Hamza Yusuf

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Hamza Yusuf
Yusuf at Yale University, 2016
Mark Hanson

(1958-01-01) January 1, 1958 (age 61)
CitizenshipUnited States
EraModern era
EducationSan Jose State University (B.A.)[2][3]
OccupationIslamic scholar, author
Muslim leader

Hamza Yusuf (born 1958)[5] is a controversial[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] American Islamic scholar.[3][16][17][18][19] and co-founder of Zaytuna College.[2][20] He is a proponent of classical learning in Islam and has promoted Islamic sciences and classical teaching methodologies throughout the world.[21]

He is an advisor to the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.[22] In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal, which was founded and is currently presided over by Abdallah bin Bayyah.[23][24] He also serves as the vice-president of the UAE-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, where Abdullah bin Bayyah also serves as president.[25]

He is one of the signatories[26] of A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders calling for peace and understanding. The Guardian has referred to Yusuf as "arguably the West's most influential Islamic scholar,"[27] and The New Yorker magazine also called him "perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world."[28]

Early life and education[edit]

Yusuf was born as Mark Hanson in Walla Walla, Washington to two academics working at Whitman College and he was raised in northern California.[2] He grew up as a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian and attended prep schools on both the east and west coasts. In 1977, after a near-death experience in a car accident and reading the Qur'an, he converted from Christianity to Islam.[2][29] Yusuf has Irish, Scottish and Greek ancestry.[27]

After being impressed by a young couple from Saudi Arabia who were followers of Abdalqadir as-Sufi—a Scottish convert to Islam and leader of the Darqawa Sufi order and the Murabitun World Movement—Yusuf moved to Norwich, England to study directly under as-Sufi.[30][31] In 1979, Yusuf moved to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates where he spent the next four years studying Sharia sciences at the Islamic Institute, more often on a one-on-one basis with Islamic scholars.[30] Yusuf became fluent in the Arabic language and also studied Qur'anic recitation (tajwid), rhetoric, poetry, law (fiqh) and theology (aqidah) among other classical Islamic disciplines.[30]

In 1984, Yusuf formally disassociated himself from as-Sufi's teachings and moved in a different intellectual direction having been influenced by a number of Mauritanian scholars residing in the Emirates. He moved to North Africa in 1984 studying in Algeria and Morocco, as well as Spain and Mauritania.[32] In Mauritania he developed his most lasting and powerful relationship with Islamic scholar Sidi Muhammad Ould Fahfu al-Massumi, known as Murabit al-Hajj.[30]

Zaytuna College[edit]

He and other colleagues founded the Zaytuna Institute in Berkeley, California, United States, in 1996,[2] dedicated to the revival of traditional study methods and the sciences of Islam.[33] In the early 2000s, he was joined by additional colleagues Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian in further establishing what was then Zaytuna Institute. Eventually, in the fall of 2010 it would open its doors as Zaytuna College, a four-year Muslim liberal arts college, the first of its kind in the United States.[28] It incorporates Yusuf's vision of combining the classical liberal arts—based in the trivium and quadrivium—with rigorous training in traditional Islamic disciplines. It aims to "educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders".[34] The Zaytuna Institute became the first accredited Muslim campus in the United States after it received approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.[35][36] Yusuf stated that "We hope, God willing, that there will be more such Muslim colleges and universities to come".[35]


Hamza Yusuf has been involved in many controversies in recent years on issues of race, politics, and the Arab revolutions.[8][7][6][10][9][13][12]

On Race[edit]

In December 2016, Yusuf made comments critical of the African American community. Specifically, he argued that America was one of the least racist nations in the world, and that many of the problems of African Americans was due to the breakdown of the family in these communities. In a discussion with The Atlantic, Ubaydullah Evans, who is the executive director of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) said in 2017 that he saw "Yusuf’s comments as a way of perpetuating myths about “black pathology” and blaming African Americans for violence." [37][8][9][10][13]

Support for the UAE[edit]

