Transcript of Interview with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson by Michael Enright on the September 11 Tragedy

Aired on September 23, 2001

Source of interview:

Extract from the interview 

Michael: Well we know now it was more plunder than religion.

Shaykh Hamza: Well, that’s true. And unfortunately a lot of religious wars tend to be for other than religion. But the word jihad is probably one of the highest concepts that the Arabs and the Muslims have. It represents really the best of humankind. In the Qur’an it is never once used to express a military meaning. Not once.

Comment: This is not true. Open any Quran commentary book and find for yourself. (See for example: surah 4 verse 95, surah 9 verse 41, and surah 61 verses 10-13)

Interestingly, even Hamzah Yusuf himself knows that this statement is not entirely accurate. In his tape “The Life of The Prophet Muhammad,” tape number 9  Hamzah Yusuf  - talking about the prophet SAAWS and his companions in Madinah- said:

“They are in a state of perpetual vigilance and war. This is jihad, his life is really a life of jihad, of struggle against the people who were bent on not seeing Islam spread which is important to us to take as a lesson if we really want to spread Islam”


Michael: It means… does it not mean to go to war with yourself?

Shaykh Hamza: Well, that’s one of the meanings. It literally means – if you look at the word, the root word is "jihad" which means to struggle, and juhd in the Arabic language means a struggle literally. So jihad is the act of struggling. And the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, said that the greatest jihad is to struggle with your own soul’s insidious suggestions.

Comment: The root word of Jihad is actually “jahada.” It means 'fighting the enemies or doing ones utmost in fighting' (see lisaan Al-Arab by Ibn Mandhoor, Vol. 2 page 396. First edition, published by Dar Ihya at-Turath al-Arabi, Beirut 1988).

     The hadith mentioned at the end is a weak hadeeth (See the book of weak hadiths by Imam al-Albani, and the book of weak and fabricated Hadiths for Imam al-Shawkani). Sufis in general always quote this Hadith because it relieves them from waging the true Jihad.


Shaykh Hamza (continues): And I think that really clarifies to the Muslims. Building a hospital in the Arab world – and I’ve lived in the Arab world, I speak Arabic very well – building a hospital, the Arabs will literally say what a great jihad that was when it was completed.

Comment: This is not an accurate statement. Arabic is my native tongue and I have studied it – at least one session every day - for 22 years. That phrase would never be used to describe such an effort. Instead, the Arab might say: what a great juhd which means “effort”.

     However the Shari’ (legal) meaning of the term ‘Jihad,’ is “ The war Muslims wage to make the word of Allah superior against kuffar (disbelievers) who do not have a covenant with Muslims after  being invited to Islam and rejecting the invitation.  Reference: The Fiqh encyclopedia by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Kuwait”


Shaykh Hamza (continues): The idea of spending money for anything good… those firefighters who were pulling people out of the World Trade Towers, they would be considered, that’s an act of jihad. They would be considered mujahideen if they were described in Arabic. And I’m not exaggerating at all. That really is at the essence of this word.

Comment: Again, this is not accurate. In Islamic literature, when the word “mujahideen” is used without any qualification, it means one and only one thing: those who fight in the battlefield for the sake of Allah. Please refer to the Quran (See for example the commentary on surah 4 verse 95) and search for the word Jihad and Mujahideen to gain a better understanding of how they are used. 

    The following hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4 Book 52, No. 44 shows how the prophet SAAWS understood the word “jihad” and “mujahid” (singular of mujahideen,” please compare this hadith to what Hamzah Yusuf said:

Narrated by Abu Huraira (RA):   A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "Instruct me as to such a deed that equals Jihad (in reward)." He replied, "I do not find such a deed." Then he added, "Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battle-field, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?" The man said, "But who can do that?" Abu- Huraira added, "The Mujahid (i.e. Muslim fighter) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders about (for grazing) tied by a long rope."

