Monday, 21 May 2012

Biografi Sheikh Hamzah Yusuf Hanson


Life as Poetry

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit.  Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
 – Arthur Schopenhauer
“I don’t know anybody that knows English Poetry better than my father does.  He was somebody, who as far as I can tell, had a religious experience at Columbia University, taking classes with a man named Mark Van Doren[1]
Van Doren was a teacher of literature.  He taught the Great Literature of Western Civilization[2], and my father sat in his classes for 3 years at Columbia University, then audited his classes.
…He named me after Mark Van Doren (Mark Hanson).  I was his first born son, and I think that tells you the impact this man had on his life.
My father actually wrote a commentary on an Elizabethan treatise on Verse.  So I grew up hearing (a lot of poetry) and also just hearing his discussions of these things.
But I didn't appreciate any of it until I had a great teacher and that occurred in the Middle East.  And he was from West Africa.”[1]

In the Beginning

 “He is like Oceans, wherever you look, you will find precious things.”
-Sheikh Abdullah Qadi
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf was born Mark Hanson, in Walla Walla, Washington, 1960.  The eldest boy, and the middle of seven children.  He grew up on the suburban West Coast.
Speaking of his Parents, Sheikh Hamza says,
“My father was a University Professor in Northern California.  On my mother’s side, they’ve been in California for over 100 years, so it’s an old Californian family.  And I was raised (with a) Christian background.“[2]
 “…Both my parents are University educated, are very broad minded people.  My father was a humanities professor, (he has) very philosophical inclinations in his world view. “[3]
Shaykh Hamza states that his Mother was an environmentalist as early as the 60’s; Recycling, eating organic food and being respectful of the Earth.    
“My mother went to Berkeley, and that says enough.  She was very active in the civil rights movement.  She took me when I was 12, to the Soledad Brother’s (trial), to George Jackson’s prison trial, just to see what was happening, that there were political struggles going on in this country. 
She was very opposed to the Vietnam War.  We grew up, with a lot of social awareness…my close family is wealthy, my particular family is not wealthy at all…But definitely the area we were in was quite wealthy.  So, I think my Mother wanted to make sure that we understood that this country has a lot of inequities.
My sister was in Salma, Alabama marching …that’s the type background we were raised in.  And the 60’s was a fascinating time.  Berkeley was right across the street, I grew up quite literally across the street…and we were aware that there were big things happening, in the states.”[4]

The Family Tree

Sheikh Hamza traces his roots to various European sources.  His family has a rich American history, some of his ancestors reaching North America in the 1700’s.  His lineage links back to Scottish, Greek, and Northern European blood.  Sheikh Hamza says about his Father’s lineage:
“My great, great grandfather, Michael O’Hanson, fled the impending potato famine of Ireland and arrived in America in the early 1840s with his bride, Bridget. They headed for Philadelphia…a mecca for Irish-Catholic immigrants then.
They didn’t get a warm welcome to America, and instead found themselves smack in the middle of the Nativist anti-Irish-Catholic riots of 1844, which left scores of people dead and two beautiful Catholic churches destroyed. The riots were prompted by false rumors that the Irish-Catholics wanted the Bible removed from public schools to ensure Protestant doctrine would not be taught to their children.
Ordinary Americans were appalled by the viciousness of the attacks, and their good sense prevailed.  It eventually led to the famous consolidation of the city in 1854.  But Irish-Catholics had still not arrived, and my great grandfather, Michael Hanson Junior, dropped the “O” from his Gaelic name and blended into Philadelphia society, going into partnership with the enlightened Jewish newspaper giant, Paul Block. And while he practiced his Catholicism openly, he hid his Irish ancestry even from his own children, to spare them the perceived shame of being Irish in upper class society.”[5]
Shaykh Hamza’s paternal great-grandfather (father’s, mother’s, father) was Archibald Chisholm.  Archibald was an Iron-Ore magnate and owned large parts of the Iron Range. [6] 
In 1901, he plotted the town Chisholm, Minnesota, and had it incorporated as a village.[7]  Sheikh Hamza’s own father was born in Duluth, Minnesota.
On his Mother’s side, Sheikh Hamza’s great-grandfather and grandfather entered the US in 1896 through Ellis Island[8].  This same grandfather was the President of the Orthodox Church in Marin County.  Possibly a factor relating to Sheikh Hamza’s early education in the Greek Orthodox Church.[9]  Sheikh Hamza relates a story about his Grandfather,
“My grandfather was a very successful business man.  He had what they call “The Midas touch”, everything he touched turned to Gold.  One day he was with his wife, and they went to a church to go to a wedding.  My Grandfather was not a religious man at that time, and when they came in, there was a big statement on the wall. 
It's a quote from the Gospel, and it said, "What has a man gained, if he's gained the whole world, and lost his soul?" 
My Grandmother said to my Grandfather, "That’s a question you should ask yourself."
Well, he became a very religious person after that, in his own way, in the way he understood.  He ended up sending me and my sister, to a camp (In Greece), and I was 12 years old…To teach us the precepts of our religion.”[10]
This same Grandfather, or possibly another, raised horses on a ranch, and Shaykh Hamza would spend time there, learning to ride horses.