Yusuf has been working as an official of the UAE in recent years, where he works with the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. His involvement with the UAE has been viewed as controversial because of the UAE’s geopolitical ambitions in the region.[9][10][12]

Work with the Trump administration[edit]

Yusuf has been criticized for working with the Trump administration as a committee member in a committee advising the President on human rights.[7][9][10]

Comments on the Syrian Revolution[edit]

In 2019, a video was released in which Yusuf comments on the Syrian revolution in a way that some viewed as mocking the attempts to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Yusuf later apologized for these comments.[6][11][15]

Views and influence[edit]

Yusuf has taken a stance against religious justifications for terrorist attacks.[38] He described the 9/11 attacks as "an act of mass murder, pure and simple". Condemning the attacks, he also stated that "Islam was hijacked ... on that plane as an innocent victim."[39]

Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre currently places him 36th on its list of the top 500 most influential Muslims in the world.[40][41]

In its 2016 edition, Yusuf is described "as one of the foremost authorities on Islam outside of the Muslim world" by The 500 Most Influential Muslims, edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin.[40]


Publications and works by Hamza Yusuf
Title Description Type
Beyond schooling: building communities where learning really matters Also includes essays by John Taylor Gatto, Dorothy L Sayers and Nabila Hanson. Re-edited in 2010 as Educating Your Child in Modern Times: How to Raise an Intelligent, Sovereign & Ethical Human Being. 2003 Books and Pamphlets
Agenda to Change our Condition Co-authored with Zaid Shakir Books and Pamphlets
Caesarean Moon Births: Calculations, Moon Sighting, and the Prophetic Way Available in 2008 Books and Pamphlets
Imām Busiri, The Burda: Poem of the Cloak (2003) Includes a CD of performances by The Fez Singers feat. Bennis Abdelfettah. Translations
Imām Mawlūd, Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart (2004, 2012). Translation and commentary of the poem Maṭharat al-Qulūb composed by a 19th-century Mauritanian scholar. Translations
Shaykh Al-Amin Mazrui, The Content of Character (2004) Foreword by Ali Mazrui, son of the author. Translations
Imām Ṭaḥāwī, The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (2007). Translations
Imām Muhammad bin Nasir al-Dar'i The Prayer of the Oppressed (2010). Includes a CD of performances by The Fez Singers. Translations
Imām al-Zarnūjī, Instruction of the Student: The Method of Learning (2001). Translated by G.E. Von Grunebaum. Books with a foreword or introduction
Mostafa Al-Badawî, The Prophetic Invocations (2003) Books with a foreword or introduction
Reza Shah-Kazemi, Common Ground Between Islam and Buddhism: Spiritual and Ethical Affinities (2010) Books with a foreword or introduction
Asad Tarsin, Being Muslim: A Practical Guide (2015). Books with a foreword or introduction
Joseph Lumbard, Submission, faith and beauty: the religion of Islam (2009). Co-edited with Zaid Shakir. Edited Books
Caesarean Moon Births Part 1

