Live interview at Let’s Talk on Astro Awani

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Event Name: Live interview at Let’s Talk on Astro Awani
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 7/4/2019
Transcript Version: 1

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hi I'm Sherrod Crittenden welcome to

let's talk the show that brings you the

most important conversations today today

we're going to look at the question of

religion and its role and place in

contemporary society to help me that I

have as my guest she comes a Yusef he's

an American Islamic scholar an Islamic

sald based in the US and he's co-founder

of Zhai tuna College he said to be a

proponent classical learning in Islam

and is promoted Islamic Sciences and

classical teaching methodologies

throughout the world it's what it says

on the brief that you might find on on

your Google search

he's also been referred in the past by

Guardian a newspaper in Britain as

activate the West most influential

Islamic scholar and the New York ones

called him perhaps the most influential

Islamic Western world so they there's a

congruence between this transatlantic

media establishment about your place and

your voice and thank you so much I'm

Zafar being here I want to ask you about

the context in which you grew up I mean

I understand you went to a Greek

Orthodox Church to that that's what's

that's what you practice is religion and

the new subsequently converted Islam

many people talk about conversion and it

what it does to somebody in terms of

their their relationship their religion

often here we think of them as being

overzealous they tend to be overzealous

you've had a different trajectory please

tell us once was all then you became

poor if you were Christian right right

well Paul had a conversion experience on

the road to Damascus so conversion is

something that happens with people from

ancient times in and and also Islam

spread by the Sahaba were all converts

they moved from paganism into Islam some

of the few were Christian but generally

they were pagans some where Jewish also

so conversion is part of the human story

and and and it's a powerful experience

for people that have that undergo that

experience we also have awakening so

people have spiritual awakenings we have

people that might have been born Muslim

and and and they're not really aware of

their own tradition and suddenly they

have a spear

so awakening and then it becomes

important to them so for me I grew up in

California my mother was very ecumenical

she didn't really impose any specific

religion honest like my grandfather

however was Greek one of my

grandfather's was Greek and so he was a

very important person in the Greek

Church in California as well as his

father right and the Greek Church is the

Greek Orthodox it's an Orthodox Church

shares with the Russian Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox the Orthodox is the