School Years

“I went to school here in California; I also went to school on the East coast.
…Teachers are such interesting figures in our lives and I was thinking about my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gilmore.  I remember her name, I can see her black hair, very tall, thin lady.  She was almost a classic school Marm…
But, particularly, I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Williams, because there was an event that happened in 3rd grade that had a very deep impact on me, and that was that I was falsely accused of something, and I remember the mortified state that I was in, when someone came into the classroom, and whispered into her ear.
And they both looked at me, in front of all these small children and then the teacher said, ‘Oh we don’t like boys that do that’, and I was completely non-plussed, I didn’t know what they were talking about.  And I was taken to the principal’s office, and wacked with a paddle. 
This was a complete case of false testimony by one of my arch-enemies in the playground.  That was my first real taste of injustice.  There I was, the arbitrary victim of false testimony, and I suffered the consequences.  And that taught me something about the nature of justice and injustice and that the sense that people feel when they are wronged.  When there is an injury, which is a beautiful word coming from the Latin Injuria, unjust. 
Then in fifth grade, things began to change radically.  I had a teacher named Dennis Hasslinger, and this was the beginning of Summerhill…This was the 1960’s and a lot of experimentation and we moved into a whole other realm of teaching.  I went from these very old school marms, to a very radical young man, who was dedicated on undoing that damage that had been done.  And he did his own damage, unintentionally.”[11]
During an interview on Rihla TV, Sheikh Hamza’s mother reminisced about Sheikh Hamza’s childhood.  When asked what stood out in her mind, she said,
“Specific things I remember: One he was very curious, and he was always asking why, always wanting to know why things were.
He was never satisfied.  If you answered one question he had another; Just one question after the other.  And he was a great talker.  He loved to talk, he loved to ask questions.
He had great adventures; He was an adventurer.  When we went out, Hamza would somehow wander away. 
For instance, when we were at the Fair, he disappeared and the rest of the children and I went all over looking for him.  When we finally found him, he was sitting with a police officer eating an ice cream cone. 
One of the things that really stood out in my mind, and I've never really gotten over it, was when he was about 11 or 12, he was an avid reader and he told me he had read ‘War and Peace’, and so I assumed he had read a comic book story of ‘War and Peace’…It's a long book.  But the movie came out, the Russian Film, and it was 3.5 hours (long).  So, I took him to see it, and during the intermission, he was discussing the difference between the book and the film.  So I was convinced he had read it. 
And the other thing I do remember, is that he had such an incredible sense of balance.  He was just a tremendous athlete, just natural.  (We would go) skiing, and he would ski the highest slope as soon as he got on.  As if he had been skiing his whole life.  And he played football and baseball the same way.  Whatever he did, he just seemed to already know how to do it.”[12]
On the same show, Sheikh Hamza asked his younger brother Troy, about what his thoughts were on their childhood.  Troy said,
“Growing up as your younger brother…I don’t know how much you remember of this, but you were really kind of the hero of not only me, but all of my friends.  I think everybody was jealous that I had such a great older brother who seemed to be cut, from a very different cloth, from anybody we knew.”[13]

The Incorruptibles[3]

In his 12th year, Sheikh Hamza spent the summer in Greece with his sister Nabila.  They went to a “Greek Orthodox Camp”, to learn the Catechism of advanced Christian studies.[14]  The camp effected his future outlook, as Sheikh Hamza describes himself,
“(My family sent) me and my sister to a camp, and I was 12 years old.  To Greece to teach us the precepts of our religion. 
That was a turning point in my life.  You see, my sister and I, we became Muslim.  Out of 7 children, we were the 2 that went on that journey, that pilgrimage.
I'll tell you what really struck me on that trip.  It was on a little island and you can look at it on a Greek map; It's called Zakynthos.[4]
And I went into a church there.  And in that church was a 6th century saint.  A pre-Islamic Christian Saint named St. George.  That's like Juraaj[5] in Arabic. Juraaj is in Sahih Bukhari; The Saint who they built a big church for.
And the Saint is in the church.  The Prophet condemned that because that's something the Christians did with their Saints, they put them in the middle of the church.
I'll never forget, open to glass, we went up and kissed his foot.  I looked at his face, his face was uncorrupted.  There was no change.
And that's called an Incorruptible.  The Incorruptibles in Christianity were the people that their bodies did not decay, and there are a lot of them.  And we believe that too about Muslims.
... Seeing that man had an immense impact on me.  It really struck me, why didn't his body decay like other people's bodies?  Because we're talking 1600 years.
That's the thing about those early people, the early Christians and the early Muslims, those people were people of God.  They brought so much faith with them, that people would become Muslims from just seeing them.
How is it that a dead person can affect me so much compared to living people? …Who is really dead, and who is really alive?”[15]

Grade 8

Once back from Summer Camp, he started a new school,
“…8th grade I went to an experimental school in Marin County which had 4 quads: Earth, Wind, Fire and Air.  …Based on testing, you were put into a Quad in order to enhance your natural aptitude.  So I was put into “Sea School” which was for people that were gifted with language. Reading and writing. 
Sun school was for Mathematics.  They had Wood school which was for Arts and crafts, Hand type things, and then they had a music school.”[16]

A Separate Peace

Ready for High School, Shaykh Hamza moved to a boarding school on the East Coast.  
His focus, and his parents focus, would have been to enroll him in the best educational institution possible.  And the East Coast boarding school was probably just that. 
The combination of age, puberty, distance from home, East Coast culture and the boarding school mindset was too much for him, and he soon moved back West. 
The East Coast boarding school is not named, but some investigative research indicates that it was most certainly the “Georgetown Preparatory School”, established in 1789, in North Bethesda, Maryland.  The school is Elitist, and graduates the top minds in the country.  The average SAT score of graduates hovering at 1950.
Speaking of his time at Georgetown Prep:
“And then something very radical happened, a major disruption in my education.  I went to a Prep-School on the East coast, and went into deep shock.  
I had gone through 8 years of California and suddenly I was thrust into an institution on the East Coast that was founded in 1789 and it was run by Jesuits.  It was a very difficult experience for me personally.  I remember having a lot of difficulty there, dealing with the East Coast children that were very different from the West Coast. 
There was a lot of bullying and I remember a novel that really impacted me, called “A Separate Peace”; I lived that experience, and that novel had a major impact on me when I was in the 9th Grade.  And the pain that was inflicted…
This recent event of hazing, I think what was so troubling about that, not the hazing, hazing has been around in this country for a long long time.  But young girls were doing it.  I mean it’s like, Chris Rock said, ‘you know the world’s upside down when the best rapper is a white guy, and the best golfer is a black guy.’ [6]
The same case here, we’ve got young girls that are hazing brutally.  If that’s equality, I’m deeply worried about what we’re doing to these girls, because I think that making girls more like men is actually the wrong the way to go, it’s the other way around.  It’s actually the men that need to learn how to be more like those natural qualities that women have:  Mercy and compassion.  This is the humanization process.  We don’t call our schools alma-maters for nothing.  The nurturing mother.  That’s what a school is supposed to be, it’s supposed to give you your humanity. 
So in looking at my own education, I couldn’t take 2 years of that on the East Coast, and I went to an Augustinian school on the West Coast, which was much easier.  And that’s the difference, probably, between the Jesuits and the Augustinians.  One’s a militant order, and the other is less so.”[17]