    However, if one does use the terms 'Jihad' or 'Mujahid' in a context other than their literal meaning, one must supplement these words with specific references that modify its literal meaning. These two words may be qualified to mean other types of jihad e.g. you may say jihad against the devil which means being vigilant towards the devil’s tricks. Therefore, each time the word jihad is used without any qualification in the Islamic literature – aside from the Sufi books--it means primarily fighting in the battlefield for the sake of Allah(SWT). Without doubts scholars have clearly mentioned Jihad-ul-nufs (struggle against one’s insidious suggestions), however this has never been the primary understanding of the term Jihad.

      Also, refer to all the authentic Hadeeth in which “jihad” is mentioned, observing what the scholars have said about it. For example when Imam Bukhari & Muslim compiled their books of Sahih Hadith, they carefully gathered related Hadeeth reflecting a certain theme under definitive titles. In order to see the understanding of these Imams about Jihad, please go and read the chapters on Jihad in their respective books of Hadeeth.   The same applies to Imam Nawawi in his book Riyad-us-Saliheen.


Michael: When you read the coverage in some of the more fulminating columnists and commentators, it comes up time and time again, this business about the Qur’an promising the martyrs or the suicide bombers that if they die in the course of their mission they will go immediately to heaven where they will be greeted by ten or fifteen or sixty-eight or something or other, virgins. You must have seen that. What is that?

Shaykh Hamza: You know, again this is the problem with religious language for the modern mind. The Qur’an, just to give you an example, says that there is nothing like God and immediately after that – it’s in a chapter called Shura (The Council) – and immediately after that it says and He is the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing. So here’s a verse that says there’s nothing like Him and then it’s immediately followed by saying He hears everything and He sees everything. Well, how do we know what seeing and hearing is if we don’t have a likeness in this world of it

Comment:: When it comes to the attributes of Allah the scholars of Islam discuss these attributes from 2 distinct, yet related, perspectives:

1.      ‘The how’: This means, how does Allah actually see? How does His hand –that He has mentioned in the Quran- look?

The stance of the Companions of the Prophet, the Tabi’een (those who came after the companions) and those who follow, the major scholars of Ahul-Sunnah including the 4 Imams stated that:  We do NOT know anything about the ‘how’ of the attributes of Allah SWT because Allah SWT did not tell us anything about them.

2.      ‘The meaning’: What is the meaning of the attribute of hearing, seeing, etc? The stance of the Companions of the Prophet SAAWS, the Tabi’een (those who came after the companions) and those who follow, the major scholars of Ahul-Sunnah including the 4 Imams is that:  We KNOW the meaning of the attribute of Allah SWT. We know what mercy means when Allah says about Himself that He is merciful. We know what hearing means. We also believe that His attributes are perfect. For example, Allah has the attribute of knowledge and humans have that attribute too. The difference is that Allah’s knowledge is perfect in the sense that there is no beginning for His knowledge and there is no end, it is not limited by time nor space, it precedes everything, etc. Human knowledge, on the other hand, is far from being perfect. Human knowledge is preceded by ignorance, it is limited by time, space, one’s mental capacity, and it is followed by a lack of it when one ages.

There is no contradiction in the verse that Hamza Yusuf speaks about. When Allah SWT states that “there is nothing like Him and He is the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing” this actually means that there is nothing like him in: [1] manifestations of (How) and [2] perfection of attributes (meaning). Actually, the scholars consider this very verse as the corner stone of the Islamic creed (Aqeeda) when it comes to the attributes of Allah SWT since this verse negates any resemblance between Allah and his creation, however it also affirms that He has attributes.


Shaykh Hamza (continues): So on the one hand there is pure transcendence and on the other hand there’s the imminent aspect of God’s manifestations, his attributes in the world.

Comment: Please note how he has introduced a ‘supposed contradiction in the Quran.’ “Does Allah have a likeness to something in this world.” He will now use this, below, to convince the reader not to take the Qur’anic verses regarding Paradise literally.


Shaykh Hamza (continues): If you look in the Qur’an about the pleasures of paradise, the definitive verse in the Qur’an is that the pleasures of paradise are those, which no eye has seen, no ear has heard of, and has never occurred to the heart of a human being. So that is the definitive verse about the pleasures of paradise. Now, there are some Hadiths, it’s not in the Qur’an, there is mention of beautiful youths as well as beautiful women, and that’s more metonymy in rhetoric.