Eastern form of Catholicism so the

Catholic Church in 1058 split into these

two different the eastern and the

Western churches so it's very similar to

Catholicism there's some differences

right it's like Sunni Shia probably

celebrate Easter on a different day

different days yeah I do want to ask you

this also is in January the question of

what is it that you bring when you when

you about many people in this country

are born into the religious faith there

of course conversions as well but what

is it that is there in the experience of

the convert who was once part of a

different faith community of a different

belief system I mean you move within the

monotheistic tradition so maybe that the

shifts are not so great but what is it

that you feel your background has

influenced your thinking about Islam and

the way you articulate a vision is well

I think converts bring new blood into a

religion Islam in fact in this area

Islam was quite late coming to the area

one of the interesting things about

Indonesia and Malaysia is that Islam

spread purely by commerce and and so you

have a different tenor I think the

feeling of Islam here the also my

experience of the Malay personality is

that they tend to be I think welcoming

people by their nature they're not

they're not a they're not isolated

people there's not a kind of sub Cystic

approach to the world they this is a

really beautiful part of the world and I

would hate to see the type of religion

that has emerged in some parts of the

Muslim world which is very isolationist

and exclusivist it kind of pushes people

away so we have now increasingly Muslims

becoming intolerant towards Christians

and towards and and vice-versa we're

seeing Hindus becoming very intolerant

towards the Muslims in India so these

are problems with globalization and I

think Malaysia offers us an incredible

opportunity for a type of model for the

rest of the world because increasingly

now the world is is it's it's

interpenetrating the the your you're

probably ancestors are from India I will

I would yeah right I mean it's yeah so

so you yourself are here but you're a

Malay I mean you're in Malaysia

Malaysian yeah so they would that would

designate that the ethnic group right

and I'm of mixed heritage Roman Catholic

on one side and Hindu the other I do

wanna ask you about the context see the

American context in which you converted

didn't perhaps the the rise of Islam as

religion within the American public's

right you know we have expressions of

say the Nation of Islam and and all that

I mean where were you and the America

that you grew up in was it welcoming of

this identity I mean the American I grew

up in America was very different like I

grew up in largely a white country

because I grew up in the 60s the the

immigration after 65 which brought a lot

of people from places like the Middle

East and from India from Pakistan that

changed America radically over the last

few decades but the America I grew up in

I had one Asian person in my growing up

as a child and one african-american in

my classroom so everybody else was white

so the the America's changed a lot the

perception of Islam how was it coded in

America there was a time as it you know

the the rise of the nation of islam

Elijah Muhammad well first yeah and so

Malcolm X sure very political expression

of Islam I mean first of all Islam is a

very old religion in America as Lomb has

been there for hundreds of years we know

that African

slaves that were brought to America were

practicing Islam Muslims are mentioned

by the founding fathers George

Washington actually has somebody who's

procuring slaves for him saying they can

be muhammadans or Christians or even

atheists as long as they have a good

face and good character so equal

opportunity slaver in that case but it's

Islam is is a religion that's been in

America although after 65 many Muslims

emigrated you had an early immigration

Ford who the famous manufacturer of cars

Ford actually had the author of the yeah

don't wrote a call so well he was the

one that had it written he commissioned

it so but Ford had a problem with

alcohol in his factories like he saw the

production was lower and so he wanted

people that didn't drink and so they

suggested that he bring Muslims so a

large Yemeni contingent came to the u.s.