During his high school years, Shaykh Hamza began reflecting on religion and God.  Like the Cave of Hira, this reflection period, preceded his life-changing conversion.
“When I was 16 years old, I came to the realization that the only reason I was a Christian, was because I was born in a Christian family.
‘The only reason I'm a Christian, is because my parents taught me that Jesus was my saviour, Blah, Blah, Blah.’
That's the only reason…I thought, ‘If I was born in Sri Lanka, I would be a Buddhist.  Because my parent's would tell me, ‘Here's your God, and pray to him, you'll get whatever you want.’
If I was born in Israel, I would have been a Jew maybe, or a Palestinian.
…I remember that, very clearly, that realization…
And I thought, ‘I should think about this.’
I took this class on World Religions, at a college[7], and we had the book by Houston Smith, The World’s Religions.
I started reading about this.  (And I thought) "Man, they have 1 Billion followers?  What do they believe?" 
I started thinking about all these other religions.  And then I remember hitting on Islam; And I thought, ‘Now wait a second, what's going on here?’ 
I went and got a Quran, and I read the introduction, and I remember saying, "The whole of the Islamic Creed, is summed up in the statement, ‘There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger.’" 
"What does that mean?"  you know, "There is no god, but God." 
That's such a strange statement, when you first hear that.  But the first time I heard that, I wanted to know what that means.
There was just something very intriguing about it. 
I remember, I started saying, "There’s no god but God”.
It was kind of like a Zen Koan, ‘What's the trick here?  What is it? What am I supposed to realize here?’
And then I realized what it meant, “That's it.  ‘There's no god but God.’  That makes perfect sense. “
Nothing else that can be worshiped, but what's worshiped in truth. 
La Mabooda bi Haqqin see Sala
That's how our Ulema interpret it. La Mabooda bi Haqqin see Sala, There's nothing worshiped in truth except Allah.  Everything other than Allah that is worshipped is worshiped by falsehood.
But then the second one, Muhammadan Rasoolalah.  ‘Muhammad is the messenger of God’.  What does that mean?  Who is that Man? 
Then you start reading about him.  And, you realize, this is amazing.  And why haven't we been taught this? Why don't we know about him?  I mean really?  Why don't people know about the Prophet Muhammad (saws); As a historical figure? 
Everyone knows about Napoleon.  Do you think Napoleon had more impact on human history?  They know about Waterloo. 
People know about Michael Jordan.  They know he's the greatest ballplayer that ever lived.  Americans know about General Grant.  They know about Sherman, the defeat of Atlanta.  They know about all these things that are so insignificant in terms of Human history.  And nobody (knows about the Prophet Muhammad (Saws)”[18]

Seeing the Light

That period of introspection led to serious thought on religion, but nothing further occurred.
In 1977, just after starting Junior College at Ventura[19], Sheikh Hamza was involved in a serious car accident.  It was a head-on collision, causing serious injury, bringing him close to Death.  The accident began a serious inquest on his part about life and death.  The search for meaning after the accident would take another year, culminating in his conversion to Islam.
Speaking of his conversion, he says,
 “…I think for me it was a confrontation with Death at an early age.  I was in a serious car accident, and that began a journey of reflection.  Just about death, and the nature of Life.  Also, coming to terms with the fact.
…Just the idea of mortality, is something that hit me very early on in life.  And looking death very close, up front, I think will give someone an introspective, perspective.  And that’s what happened to me.
I began a search.  Because I was in Catholic schools, I had been exposed to religions quite a bit.  Although I think there is a lot of positive things in religion, I think there are a lot of very negative things as well.
I became interested in what happens after death.  And I began to study what various traditions have to say…I was already disappointed with the Christian tradition in many ways…I find European history is really embarrassing for European Americans. 
If you look at comparative religion, traditionally you find that Islam has added more to the after death scenario, then any other tradition.
..(Christianity doesn’t) have a great detailed account literally of what takes place.  And what I find fascinating, is work like Raymond Moody’s “Life after Life” and different books.  And actually at 17, I went to see him lecture.  And I got interested in near death experiences because that’s really what I had. 
I find it fascinating that many of the experiences that people have, are very similar to what has been defined by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as what happens after death.  And one of the signs of the later days of the human experience, according to the Islamic tradition, is that people will be brought back from death.  This is in the Hadith literature, or the traditions of the Prophet.
…This is 1977, probably ‘76, ‘77, prior to the Iranian Revolution and what was happening then.  Islam is the last place that people look in the United States, traditionally.  You’d look at Buddhism, Hinduism, probably Shintoism or Daoism, before someone would think about looking at Islam.
Because there’s such a negative stereotypical image of Islam and the Muslims, and there’s also this incredibly anti-intellectual backlash. 
One of my father’s friends, who was a lawyer…they were just in conversation, and he mentioned that Islam is just an idiot’s religion.  And my father said, “Well, my son is a Muslim actually, and I don’t think he’s an idiot”[20]
As Sheikh Hamza studied more about Islam, the truth of the religion dawned on him.  At some point he had to make a serious choice. 
“…I didn’t want to become Muslim, Allah Ghalib, because I was very young, 18, I had not sowed my wild oats yet, as they say in America, which just means acting like a fool.  They say adolescence is schizophrenia with a good prognosis; that you go mad for a short time, but then you get well later.
But Alhamdulillah, I just realized it was right.  Like Winston Churchill said, ‘I’ve bumped into the truth a few times in my life, and I quickly get up and brush myself off, and get along with it.’
Well, I bumped into the truth a few times, and I had a choice to brush myself off and get on with it, or to become Muslim, and Alhamdulillah, by the Fadl of Allah, I chose to become Muslim.
…I didn’t bump into a Muslim; I bumped into a Qur’an, a translation of the Qur’an; that was the beginning.  I didn’t read that much (of the Qur’an) before I become a Muslim.  I read, in fact, a few chapters.  I just had some strong indications. 
One of them was, (when) I went to a play called, “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” when I was thinking about this.  And I bought from a hacker, a woman out in front of the play, some tickets, and she was wearing a necklace.
I asked her “Oh, what’s that?”
She said, “Oh, it’s from the Qur’an, it protects me”
I said, “Oh really? How does it protect you?”
She said, “Well that’s what this Egyptian man that sold it to me, said.” (Laughs)
“…Then I went in, and watched this play, which was all about being asleep and how you’re totally manipulated by the unseen, it’s a Shakespearean play.  The play actually had an impact on me…”[21]