Caesarean Moon Births Part 2

Climbing Mount Purgatorio



  1. ^ Grewal, Zareena (2014). Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority. New York University Press. p. 129. ISBN 1479800562.
  2. ^ a b c d e E. Curtis, Edward (2009). The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States. Columbia University Press. p. 405. ISBN 0231139578.
  3. ^ a b Cesari, Jocelyne (2004). When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and in the United States. Pelgrave MacMillan. p. 150. ISBN 1403978565.
  4. ^ "Prominent Malikis in the American milieu include the founder of the Zaytuna Institute Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson". Jocelyne Cesari, Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States, p 23.
  5. ^ "إضاءات :. حمزة يوسف". youtube.com.
  6. ^ a b c Hamza Yusuf under fire for comments about the Syrian revolution, retrieved 2019-09-28
  7. ^ a b c Bokth, Noshin (2019-07-19). "The controversy of Hamza Yusuf being appointed Human Rights Adviser to the Trump administration - TMV". Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  8. ^ a b c "Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson". The Muslim 500. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Hamza Yusuf and the struggle for the soul of western Islam". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  10. ^ a b c d e Hilal, Maha. "It's time for Muslim Americans to condemn Hamza Yusuf". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  11. ^ a b "Hamza Yusuf issues apology for 'hurting feelings' with Syria comments". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  12. ^ a b c "Influential Muslim scholar criticised for calling the UAE a 'tolerant country'". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  13. ^ a b c 5Pillars (2016-12-25). "Hamza Yusuf stokes controversy with comments about Black Lives Matter and political Islam". 5Pillars. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  14. ^ Shukr, Sabr and (2019-09-15). "11 Lessons from the Sh. Hamza Yusuf Controversy". Sabr & Shukr. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  15. ^ a b Arab, The New. "Outrage as Hamza Yusuf releases video mocking Syrian refugees". alaraby. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  16. ^ Lumbard, Joseph E. B. (2009). Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. World Wisdom, Inc. p. 40. ISBN 1933316667.
  17. ^ Al-Rasheed, M. (2005). Transnational Connections and the Arab Gulf. Psychology Press. p. 175. ISBN 1134323999.
  18. ^ "Islam 'hijacked' by terror". BBC. London. October 11, 2001. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  19. ^ Khan, Riz (June 17, 2007). "Sheikh Hamza Yusuf The American Islamic scholar discusses building bridges between Islam and the west". al-Jazeera. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  20. ^ Grewal, Zareena (2014). Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority. New York University Press. p. 377. ISBN 1479800562.
  21. ^ Cesari, Jocelyne (2007). Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States. Greenwood Press. p. 643. ISBN 0313336253.
  22. ^ "Carnegie Workshop Biographies". 10 May 2012.
  23. ^ "Introducing global center for renewal and guidance «  Bin Bayyah". binbayyah.net. Archived from the original on 2012-11-12.
  24. ^ Haque, Mozammel. "Introducing global center for renewal and guidance". Saudi Gazette. Archived from the original on December 19, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  25. ^ Yusuf, Hamza (2016-06-24). "Opinion | The Orlando shooter Googled my name. I wish he had reached out to me". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-01-20.
  26. ^ "Signatories - A Common Word Between Us and You". www.acommonword.com.
  27. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Jack (October 7, 2001). "If you hate the west, emigrate to a Muslim country". The Guardian. London. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  28. ^ a b Romig, Rollo (May 20, 2013). "Where Islam Meets America". New Yorker. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  29. ^ O'Sullivan, Jack (October 7, 2001). "If you hate the west, emigrate to a Muslim country". The Guardian. London.
  30. ^ a b c d Grewal, Zareena Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority p 160-171
  31. ^ Ukeles, Raquel The Evolving Muslim Community in America: The Impact of 9/11 p 101
  32. ^ Grewal, Zareena (2014). Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority. New York University Press. p. 161. ISBN 1479800562.
  33. ^ Daniel Brumberg, Dina Shehata, Conflict, Identity, and Reform in the Muslim World: Challenges for U.S Engagement, p 367
  34. ^ "Zaytuna College". www.zaytunacollege.org. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
  35. ^ a b Song, Jason (March 11, 2015). "Muslim college gains accreditation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  36. ^ "US gets its first accredited Muslim college". The Express Tribune. March 12, 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  37. ^ Green, Emma (2017-03-11). "Muslim Americans Are United by Trump—and Divided by Race". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  38. ^ Cohen, Charles L.; Numbers, Ronald L. (2013). Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States. Oxford University Press. p. 186. ISBN 0199931925.
  39. ^ O'Sullivan, Jack (2001-10-08). "'If you hate the west, emigrate to a Muslim country'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  40. ^ a b "The 2016 Edition is Here!" (PDF).
  41. ^ Esposito, J. (2009). The 500 Most Influential Muslims. Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. p. 86. ISBN 978-9957-428-37-2.

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