to work in the Ford factories and this

is why there are certain cities now in

this was over a hundred years ago

there's certain cities in in Michigan

for instance that have majority Muslim

populations so you're seeing it is it's

amazing and now we're seeing also that's

where Rashida Thalia the Palestinian she

comes out of that that world where a lot

of Muslims are there she's newly she's a

congresswoman numbers right and L Han


so you're seeing now we've got four

Muslims in Congress there are many

Muslims working in Washington DC if you

go into airports now you see women with

the hijab that are part of the security

apparatus okay very quickly before we go

to a break in the area of Trump it seems

interesting or paradoxical that you have

an increased visibility of Muslim

representatives even while the Trump

administration seems Islamophobia what

do you how do you account for that well

I I think that I don't like it the word

the term Islamophobia phobias in

irrational fear I think there's some

reasonable concern in Europeans and

Americans about terrorism and things

like that in the same way there's

reasonable concern for many Muslims

about the aggression of Europeans and

Americans in their countries I mean we

what we need to do is recognize that

there are genuine concerns that people

have so but I think in the u.s. overall

Muslims don't experience I think overall

the community actually is thriving in

many ways in the US okay we'll take a

short break we'll be back with more stay

tuned to let's talk welcome back to

let's talk I'm Sherrod Curtin with me

she comes our use of he's the co-founder

of Zaytuna College

he's an Islamic scholar and you also was

one of the authors of a document or a

letter dated some October 2007 called

the a common word between us and you and

as leaders in the of the Islamic world

reaching out Christian leaders now it's

been what 12 years since that letter

well maybe we could begin with explained

to us why was this letter important what

was it written in the first place and

and then we can talk about it same time

well I'm first of all the the the letter

came because of the Regensburg speech

where you had Pope Benedict gave a

speech arguing in the speech or at least

quoting somebody who said that Islam was

irrational he actually quotes it and has

him about the irrationality of Islam and

and so the the the letter was a response

to to that and it was initiated by Amir

vazhi bin Mohammed who's he's a

Jordanian from the royal family but very

active in in interfaith dialogue and

from that we initially the letter was

sent to the Vatican but we didn't get a

response and so so Pope Benedict did not

receive did not respond well I don't

think he got it

so I think there was people that maybe

didn't deliver it to him but what

happened was this is the back story that

a lot of people don't know what happened

was it was Miroslav Volf in Yale and and

Protestants that

responded to the letter and it was very

positive response and that then in turn

caused the Vatican to kind of realize oh

this letter was addressed to us and we

haven't responded so then they responded

and that led to a really interesting

initiative where we have met we meet

every four years so there's a Vatican

Muslim meeting the the the Christians

meeting of the leadership of churches or

faith communities how does it work I

mean who exactly is having this dialogue

it's the Vatican and and and Muslim

leadership right so what's interesting

because as a Vatican is a is an

organization with a straight state yes

whereas in Islam you don't have

something quite analogous to that right

right so who represents Islam well this

is a big problem and historically the

people that represented Islam were

supposed to be the Scholastic community

of scholars and and and it's it's closer

to the rabbinical tradition in Judaism

so you do have rabbis and and and you

have rabbis for instance that represent

Judaism they might be from different

groups they have like Orthodox rabbis

ultra-orthodox you have reform rabbis

you have conservative rabbis but they do

recognize some type of leadership every

religion has to have if it has a

normative tradition other words a

something that says this is what the

religion is because if it doesn't then

it's it becomes completely fuzzy and

meaningless but do they say that the

Pope that the the Catholic Church

recognizes interlocutors so they're the

Muslims who come to speak to them

recognized as equals and that is that

the basis for the conversation I well I

think again like you said the Muslims we

can't take on ourselves this idea that

somehow we represent the entire Muslim

world but hopefully amongst us are those

who represent for instance an

understanding of Islam

right now we have competing versions of

the religion so we have extremists who

are arguing that we need to fight and

actually terrorism which is there's

always been sects in Islam that have

practiced a type of terroristic approach

the the the assassins the Hajj Hashim

would kill rulers and things like that

so there's always been that element in

every religion has that Judaism has that

Christianity has that but overall Islam

is an Irena Croatia is a peaceful

religion and and the Prophet slice em

himself was peaceful in fact there's a

beautiful book that just came out

recently by Juan Cole who's a brilliant

scholar of Islam in the United States

and it's called Muhammad prophet of

peace amidst a class of empires he makes

a very compelling argument that the

prophesy said I'm did everything to

avoid war that he was not somebody that

he was by far a peaceful man he was not

a war monger by any stretch

and so this arguments how that Islam is

a belligerent religion there are Muslims

that would like to make that argument

but these are a small minority now 1.5

billion people a small minority can be

tens of thousands of people which is a

problem but if you look for instance

Malaysia had a handful of people that

unfortunately went to Iraq and to Syria

to fight a very small number India had

less than 30 people that actually went

there if you look at Europe you had

several thousand so it's quite troubling

the fact that these ideologies have

spread amongst European and American

Muslims less so in the United States I

wouldn't ask you though you know these

conversations are so wonderful when you

read reports of them of trying to find

commonalities and such seem to happen at

a kind of rarefied level the question is

even with the Catholic Church even

though they say they represent 1.3

billion faithful or whatever it is the

Catholic population is the question is

on the folk level on a popular level are

those ideas of ecumenism really

trickling down are they there on the

ground is it then Muslim world is a day

in the Christian world is that enough

company well I don't think there is and

I think we have a lot of people that

don't know their religion very well the

Provos eyes have never reviled idols the

Quran actually prohibits the the the

attacking of the the senseability

religious sensibilities of other

people's the Quran is a critical book of

polity ISM and other

it also makes critiques of Christianity

of Judaism but it warns us let's assume

allodynia the tournament do Neela do not

curse the idols of those who worship

other than Allah because they in turn

will curse God and so it's very

important that Muslims respect the the

the other face right to worship what

they worship we would like we believe

Muslims our tradition is is is a

tradition that says that Islam it has

come as a religion for all of humanity

the prior dispensations these previous

religions came for groups like hinduism

is specific to the hindus there's a

there's a Varna

it's ethnically determined the brahmana

now yeah the castilla the vaisya the

Dalit and should there are peoples so

this is very much an ethnic religion

Judaism is a tribal religion although it

does have a universal aspect to it in

recognizing no hitting peoples but

overall it's a religion of a group

beneath its rol Christianity are started

as a reformist movement within Judaism

but then became universalized so the

Muslims would argue that Islam is

uniquely a universal religion aligning

Buddhist might take they can say yeah I

think Buddhism but arguably there are

people that say Buddhism is more of a

philosophy and a technical technology in

fact some people would argue that Jews

can use Buddhism Muslims can use