"I lived in Spain for over a year"[22]
-Sheikh Hamza
Sh Hamza’s time in Spain is a little sketchy.  This time has only been mentioned twice in 2 different speeches, so it’s difficult to piece together when he was there. 
Based on his brief statements and Dr Umar Farooq’s testimony, we can say that he was in Granada, Spain, studying Arabic, and Quran at a madrassa there. 
This occurred before his conversion, or immediately after the conversion, before he went to England.  The higher likelihood is that he moved to Spain right after conversion to study Islam, then moved later to England.
Dr. Umar Farooq describes how he found Sheikh Hamza in Spain,
“…We met when I was already in my 30's and he (Sh Hamza) was a very young man. 
He was 16 years old[9], at that time.  And I have never seen Imam Hamza as anything less than a superior, even at that time.  When I met him in this beautiful garden in Granada, where we had a wonderful school, I was impressed from the very beginning with the intensity of this young man.  And by the perception that he had. 
It's said in the famous tradition, which is attributed to Ibn Abbas and to others <Arabic>.  "Whoever will put in practice what they know, God will give them as an inheritance, Knowledge of what they did not know."
And this has always been the characteristic of my beloved brother (Sh Hamza), because of the fact that he always put into practice, what he knew.  And as his knowledge increased, his practice changed.  But you could always know what he was learning, by where he was, and what he was doing.
I know whatever Sh Hamza believes, he will do that, he will apply it.  And therefore his knowledge increases.  From the time that I met Imam Hamza, I saw him as a vanguard.  The Vanguard are of course the troops that go before the army.  They check out the territory, and open up the ground.  Because this is what he always was for me.
When he met me the first time, I had been given a task, to teach the Ajromia [10]in Arabic to that community, in Spain that we had.
And quite frankly, I didn't know what the Ajromia was. 
I had studied Arabic in the oriental fashion, but I had never studied in the traditional.  And I had never been able to, because when I had opened the book to the "Seebaway", which is the place to end, and not begin, it was so difficult, I couldn't get past the first chapter.
So, he (Sheikh Hamza) brought to me not only the text of the Ajromia, but he brought to me also, a beautiful English commentary of it, which remains one of the best available to this day.  And he brought other books as well.”[23]

The Pursuit of Knowledge

There isn’t much information about why Sheikh Hamza moved to London[11], England after conversion.  Either he was told to go there, already had friends there or he arbitrarily chose England.  It’s probable he had contacts there and moved there to improve his understanding of Islam.  Shaykh Hamza explains that early period,
 “I actually became a Muslim a month or so before my 18th birthday.  I spent a short time there (at College), about 6 months, and then after that I left (to England). 
I think initially when you do something that radical, like changing your life, your entire way of thinking (it affects you).  And Islam is quite Monolithic in its approach.
…I went to England, and I was with a community there, and was studying. 
…I spent a few a years in that community, I was studying very seriously.  But then, at some point, I realized that I wanted to learn Arabic, because I wanted to get into the sources.  To really experience Islam from its sources and I think being at that age, about 22, for me it was still one of these things that could go either way.  There were a lot of people dabbling in religion in the 60’s and 70’s; you become a Buddhist for a few years (then went back to Christianity) etc. So people did their religion thing.”[24]
“I decided I wanted to seek knowledge, and I said, ‘where do I go?’ 
Well I got an opportunity, from a wonderful man, named Sheikh Abdullah Ali Mahmoud.  Who was a man from Sharja, in the Emirates.  And he was an older man who remembered, he actually rode by camel around the Nejd.  I mean that’s the era he came out of.  And he was a Faqih and he was a very spiritual and sincere person.  And he met me in London, and I had just learned some words in Arabic, I was trying to put them together.
I had a little book, I was trying to learn how to speak Arabic, and I said to him, “Kayfa Ha Looka.  Ana min America, Ismi Hamza” (How are you, I am from America.  My name is Hamza)
And I’m calling ‘Hamza’, it’s actually a letter, it’s not a name. 
So he said, “Jazakullah Al Kharan” he said, “You have to come and study, and I’ll facilitate that for you.”  [25]

