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We ask Allah to bless them in this world and the hereafter, and help them to stay upon the truth. Ameen.

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The Great White Sheikh

By Jamshed Bokhari                                                                                                                                    09/11/2001

Prior to the October 8 issue of the British daily, The Guardian, I had stayed on the fringes of an already heated controversy within the American Muslim community centering on the activities and ideologies of the California-based Zaytuna Institute, and the growing popularity, and disdain, over its founder, Hamza Yusuf.

There were, and are, other issues more engrossing and in need of dire attention than whether or not Yusuf is a Sufi, whether Sufism (a rather vague and general term encompassing a broad range on religious practice and interpretations of Islam) is a proper manner in which to practice the faith, and the relentless diatribes against the Institute and Yusuf directed by those opposed to Yusuf's interpretation and teaching of Islam.

The debate (if you can call it that) on the issues emanating from either side, who seem more concerned with the beauty of their own written word than genuinely listening to the other side's points, was pointless and essentially a waste of time. It is much more entertaining to sit on the sidelines remarking, "Oh, that's a good one," or "Touché" or "Ouch, that must have hurt."

The present concern has nothing to do with that debate. Yusuf, his advocates, and his detractors carry that mission on well without others joining in the fray. The present problem, however, began on October 8.

To begin with, The Guardian article compares Yusuf to Malcolm X and describes him as "arguably the west's most influential Islamic scholar" who "is fast becoming a world figure as Islam's most able theological critic of the suicide hijacking" of September 11. Obviously, Jack O'Sullivan, the article's author, never heard of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, someone who definitely holds more scholarly weight than Hamza Yusuf in the eyes of Muslims worldwide, and whom also condemned the attacks.

And then there are just too many things wrong with making an association with brother Malcolm, an individual, who, in terms of influence and respect within the American Muslim community, is leaps and bounds ahead of Yusuf.

And let us not forget to mention the assertion that he is the "the West's most influential Islamic scholar". He maybe the West's most influential white Islamic scholar - and that could be argued as well - but not the most influential.

The most offensive part of the article, however, did not come from Sullivan, but from Yusuf himself. Addressing a question concerning "British [Muslim] extremists" and criticism against them that they "have not been loud enough in condemnation" of the September 11 attacks - a false assertion in the first place - Yusuf said, "I would say to them that if they are going to rant and rave about the West, they should emigrate to a Muslim country…."

In the minds of many, such assertions conjure up visions of pick-up driving, Confederate battle flag waving, bad haircut, good ole boys, yelling "America: love it or leave it" followed immediately by the spitting out of that ever so attractive hunk of chewing tobacco with an occasional "Yee haw" added in for color.

And does this criticism of "British extremists" also apply to American Muslim critics of unfolding events? Does that also mean that non-Muslim Americans who disagree with U.S. government policy should go somewhere else as well?

Valid points concerning the current state of affairs within the Muslim world made by Yusuf, specifically that some Muslims are in denial over the events of September 11 and are developing conspiracy theories, or of Islam's current theological shallowness, were overshadowed by the assertion that they should emigrate to Muslim countries, a statement that reeks of a patriotic jingoism better left for anti-Muslim bigots.

And this is the person presently advising U.S. President George W. Bush concerning the state of affairs within the American Muslim community. It is not bothersome that an American Muslim should be advising the administration, but it should be someone less controversial and one who makes less vitriolic statements concerning his fellow believers. This is aside from the fact that Yusuf was not elected by any Muslim to be their representative to the President.

Muzammil Siddiqi, current president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) who attended and gave prayer recitation at Washington's National Cathedral days after September 11, would have been a better candidate. But, then again, he's a "darkie" who speaks with an accent, so that counts him out.

Anyone, and especially a Muslim in North America, who counters any opinion I, as a Muslim "darkie" may have in opposition to any U.S. government policy (whether it be tax cuts for the wealthy, racial profiling, the curtailing of Constitutionally-mandated civil rights, or even, yes, foreign policy) by saying I should go somewhere else if I don't like this or that policy certainly does not represent me.

And he may not even represent those he's seemingly trying to please. Maybe Yusuf needs to review U.S. history a bit more and take a lesson from the original dissenters…like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, men whose dissention created this country, and see what they would have to say on the matter.

And if Yusuf doesn't find what he's seeking there, he should then review the renowned religious teaching he received when he was, "[t]rained for more than a decade by the best Islamic scholars in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania," and revisit Islam's stance on nationalism, the division among Muslims such a course takes, and pride in self and nation to the detriment of fellow Muslims.

But, alas, Yusuf would not be in this place of "notoriety" and would not be able to make such assertions if it were not for American Muslims themselves running to the Great White Sheikh. And by this I mean Muslims "of color". Yusuf has "influence" because quarters within the American Muslim community have given it to him. At ISNA conventions, he literally has "groupies" tagging behind him wherever he goes, hanging on his every word. And if you look at the "diversity" of those flocking him, you can see the reason why.

Part of Yusuf's attraction to American Muslims is that, yes its true, he is white, and that he is a "learned scholar" of Islam. The issue is not Yusuf's ethnicity, but that American Muslims, mostly non-white, are proud, fascinated and yes…awe-struck, by this combination. Call it what you will, an inferiority complex, self-denial or self-loathing, but Yusuf would not be garnering the attention he is today, if not for this support.

Its quite intriguing that the "diverse" base that propelled Yusuf to notoriety is the exact constituency he lambastes. For every immigrant and minority in this country cringes when words intoning "go back where you came from" are invoked, no matter what one's political bent, regardless whether they wholeheartedly support U.S. policies, or are critics.

Editor's note: IslamOnline has repeatedly endeavored to get in touch with Hamza Yusuf regarding the issue, but have been unsuccessful in contacting him.

O'Sullivan, Jack. Oct 8, 2001. "If you hate the west, emigrate to a Muslim country", The Guardian.

The article below is extracted from IslamOnline. All credit for this page is due only to them.

We ask Allah to bless them in this world and the hereafter, and help them to stay upon the truth. Ameen.

The article is available at: 


Our comments on some recent interview given after September 11th

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

Why now?

Who are we?

What other American Imams are saying about Hamza Yusuf's teachings What other people have to say about Hamza Yusuf's teachings.
Zaytuna Institute -coming soon  Hamza Yusuf ? -coming soon


Reviewed: Nov 24th 2001