Michael: It’s an allegory.

Shaykh Hamza: Exactly, it’s an allegory, exactly.


Comment:: There are many issues here:

1.      With all due respect to Hamzah Yusuf, he is wrong: The statement “the pleasures of paradise are those which no eye has seen, no ear has heard of, and has never occurred to the heart of a human being” is not in the Quran. It is part of a Hadith. (Please see hadith 1760, page 857 in Sahih al-Bukhari, published by Dar-us-Salam Publications). If someone claims it is in the Quran, let him show us the Surah and the verse number.

2.      In addition, beautiful youth and women are mentioned in the Quran contrary to his statement. See for example the following verses:

a.       Surah 52 Verse 24 

b.      Surah 55 Verse 56 &70 

c.       Surah 56 Verse 22,36,37 

d.      Surah 76 Verse 19 

e.       Surah 78 Verse 33 

    Please refer to what the scholars of the commentary on the Quran have said about the meaning of the aforementioned verses. You may read Imaam at-Tabari, Imam Ibn Katheer, Imam al-Qurtubi, Imam al-Shawkani, etc.

3.       The reward for a martyr is also mentioned in Ahadith. And it is not limited to what has been stated above. See Riyad-us-Saliheen [English], vol. 2, pages 967-992. Published by Darussalam, 1999)

4.       Hamza Yusuf claims that the pleasures of Paradise are “an allegory”. This statement is in contradiction with the consensus of Muslim scholars. There are clear Ahadeeth describing in detail the types of pleasures awaiting the believing men and women in Paradise. Unfortunately some early philosophers –who were not considered Muslims by Muslim scholars- claimed that the pleasures of Paradise are not real, but rather are only allegorical.  As a general rule though, all the statements of the Quran must be interpreted literally unless there is an evidence for them to be interpreted metaphorically. In fact, this is the case in all sorts of texts (e.g. American Constitution- the US law).  

5. We recently discovered Hamza Yusuf refuting what he has said above in his own tape, explaining: 'Surah Insan part 2 (side B).  click here to view that


Michael: It’s an allegory.

Shaykh Hamza : Exactly, it’s an allegory, exactly. And the thing about it is that our scholars say that the highest sensual experience in the world is orgasm and it’s quite literal. I mean this is a traditional opinion; Imam al-Ghazali, one of the early theologians said that the orgasm that a human being experiences in sexual intercourse is the closest sensual experience that one can taste of what the delights of paradise are like. The Muslims traditionally saw it as almost – and the Hindus have this concept as well – that there’s almost a mystical experience Now, the vast majority of human beings do not have profound mystical experiences. The mystic has experiences that transcend sexuality and in fact, it’s well known that a lot of mystics lose their appetite for those types of things because of their own internal experiences.

Michael: They’re celibate.

Shaykh Hamza: Exactly.


  1. There is a contradiction here. If ‘the pleasure of Paradise has never occurred to the heart of a human being’ (as said by Hamza Yusuf earlier), which is true, how would anyone know if “sexual intercourse” is the closest sensual experience that one can taste of what the delights of Paradise are alike.

  2. It does not behoove a Muslim to introduce such an irrelevant matter in this conversation.

  3. What is the point of mentioning what concepts the Hindus share with Muslims? Does it make our concepts more valid? Are we to use Hindu doctrines to legitimize Islamic beliefs?

  4. Who are these Muslims that considered orgasms to be a mystical experience? Can he quote any of the four Imams as having agreed with such as perverse notion.1 , 2

  5. Please read the book of Abdulwahab al-Sharani ( a sufi scholar and historian) which he titled: Tabakat al-sufiyyah , or a book for al-Nabhani (another Sufi) to find if the mystics really lost their appetite for such things due to their own internal experiences. The reality is that many of these mystics have indulged in illicit sexual acts including homosexuality.