The Arabian Educational System


There is no information specifically on what Sheikh Abdullah did for Sheikh Hamza.  But it is reasonable that he arranged travel, a scholarship & entrance to school in the UAE. 
This was 1979, and Sheikh Hamza would spend the next 4-5 years in The United Arab Emirates[26].  Sheikh Hamza does not speak much of this time in his speeches, but it was easily the longest and most foundational educational period of his life.  He would solidify his understanding of Arabic, and enter into serious study of Fiqh. 
Once arrangements were complete, Sheikh Hamza travelled to the small city of Al-Ain in the UAE, and there he was enrolled in the School ‘Al-Mahad al-Islami’.[27]
As he didn’t know Arabic, he was placed in the 3rd grade, and sat in the back of the classroom with all the other non-Arab students (typically older African students.)[28]  As he states himself, it was a good experience because he saw first-hand the horrendous pedagogy practiced in Muslims countries.  Going so far as to say, that his Western high school education was better than his Eastern University education.[29] 
Sheikh Hamza says of this,
“By good or by bad fortune, I went to extremely good schools in the United States.   I went to a private Jesuit school.  So I was used to a very high standard of education in the West. 
When I went to Mahad ul-Islami, I found  it was a good experience for me, because I learned a lot of words immediately, like “Ya Himar”, “Ya Ghabbi”, “Ya Washi”, “Ya Ahmuk“.  And the Arabs know what it means, and most of you who don’t speak Arabic know what it means, because this is what the teacher used to say to the Student constantly. 
‘O Donkey’, ‘O Jackass’, ‘O Fool’, ‘O Idiot’.  So I learned those words very quickly, because you learn things you hear all the time.
Now, I had never seen that, because I grew up in a place where the teachers actually respected you.  Really we should actually be crying, because we know now what that type of attitude does to children.”[30]
“…The punitive measures that were used in that school, the humiliation, just horrendous pedagogy that was practiced by these teachers.  (They) inherited the same style (of teaching) from their prior teachers, and this is what happens. 
Niche says ‘We recreate ourselves, we just keep giving the next generation the same problems that we too had.’”[31]
“What I saw basically was a gross pale imitation of western education; it was really at the lowest levels of Western education.  The school was started by a very righteous man, with very good intentions, but unfortunately, people of the best of intentions are still encumbered with the difficulties and the problems that exist, from the post-colonial trauma of the Muslim Ummah.”[32]

Meetings with Masters: Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq

In addition to his studies at Mahad ul-Islami, Sheikh Hamza would began extra tutelage on the side, with scholars he would meet on his own.  Possibly the first of such scholars was Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq.  Sheikh Hamza describes the first meeting,
“Now, after a very short time there, and I was learning Arabic more and more rapidly, I met a West-African scholar, from Mauritania. The first thing I recognized is the man had light on his face.  Unlike a lot of the people that were teaching me at the Mahad (they actually appeared sometimes dark to me.)
I went up to him and I asked him where he was from.
He said, Mauritania.
I said, ‘I’m looking for someone who knows how to teach Islam in a traditional way. ‘
He said, ‘Well that’s the way I learned, and I’m a Mufti at the Shariah court, and you can come anytime to my house that you want to, day or night.’ 
That’s what he told me.  He gave me his number and he gave me his address.  And I started going to this man’s house, and he would sit there and he would say, “What do you want to study?”
And then I would ask him questions, he would answer them, he would tell me, this this and this.
And he would say you should memorize this, because that’s the only way to learn.  And I noticed the people in that environment, other Mauritanians, most of them memorized the Qur’an, they knew Fiqh, they were very clear in their understanding of Islam. 
I was very affected by these people.  They affected me because I hadn’t seen people like them.  Now the secret of these people is simply one thing and one thing only, and I’m convinced of this now, after thinking about it for a long time.  These are people that the colonials never got to, because they were in the middle of the Sahara desert.  And Europeans tend to not like to be in conditions were they don’t have all the perks that go with staying there.  And Mauritania is an extremely difficult environment to stay in.  And like Solomon Nyang says, ‘Thank God for the Malaria Mosquito, because it really helped the West Africans out a lot against these Europeans.’”[33]
In another rendition, Sheikh Hamza provides more details of this monumental meeting and what happened there,
“…in 1980, at a bookstore in Abu Dhabi, where I met Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq of the renowned Tajakanat clan. I knew immediately he was from West Africa, given the dir’ah, the distinct West African wide robe he was wearing, as well as the turban, a rare sight in the Gulf at that time.
I had met scholars from West Africa when I was in Mali[12] two years before and was interested in studying with them, so I asked the Sheikh if he knew anyone who taught the classical Maliki texts in the traditional manner. He affirmed that he himself was a teacher of that very tradition…

I started to study with Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq in addition to my required classes at the Islamic Institute in Al-Ain.
Unlike most Mauritanian teachers, he did not emphasize rote memorization or use of the wood slate known as the lawh.  I studied directly from books.  After a few years and much benefit from him and two other great Maliki jurists, Sheikh (Mohammad Ahmad Al ) Shaybani (Mufti of Abu Dhabi) [13] and Sheikh Bayyah Ould Salik[14] (Head of the Islamic court in Al-'Ain),
My education took a major turn when I met a young electrician from the Massuma clan named Yahya Ould Khati.
He was of the view that while these scholars were excellent, the truly illustrious man of his age was Murabit al-Hajj, who lived in a forgotten part of Mauritania, far away from civilization and the distractions of this world.
He informed me that Sheikh Abdar Rahman, the son of Murabit al-Hajj, was now in the Emirates.”[34]

Al-Muezzin: The Caller

“I lived in al-Ain for four years without AC, in a cinder block house. 
I was 20-24”[35]   
–Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
While Sheikh Hamza continued to study with Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq, he also had to take care of his personal effects.  Feeling distracted at the dormitory he moved out, into alternative housing.
“…(I became a muezzin) at a Mosque, in Al-Ain, because I didn’t want to live anymore in the institute dormitory.  They (The other students) were very young; I don’t think a lot of them were as serious as I was. 
They were just young high school students, and I was a little older and probably more serious about what I was doing.  Not all of them, certainly there were some good people. 
But I didn’t like the environment, so I asked somebody who was at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, if they could work out a situation where I could be a Muezzin, and just live in the Mosque.  Because the mosques have, in those countries, living quarters for the Muezzin and for the Imam. 
I didn’t take money for what I was doing, I had a stipend from the Institute, not very much, but enough to get by.  So they let me do that, I was a muezzin, and I lived in the mosque.”[36]
“Shortly after, at the house of Sheikh Bayyah, an elder of the Massuma clan who had taken me under his wing and from whom I benefited greatly in my studies, I met Sheikh Abdar Rahman.  
Upon meeting him, I was struck by the otherworldliness of his presence, which is not unusual for Mauritanian scholars, but it was clearly pronounced in him. I remember thinking, ‘If this is the son, I must meet the father.’
I also began studying with his close friend and companion, Sheikh Hamid, after I helped him get settled and, with the help of Sheikh Bashir Shaqfah, another of my teachers and at that time the head of the Office of Endowments at Al-Ain, secure a position of Imam for him in the main mosque of Al-Ain, where I was serving as a muezzin.
From Sheikh Hamid, I learned about the merits of memorization.  Although I had studied several texts, and my Arabic was quite fluent by this time, Sheikh Hamid was adamant that without rote memorization, one was dependent upon books and did not really possess knowledge within oneself.  Mauritanians, he told me, distinguish between daylight scholars and nighttime scholars.  A daytime scholar needs light to read books to access knowledge, but a nighttime scholar can access that knowledge when the lights are out, through the strength of his memory and the retention of knowledge.  Hence, he felt that I should start over.

