Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a celebrated Islamic scholar in the United States. I have read some of his work and admire his knowledge on some Islamic issues. However, he has also disappointed me much on some other major issues. In the last few years, for instance, he has spoken and written against the persecuted Ahmadi Muslims, clarifying repeatedly that he identifies them as non-Muslim heretics/infidels. He was so worried he would be mistaken on this important issue that he advised his readers and followers to delete any earlier comments he might have made in error, that identified the Ahmadis as Muslims. He has not only used demeaning words such as Fitna (menace or cancer) and plague for the Ahmadi Muslims, but callously accused this peaceful non-violent community of Muslims for being responsible for 10,000 deaths across Pakistan in 1953 (an oft-repeated lie/conspiracy theory amongst hardline anti-Ahmadi extremists in Pakistan, much like the ‘Bowling Green massacre’ amongst Islamophobes in America). These prejudiced views and obscene allegations & accusations have been rebutted by many Ahmadi Muslims in detail. One such article written by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association in the UK can be found here.
Remember, the Ahmadi Muslims were victims of the 1953 anti-Ahmadiyya riots that were orchestrated by extremist Sunni clerics in Pakistan. The army had to be called in to tame the angry mobs that were looting and killing Ahmadi Muslims. Yet, the Shaykh gives the oppressors a free pass for being Sunni and lambasts the Ahmadi victims instead. Imagine someone claiming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the early Muslims were a Fitna (God forbid) for creating commotion in Mecca, and absolving the Quraish of the crimes that ensued at their hands? Was the horrid persecution the fault of the Muslim victims?
And when sharing the post on Facebook in 2012, he made it clear that this Takfir (delegitimization of other Muslim sects as infidels) of the Ahmadi Muslims and the allegations that accompanied it were an issue that was “very important” and “personal to him.”
Anyways, why am I writing about this now? Let me explain.
As I write this, there is a convention of Muslim clerics underway in Morocco. The aim of this conference is to find solutions to the rampant minority rights violations across the Muslim world, mostly at the hands of Sunni clergy. Since I keep a keen eye on these issues, I lauded this undertaking on Twitter. I saw Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s name on the list of speakers and was happy, hopeful that he might have changed his views on the most persecuted religious minority in the Muslim world. Was he finally naming and condemning Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws that imprison Ahmadis for reciting the Quran, the Kalima, for identifying as Muslim, for identifying their place of worship as a Mosque etc? Did he distance himself from his earlier exclusion of and prejudice against the Ahmadi Muslims? Would he embrace them and speak for their right to self-identify and religious freedom? These were logical questions that came to my mind. Why else would the Shaykh – a famous Sunni cleric – be attending a conference aimed at upholding the rights of all minorities across the Muslim world. With this excitement, I tweeted out to him. When he did not respond, I turned my attention to his brainchild, the famous Zaytuna College, which I have also come to admire over the years.
Is this the same Hamza Yusuf who considered Ahmadis non-Muslim heretics and considered them a poison amidst the Muslims? I was so excited when Zaytuna College responded back:
“That is not true Kashif and you know it.”
I was almost sure at this point that I might have missed the Shaykh’s comments in the recent months, and he sure might have had a change of heart on this issue. He might have finally embraced inclusivity, and inculcated a newfound respect for pluralism within Islam.
I was even ready to take Zaytuna College’s word for it, without the need to confirm with the Shaykh himself. When they did not respond to me, I tweeted out the Shaykh’s earlier accusations and Takfir to them, so they would understand why it was important to direct me to his newer statements, if there were any.
To my surprise, Zaytuna hurriedly deleted their initial tweet in which they had denied Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s Takfir of the Ahmadi Muslims.
Now, many people know Shaykh Hamza Yusuf as one of those very few Sunni clerics who condemn all Takfir, i.e. declaring other Muslims as non-Muslim heretics, and exclusion of their communities. But when it comes to the most persecuted Muslim community across the Muslim world, many do not know that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in fact does endorse Takfir. Not only does he pass Takfir against the Ahmadi Muslims, he has also refused to specifically name, condemn and call out the anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan.
Imagine the extent of anti-Ahmadi bigotry in the Sunni world if a moderate cleric like him is also busy contributing to the putrid anti-Ahmadi sentiment in the Muslim world. I sincerely hope he will forego his divisive ways as he evolves in his understanding of Islam, and will one day embrace inclusivity and pluralism within the Muslim world. InshAllah.
As it stands, rather than embrace the Ahmadi Muslims, both Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Zaytuna College have preferred to stay away from this ‘Fitna’ (cancer) and use their block options instead.
But before blocking me, Zaytuna College did explain why they deleted the initial tweet denying Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s Takfiri statements. They said it was because I was harassing and abusing them. I have often seen such overly defensive attitudes from Pakistani Mullahs. But I really hoped Zaytuna College would not interpret my simple question as abuse/harassment, and would rather explain their position clearly. Which I guess they did.
And then some of the Shaykh’s admirers took to Twitter in defense of his Takfir. Here is one example:
Yes, this is the same mentality that slave-owners had in America. “Blacks aren’t human, so owning them isnt human slavery.”
Anyways, I call on Zaytuna College and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to do the right thing and embrace inclusivity and pluralism in the Muslim world and outside. I urge them to be bold and call out Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws by name. I also call on the West to not be fooled by clerics who claim to be pluralistic and inclusive while hurting diversity and peace in Muslim communities around the world, by spreading bigotry against those they deem heretic and those they ignorantly judge as a cancer (Fitna) within the Muslim world.
May Allah bless the Umma with common sense, tolerance, peace and love, and may we rise above dissension, division, bigotry and hate. Amen.
Physician, Writer and Human Rights Activist; Recipient, Presidential Service Award; Pakistani American; Humanity comes First; Interests: Cardiac Electrophysiology, Human Rights and ‘Halwa Puri’