Islam post-September 11: Ask Hamza Yusuf

Transcript Details

Event Name: Islam post-September 11: Ask Hamza Yusuf
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:02 PM
Transcript Version: 1
Original Reference URL:

Transcript Text

gs. The problem is not religion, religion becomes an excuse. And it's a wonderful excuse because obviously if God says it's ok it feels a lot better doing it so there is that danger. But I would say that I do not want a secularised world where the principles of religion are not being practised. If you remove religion - and I don't care what enlightened secular humanists have to say - from humanity there are no constraints. The only constraint is totalitarianism and that's where it's headed. Once you remove internal constraints where people actually have a sense that there are moral implications to my actions - once I remove that and it simply becomes positivistic law where the state tells me what's right and wrong and there is no God to do that, where there's no religious cosmology to do that - anything goes - that's the bottom line. That's what Nietzche warned us over one hundred years ago that remove God and all is permissible and that's the truth. People that deny that are just denying reality.

Frank Gardner: Andrew Miller, Scotland: Would you agree that many of those who are called "Islamic extremists" are just extremists who happen to be Muslim? Aren't many of these people anti-the Western because of the political and economic situations of their countries, rather than their religion?

Hamza Yusuf: That's what I was just saying. I think these are human problems. If you get Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists and Muslim extremists in the same room - they all seem to look very similar, think very similar and have an inability to have a civil discourse, not just between themselves as different faiths, but even amongst each other. So I think you're dealing with psychology, you're dealing with a pathology. Extremism is a human problem. We have secular extremists, we have Christian fundamentalist that go and shoot abortion doctors - they're terrorists, that's terrorism. They're arrogating to themselves something that is not for them to do, which is to take life.

Frank Gardner: I think possibly part of the problem though, in terms of perception here, is that where you have a secular struggle such as the Palestinian struggle for a homeland, that in some ways it is associated with Islam. When an Hammas suicide bomber goes and blows himself up and kills people in a Tel Aviv shopping mall and Hammas releases a video of him afterwards¿

Hamza Yusuf: He's doing it for God.

Frank Gardner: Yes but the imagery is very graphic. In one hand he's holding a Kalashnikov and in the other he's holding the Koran. Can you blame westerners who haven't been to the Middle East associating Islam with terrorism?

Hamza Yusuf: Well first of all not that long ago most of the Palestinian resistance was communistic. People forget that in the '60s and 70' it was all communistic rhetoric. So Islam has been replaced for that. It's ideological and when religion becomes ideology it's dangerous. But conflating the two, I think is just a problem in people's minds. I'm not saying it's not fair for me in my reasonably comfortable life in the West to judge people in the West Bank - I can't do that. I would rather that we explain these things with our social sciences than with religion - that's my personal opinion. I would much rather see suicide bombing understood within the context of despair and the psychology of despair and of trauma because I think a lot of these people are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome or continued traumatic stress syndrome.

Frank Gardner: To return to the central theme of this discussion that we're having Shaykh Hamza, do you think that the violence which is carried out in the name of Islamist extremism is essentially secular in nature?

Hamza Yusuf: I think it's secular - you know terrorism to jihad is what adultery is to marriage.

Frank Gardner: It's a great line. I'm going to remember that one.

Hamza Yusuf: It's not mine.

Frank Gardner: Susan, UK: Do you feel that a dialogue is desperately needed between Islam and the militant Islamists who are doing so much damage to the standing of Islam around the world?

Hamza Yusuf: If you can dialogue with people it's wonderful. But if you can't dialogue with people - what's the point if people are not willing to listen? So I think we have a problem. Civility is what we're really suffering from. The fact that you and I can sit down and have a reasonably civil conversation - we can have differing opinions¿.

Frank Gardner: But then again we haven't been traumatised.

Hamza Yusuf: Well that's true but on the other hand a lot of these people haven't either. I find often the people that are most ideological whether it was communist - if you look at somebody like the Jackal, he was from a middle-class bourgeoisie family from South America and Osama bin Laden is the same thing. I think what's happens is you get ideologues that come into it that are not - they're actually, in a sense, projecting on to the people suffering something that is often not there. I think if you take Palestinian people generally - and this has been the experience of most people that have gone to Palestine - they're overwhelmed at how much humanity has been maintained in spite of increasingly dehumanising circumstances.

Frank Gardner: Aslan, Ilford, Essex, UK says: Do you think that you personally, as an Islamic scholar, have you changed in your opinions post September 11th and if so how?

Hamza Yusuf: I think things have crystallised for me. First of all, I'm a western person and I was raised in the West and I was raised in what probably would be called a liberal progressive background - those filters are there. So I come into Islam with those filters. The idea that I can simply remove those psychic filters from my mind it's impossible. So I'm always going to have my background as part of what's affecting me. I think the same is true for Muslims in the Middle East. So we do have differing views. But we need to listen to each other. So I feel that my views have crystallised in a sense. I was moving towards a lot of what I'm talking about now prior to 9/11. People can see that who've followed my talks and the things that I wrote just prior to 9/11 in fact.

Frank Gardner: Final e-mail here from Deasy B.Sanitioso, Indonesia who says: We are living in peace with our non-Muslim relatives, friends and neighbours in Indonesia; they should come and see. I disagree with him on that - there's been a lot violence perpetrated in the name of religion there. But anyhow he says, how can we explain that Islam is peace?

Hamza Yusuf: I think Islam is submission - it's not really peace, it's submission and the idea that peace comes from the submission to God. The idea also is that people have a right to choose for themselves and that's very clear in the Koran - there's no coercion in this religion. So people need to choose for themselves. What is clear historically is that the Muslims have been able to live with conviviality with other peoples and in many ways the pre-modern Muslims are a testimony to extraordinary human qualities that Islam engenders in people. So the tolerance of the Muslim world is a historical fact and I think it can be enhanced even because certain things in the modern world have enhanced those understandings and that's where we have move to - to a greater understanding of listening to each other and recognising that the real enemies in the world are people that are making money off war. The people that are producing and manufacturing all these weapons and spreading them all over the world. Most human beings want to live in peace with each other. That's been my experience.

Frank Gardner: Shaykh Hamza thank you very much. Well sadly that's all we have time for today. I'd like to thank you all for joining us, and also thanks to our guest, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. If you'd like to take part in more forums on Islam and the West then visit our website at Next week we'll be discussing women and Islam. Goodbye.