I had studied Ibn Ashir, al-Risalah, and sections of Aqrab al-Masalik privately; I had studied the early editions of al-Fiqh al-Maliki fi Thawbihi al-Jadid, which were used at the Institute; and I had studied Hadith with Sheikh Ahmad Badawi, one of the great Hadith scholars of Sudan. But I had put little to memory other than what I naturally retained.
Sheikh Hamid procured a slate for me and began teaching me the basics again, but with rote memorization. It was humbling, but edifying, to see how this tradition has been carried on throughout the ages with these time-tested models.”[37]

Leading the Salaat

“…After a year of doing that…I learned the last portions of the Qur’an; I could recite them well.  So they let me become the Imam in another mosque that was near there.  And people were very generous to me, they would bring me food, and things like that.“ [38]
“I was leading prayer for a community of mostly Afghan workers, who were sending their earnings back home to support families and the war effort against the Russians, who had invaded Afghanistan four years earlier.

It was then that I began to have dreams in which I saw a great man, whom I learned later, was Murabit al-Hajj. One of those dreams included an elderly woman whom I had also never seen before.” [39]

On to Bigger Things.  The Journey to Algeria

"I decided to leave my very comfortable and enjoyable life in the Emirates in 1984, and headed towards Mauritania via Algeria, where I planned on spending some months memorizing the Qur'an.  I made this decision even though I was warned that there was a draught in Mauritania and living conditions were extremely harsh.  Somehow, I felt compelled to go and nothing could deter me.
After spending some months with Sidi Bou Said at his madrassa (Bilal ibn Rabah Madrassa[40]) in Tizi, Algeria, I traveled on to Tunisia, obtained a visa to Mauritania, and took a flight to Nouakchott, which lies on the Atlantic coast of the Sahara.”[41]
Sheikh Hamza spent several months in Algeria, and then moved on to Mauritania sooner then he expected.  His exit from Algeria was due to Algerian intelligence; They arrested him as a spy.
"They didn't know what to make of this American who wanted to learn Arabic and study Islam,"[42]
They expelled him from the country, and it was just as well, because he was to meet his destiny in Mauritania.

The Land of a Thousand Poets

“When I got to the Sahara, I was just so overwhelmed by a people that basically had no Ministry of Education so to speak.  They had no school system, they had no salaried teachers, and they had no budgets for books, nothing.  Yet these extraordinary schools exist out there.”[43]
I arrived in that capital city, with its extremely primitive conditions and vast slums that surrounded a small city center, with no addresses and no specific plan, other than to find Murabit al-Hajj.

I went to the marketplace and asked around if there was anyone from the Massuma clan, and was directed to a small shop where I met Abdi Salim, a very friendly man who was from the same branch of Massuma as my teacher, Sheikh Hamid. When I told Abdi Salim I wanted to find Murabit al-Hajj and study with him, his face lit up and he wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. He then took me to someone from Mukhtar al-Habib, the branch of the Massuma clan that Murabit al-Hajj was from, and they took me to the house of Mawlay al-Maqari al-Massumi, a small place made from tea boxes with open sewage in the back. Similar houses were all around, as far as the eye could see. Mawlay al-Maqari al-Massumi was one of the most hospitable and welcoming people I had ever met; I later learned he was loved by all who knew him. I stayed with him and his family for several days. 
Providentially, Sheikh Abdar Rahman soon arrived from the Emirates to visit his mother and father and, not surprisingly, it was his wont to stay with Mawlay al-Maqari whenever in the capital. He would accompany me to his family’s school in Tuwamirat, but the journey required camels. A message was sent to the encampment of Murabit al-Hajj via the government radio announcements, which was how people in the capital communicated with the nomads in the desert. The message stated that Sheikh Abdar Rahman and Hamza Abdul Wahid (my given name when I converted and used at that time) would be arriving in the town of Kamur on such-and-such a date and were in need of camels there to take them to their village, Tuwamirat. We then set out on a rather unpleasant journey in a truck to Kamur, which was several hundred kilometers inland into the Sahara desert. The road at that time ended at Bou Talamit, and two-thirds of it was simply rough desert track worn down over time by loaded trucks and jeeps. It was the bumpiest, dirtiest, and most difficult road journey I had ever taken in my life. 
After two grueling days, we arrived in a beautiful town known as Geru, which at the time had no technology, and the buildings there were all a lovely adobe. Hundreds of students studied at seven madrassas, called Mahdharain Geru. At night, with the exception of a few flashlights, candles, and kerosene lamps, all was dark so the Sahara night sky could be seen in all its stellar glory. The entire town was filled with the soothing sounds of the recitation of Qur’an and other texts. 
We stayed with Sheikh Khatri, the brother of Murabit al-Hajj’s wife, Maryam, and a cousin of Murabit al-Hajj. While in Geru, I came to know a great saint and scholar, Sidi Minnu, who was already an old man at the time. He memorized all of the Hisn al-Hasin of Imam al-Jazari and recited it every day. His other time was spent in praying for the entire Ummah. Once, we were sitting on the sand and he picked some up with his hand and said to me, “Never be far away from the earth, for this is our mother.”
He then said something that struck me to the core: “I have never regretted anything in my entire life, nor have I ever wished for anything that I did not or could not have, but right now I wish that I was a young man so that I could accompany you on this great journey of yours to seek knowledge for the sake of God.” 
After a few days, we set out for Kamur, which we had passed on our way to Geru, and then took camels and set out for Murabit al-Hajj; by nightfall we arrived in Galaga, a valley with a large lake that rises and lowers with the rainfall and the seasons. After breakfast the next morning, we set out for the upper region some miles from where Murabit al-Hajj’s clan was encamped.