  6. With all due respect to Hamzah Yusuf, does he find it praise-worthy to lose one’s “appetite” for these types of things? How about the Prophet SAAWS who married 11 women, living with 9 of them at the same time? How about the authentic Ahadeeth that relate the Prophet as having intimate relations with all of his wives within the span of one night. The Prophets life is indeed perfect in its totality, and leaves no room to take concepts of perversity or celibacy from other deviant belief systems.


Expert says Islam prohibits violence against innocents

Source of interview:

Hamzah Yusuf said: Jihad means struggle. The Prophet said the greatest jihad is the struggle of a man against his own evil influences. It also refers to what Christians call a ``just war,'' which is fought against tyranny or oppression -- but under a legitimate state authority.

Comment: -This Hadith is not authentic as mentioned before.

-         Please note in the previous interview Hamza Yusuf alluded to Jihad as ‘Jihad-ul-Nufs’ (internal struggle). However now he is introducing another meaning to Jihad, and allowing Jihad to be –a “Just War” against tyranny and oppression! This kind of Jihad is to be a defensive form of warfare.-[Jihad –ul-dafa’]

-         Please note in Islam there is indeed a legitimate offensive Jihad. [Jihad-at-Talab] The Prophet SAWS sent troops to different parts of the Arabian Peninsula to spread Islam. Also the three rightly guided Khalifas after Him sent armies to Persia, Roman territory, and North Africa to spread Islam. (However there are etiquettes to all types of Jihad, and the armies did not oppress or compel people to change their religion, but rather spread the virtues of Islam).


Interviewer: What is the Arabic word for martyr?

Hamzah Yusuf said: Shaheed. It means witness. The martyr is the one who witnesses the truth and gives his life for it. There are people in this country like Martin Luther King who would be considered a martyr for his cause. Also, if your home, your family, your property or your land or religion is threatened, then you may defend it with your life. That person is a martyr. But so is anybody who dies of terminal illness; it's a martyr's death. Because it's such a purification that whatever wrongs they once did, they're now in a state of purity.


Comment: While it is agreed that one meaning of the term Shaheed is to be a witness.

The prominent meaning of Shaheed in Islamic terms is, however, a person who is killed in Jihad. This is the highest degree of martyrdom. A lesser degree is for a Muslim who gets killed defending his/her family, his/her wealth, or his/her honor, a person with terminal illness, a woman who dies while delivering a child, and the one who dies drowning. But this applies only to Muslims according to the definitive Ayah in the Quran: “Verily, Allah forgives not (the sin of) setting partners (in worship) with Him” (Surah 4 Verse 116). Hence, Martin Luther King – although he stood for a just cause-- definitely does not fit in this second category of martyrdom unless he became a Muslim before he died.


Hamzah Yusuf said: And the greatest martyr in the eyes of God is the one who stands in the presence of a tyrant and speaks the truth and is killed for it. He is martyred for his tongue.

Comment: With all due respect this is not the complete truth. The statement above is extracted from a Hadith, which in full is “the master of the martyrs is Hamzah – the Prophet’s uncle who was killed in the battlefield- and a man who stood in the presence of a tyrant and spoke the truth and was killed for it” (see Sahih al-jami as-Sageer by Imam al-Ablani, Vol. 3 hadith no. 3569 page 219. Second Edition, Published by al-Maktab al-Islami, Amman 1979) .


Hamzah Yusuf said: If there are any martyrs in this affair it would certainly be those brave firefighters and police that went in there to save human lives and in that process lost their own.

Comment: This is inaccurate due to the fact that the hadith of the Prophet SAWS regarding this matter applies to Muslims only. If any of them was a Muslim, then we hope that he/she is a martyr.


  1. (PLEASE REFER TO LAST PARAGRAPH OF FIRST LECTURE) The four Imams were chosen here because they have a prestigious status in the entire Ummah and their leadership and knowledge has been clearly accepted by an overwhelming majority of Muslims.
  2. Also please note that we were forced to address this perverse issue (understanding the delights of paradise through sexual experience) simply because it was brought up in these interviews in such a manner.

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Our comments on some recent interviews

given after September 11th

Our comments on some of Hamza Yusuf's Lecture - audio tapes

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What another well known American Imam had to say about Hamza Yusuf and his teachings Who is Hamza Yusuf - coming soon