite quotes from Imam Shafi he said I never got into a debate but I always assumed my interlocutor might be right and I could be wrong so I think.

You know, I don't know. I thought about it, I prayed on it, I took guidance from several people I spoke with Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah.  He actually thought it was an WAJIB and he's an Usooli scholar.50