As we came into Tuwamirat, I was completely overwhelmed by its ethereal quality. It was the quintessential place that time forgot. The entire scene reminded me of something out of the Old Testament. Many of the people had never seen a white person before and the younger people had only heard about the French occupation, but never seen French people or other foreigners for that matter. I entered the tent of Murabit al-Hajj.

My eyes fell upon the most noble and majestic person I have ever seen in my life. He called me over, put his hand on my shoulder, welcomed me warmly, and then asked me, “Is it like the dream?” I burst into a flood of tears. I had indeed experienced a dream with him that was very similar to our actual meeting.[44]

Meetings with Masters: Murabit al-Hajj

It was 1985, and the most life-changing part of Sheikh Hamza’s life would occur over the next 3 years.  He sat at Masjid al-Hajj[45], the school of Murabit al-Hajj and studied not only the sacred sciences, but also the traditional bedouin way of life. 
Sheikh Hamza gives an amazing account of his Master,
“Murabit al-Hajj’s birth name is Sidi Muhammad ould Fahfu al-Massumi, and he was nicknamed Hajj Umar by his mother after the great scholar and warrior, “Umar Tal of Senegal”.
During the blessed time that I was fortunate to have lived with him in his own tent, I observed his daily routine: He would usually awake at about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning and begin the Tahajjud or night prayers.  He would often recite for a few hours, and I heard him repeat verses over and over again and weep.  Just before dawn, he would sit outside his tent and recite Qur’an, and then when the first light of dawn was discernible, he would walk to the open-air mosque and call the adhan.  He would then pray his nafilah and wait for a short period and then call the iqamah.  During that time, I never saw anyone else lead the prayer, and he would almost always recite from the last 60th of the Qur’an as is the Sunnah for a congressional Imam to do so according to Imam Malik.
After the sun rose and reached the level of a spear above the horizon, he would pray the sunrise rak’ahs and then return to his tent where he would have some milk brought fresh from a cow.  He would then teach until about 11:00 in the morning and nap for a short while.  After that, students would start coming again, and he would continue to teach until about 1:00pm at which time he would measure his shadow for the time of the midday prayer.  He would then call the adhan at the time his shadow reached an arm’s length past the post meridian time as is the Maliki position on the midday prayer, if performed in congregation, to allow for others to come from their work after the heat dissipates.  He would always pray four rakahs before and after the midday prayer and then return to his tent where he would teach until afternoon.  He would usually have a small amount of rice and yogurt drink that is common in West Africa.  Then, he would measure his shadow for the afternoon prayer, and when he ascertained its time, he would proceed to the mosque and call the adhan.
After Asr, Murabit al-Hajj would return to his tent and usually resume teaching and sometimes listen to students recite their Qur’an lessons from memory and he would correct their mistakes.  During any lulls in his teaching, anyone in his presence could hear him say with almost every breath, “La ilaha illa Allah,” or he would recite Qur’an.  At sunset, he would go and call the adhan, pray Maghrib, and then sit in the mihrab and recite his wird until the time of the night prayer.  He would call the adhan, lead the pray and return to his tent.  He would usually have some milk and a little couscous and then listen to students recite Qur’an or read Qur’an by himself.  At around 9:00 pm he would admonish himself with lines of poetry from Imam Shafi’s Diwan and other well-known poets.  He would often remember death with certain lines that he repeated over and over again, especially the following that I heard from him many times:
O my Lord, when that which there is repelling alights upon me,
And I find myself leaving this adobe
And become Your guest in a dark and lonely place,
Then make the host’s meal for his guest the removal of my wrongs.
A guest is always honored at the hands of a generous host,
And You are the Generous, the Creator, the Originator.
Surely kings, as a way of displaying their magnanimity
Free their servants who have grown old in their service.
And I have grown old in Your service,
So free my soul from the Fire
He often repeats these lines for what seems like an eternity, his voice penetrating the hearts of all those within earshot.  He once admonished me with lines of poetry, one after another, until I wanted the earth to swallow me.  He said to me, “And what is man other than a comet that flashes brilliant light for a moment only to be reduced to ashes.”
He told me several times, “Hamza, this world is an ocean, and those who drown in it are untold numbers. Don’t drown.”
I have never seen anyone like him before him or after him, and I don’t think that I ever will.  May Allah reward him for his service to this din and his love and concern for the Muslims.  He was never known to speak ill of anyone.  Once when a student was studying Khalil with him and asked what a certain word meant in the text, he explained to him that it was a slow and clumsy horse.  The student then said, “like so-and-so’s horse?” At this Murabit al-Hajj suddenly became upset and said, “I don’t spend much time with people because they backbite, so if you want to study with me, you must never speak ill of anyone in my presence.” It is not well known by Muslims that to speak ill of someone’s animals falls under the ruling of backbiting. 
Sheikh Murabit al-Hajj is a master of the sciences of Islam, but perhaps more wondrous than that, he has mastered his own soul.  His discipline is almost angelic, and his presence is so majestic and ethereal that the one in it experiences a palpable stillness in the soul.  As the Arabs says, “the one who hears is not as the one who has seen.” I was told by many people from his family that had I seen him in his youth, I would have been even more astonished at his devotional practices.
He is recognized in Mauritania as being one of the last great scholars, and his fatwa is highly respected among the people of West Africa who know of him, and they are many.”[46]
In another article, Sheikh Hamza commented on his “transparency”:
“I never heard him say anything unkind or unflattering about anyone.  A cousin of his who has known him for seventy years affirmed this as well.
Murabit al-Hajj never complained or criticized the weather, the food, the company, or any of the hardships so evident in the lives of West African nomads.
Once, a man from Geru, a nearby village, saw Murabit al-Hajj in a dream in which he was praying naked.
Embarrassed, this man went to a well-known dream interpreter and told him the dream but not the identity of the naked man.
The interpreter said, "That could only have been Murabit al-Hajj, because I don't know anyone who prays in a completely pure-hearted state other than him."”[47]