Buddhism Hindus can use Buddhism that

there's techniques in there so Islam is

unique in that way that it really is a

prophet isaiah faith and it's a faith

that it's an exceptional is faith it

really sees itself as a new and

universal for all of humanity but

despite that muslims must respect other

religions and the right to reject

because the word in in in islam for

calling others to Islam is Dawa which in

Arabic means an invitation an invitation

is only valid if you can reject it okay

I'll stop you right there we'll take a

short break and we'll be right back stay

tuned to let's talk


welcome back to let's talk I'm sure on

with me I shake hands are yourself he's

co-founder of Zaytuna College we're

talking about religion its place in the

contemporary world it seems to me like

some of the discussions we had here

about religion and especially extremist

forms of violent extremism that

sometimes is referred to is also

intertwined with nationalism right and

identity policies I do want to ask you

though I mean and there's a bit of Chris

is not there in the world about you and

that has to do with what seems to be a

shift in your position that you have

been in the past especially in that kind

of post 9/11 scenario very critical of

autocratic governments in the Muslim


you yourself referred to the 911

hijacking as an act of mass murder and

so on and so forth but in recent times

you seem to become much more comfortable

with particular regimes the United Arab

Emirates in particular there's a there's

a case reference to Egypt in this turkey

how do you take this criticism that

you've now become much more willing to

give autocratic governments especially

non democratic governments in the Middle

East for instance some leeway you've

actually defended them well I mean I

first of all I think governments are a

blessing from God I anarchy is a

horrible thing and I think there when we

see failed States like we see what's

happening in Syria Iraq Yemen and and

many other places Libya is a tragedy

government to me is a blessing but it's

also a tribulation and and the best of

governments are governments that tend to

respect their citizens or subjects

depending on what type of government is

and the worst are those that disregard

the sensibilities of their own

population I'm not happy with tyranny

I'm not happy with abuse of populations

but I also understand the complexities

of the world the world is a very complex

place now one

could argue that the best position is to

remove oneself completely from the

apparatus states but that also then you

have the problem of who's going to

actually give these people advice about

how to deal with things if I had an

opportunity now to engage the Chinese

government I would because I feel like

they need advice about handling the

problem with the wiggers and things like


you wouldn't say well we need to

actually isolate China because of its

alleged poor you know human rights

record well John I mean China is a very

complicated place it's a very difficult

place they're dealing with

unfortunately the Muslims traditionally

were actually a community that had in in

some ways they were exempt from a lot of

the the problems in China like the

one-child policy they were allowed to

but because there's been terrorism and

things like that

emerging they've overreacted and it's

horrible what's what's happened and you

know I would oppose it but I I think

governments need advice and this idea

well I think like I said the Gulf states

for instance like the UAE the vast

majority of the population is fine with

the way the government is running things

and and I know that for a fact of just

interacting with the people there are

dissidents undeniably and and in all

these states maybe there's some

heavy-handedness about dealing with

dissidents but they also see what's

happening around them in other words the

collapse of these states so like I said

it's very easy for us to be armchair

critics I tend to I I believe in in in

building i I think criticism is

important but it's also can be very

dangerous when there's no constructive

criticism it's just simply tearing down

everything that we have to work I mean

we I could criticize the Malay

government I could criticize the

American government but in the end of

the day these are these are what we have

we have to work with them we have to

work towards making a better situation

for people I mean we I want to see the

the best situation for people I'm

against violence I've always been

against violence nobody can

anywhere where I've promoted violence

I'd like I said I do not like tyranny I

don't like I don't want anybody would

you be something I actually like

constitutional monarchy as a form of

government I prefer this is interesting

because I've always said that I've never

been residual like I would have probably

been a loyalist in the American

Revolution although I do have answers

within the American River to Britain


probably even though I'm Irish mostly so

yeah but again like I look at the Irish

situation you know the Irish were tribes

that were fighting each other what the

British did to the Irish is horrible 700

years of terror but in the end of the

day the Irish now are using Roberts

rules they have a parliament they're you

know I mean these say you have to look

at the positive okay also you know be a

monarchist it's fine I mean it's it's

not no I just I like I like stability

and I like the idea of having tradition

I like the fact that that you have a

family that represents something that

transcends time okay but what about this

right so if you go back to Islamic

history and the caliphates right is this

where it comes from is your is your

sense of the stability the importance of

monarchy in the continuity geological is

it about the cow the calyx is it about

that early tradition in Islam of the I

know I don't think the Provos always

have established a form of government I

think he established a government but I

don't think he established a fixed form

of government

I think that's left for the people

themselves to decide how they want to be

ruled or you enter into you're born into

a covenant so for instance if you're

born into a monarchy there's a type of

covenant and it's these are these are

offenses that history tell us it's often

betrayed I mean look at the Ottoman

Empire and what your Ottomans were

amazing generally I mean they they're

probably one of the most extraordinary

pre-modern governments in human history

I mean I I they have some they have axes

they had some very strange practices and

they had some terrible thing there's no

government the United States we have

extrajudicial killing you know the

United States assassinates people we


exactly you know we have we every

government has dark downside that it's

just not possible in fact I'm done magic

even Marwan said that government is a

tree that must be watered with blood I

mean this this is something that and

that's why I wouldn't want to be in

power I wouldn't want to have to make

those decisions but these are very

complicated human beings are difficult

we're complicated we're not easy as a

species you know and and and so I think

in a place like Malaysia people should

thank God for the government that

doesn't mean that there aren't things

that need to be rectified that need to

be redressed and and again from the

Platonic perspective there there is a

view that you get what you deserve in

the United States if we look at the

United States we've become a consumer

culture that's very superficial

we don't have an intellectual tradition

per se anymore like the I'm talking

about the majority of people so in many

ways Trump reflects a culture he

reflects a type of attitude I mean look

at lifestyles of the rich and famous

look at American Idol look at look at

our popular culture and and what it says

about us as a people and that's not to

deny that we have amazing thing we I

mean we we give the world the the Center

for Disease Control if there's an

outbreak anywhere we're the first people

to work on it and try to provide cures

for these problems so much good comes

from America but also much harm as well

I mean this this is the world that we

live in it actually is and unfortunately

the world and what you know comes great

television is a superficial medium so

this is what Sheikh Hamza Yusuf he's a

American Islamic scholar and co-founder

of these.i tuna College this has been

let's talk

I'm sure I could an only natural