Coming Home

After 10 years overseas, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf wrapped up his affairs and flew back to the United States. 
The barakah in his time overseas is apparent, as it seems he lived through several lifetimes.  In all he would have travelled through 7+ Countries, and studied under multiple teachers in each.
There are no details on why he came back to the US, but presumably he wanted to settle down, had completed his studies, or was told to do so by his teachers.
Whatever the reason, he moved to Imperial, California, a little outside of San Diego, right up against the Mexican Border. 
He studied Nursing and English from 1987 to 1990[48], gaining a degree in Nursing from Imperial College.  During this time, he was also working on a post-graduate degree as a student of homeopathy, with the Devon School of Homeopathy.   The Devon school of Homeopathy is in England, so presumably the work was completed via correspondence.
After finishing his degree, Sheikh Hamza worked in the Cardiac Care Unit of a Hospital[49]
Presumably, much of Sheikh Hamza’s experience in medicine, and his familiarity to Doctors and heart medicine was from this time period.[15]
After some time working, he re-enrolled in University and completed his Religious Studies / Comparative Religions degree at San Jose University   [50].  Soon afterwards he would enroll again for a Master’s Degree at Stanford, which did not start, was rejected, or was aborted partway[51].

American Imam

From 1990 to 1995, Sheikh Hamza started to transition from full-time worker to part-time lecturer and then finally full-time Imam.  For an unknown duration of time, Sheikh Hamza became the Imam at the Muslim community association of the Bay area and Santa Clara, California.[52]
Sheikh Hamza also got married around this time. (He would have 5 boys in total as of 2011).[53]
Very quickly, the Muslim community was able to recognize what they had in Sheikh Hamza, and as early as 1993, he was speaking at the National ISNA conference.  He reflected on these times during ISNA’s anniversary conference,
“When I look back and reflect on ISNA, I also have to look back and reflect on my own experience.  Because, I've seen ISNA grow, but I've also grown with ISNA.  I know the first time that I came here, to the ISNA conference, many years ago in 1993, which was a time when I look back on it, I was far more assured about myself then I am today.  I think that I have alot more certainty about Islam, that has grown, but the certainty I had about my own understanding, I think, has diminished.
Islam has become a much vaster thing to me.  It has become bigger, then I understood Islam.  When I first began speaking at ISNA…I know I can speak with certainty about Dr. Syed Syed.  He must have thought I was crazy.  But he was also very welcoming to me.  And I want to take one moment of remembrance of our dear brother Dr Mahboub Khan, Raheemullah, who really was the reason I started speaking at ISNA, 
…He was somebody who, and He said to me once, I don't agree with a lot of what you say.  But I know you're good for Islam in this country. 
So even though he had his own reservations, about some of my attitudes, which I think were probably justified at that time.  But despite that, he was also very encouraging.”[54]
Aside from ISNA speeches, he was also personally involved in Deen Intensives and Rihla’s.  Teaching students lucky enough (or smart enough) to know of him and able to attend his camps / programs. 

Establishing the Zaytuna Institute

After extensive work in the community, as Imam of Santa Clara Mosque, and giving talks and lectures around the country, Sheikh Hamza put his plan in place, and in 1996, he joined with Dr. Hesham Alalusi to found “The Zaytuna Institute”. 
It would not be until 1998 that they broke ground in Hayward California and established a physical building.  The building was purchased for $750,000 and needed a lot of work for use.[55]
In its own words: “Zaytuna Institute is a non-profit, educational institute and school founded and run by people committed to reviving time-tested methods of educating and transforming human beings. It is our belief that Islam offers a cohesive understanding of the world and a praxis for it that is able to cut through the illusion of contemporary nihilism and materialism.”
About 2008, when the new Zaytuna College building was completed close to Stanford, the original Zaytuna building was closed down.[16]

His Teachers

It’s difficult to identify all of Sheikh Hamza’s teachers, as he travelled so much, and mentioned so few of his adventures.  Of the known teachers list, they are all mentioned in his speeches:
1.     Murabit al Hajj[56] (Mauritania)
2.     Shaykh Khatri[57] (Mauritania)
3.     Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah[58] - Fiqh
4.     Shaykh Mohammad al-Yaqoubi [59] (California) – Maliki Fiqh
5.     Sheikh Abdullah Ould Siddiq [60] (United Arab Emirates)- Maliki Fiqh     
6.     Shaykh Baya bin Salik[61] (United Arab Emirates)
7.     Sheikh Bashir Shaqfah [62](United Arab Emirates)
8.     Muhammad Shaybani[63] (Abu Dhabi)
9.     Hamad al-Wali[64] (United Arab Emirates)
10.  Habib Ahmad Mashur  al-Hadad[65] (Yemen)[17]
11.  Muhammad al-Fatrati[18] - Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt
12.  Sheikh Ahmad Badawi [66] (Sudan) - Hadith
13.  Sidi Bou Said[67] (Tizi, Algeria) – Quran

Moving to Light Speed – 9/11 and beyond

 (I said to one of my teachers) “I really need to sit with you”.
And he said, “You have everything you need.  Just go out and defend the Muslims, and Inshallah, Allah give you Tawfeeq.”[68]
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf              (Seeking help after 9/11)
"Afghanistan is probably one of the greatest crimes against humanity…certainly in modern history.  It's not less tragic then much of what happened in World War II"[69]
– Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
 “I think that the attack on Afghanistan is a tragedy, and that it is has very frightening consequences." [70]         
–Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
And then two airplanes were crashed into the World Trade Center. 
Many events occurred both before and after 9/11; the simplest explanation is that Sheikh Hamza did what he could during that chaotic time period.  The US was in shock and marching towards war.  It was a difficult time for all Muslims in the West. 
He has been attacked roundly by Non-Muslims and Muslims alike for his actions and statements during that time.  (Some of his own acquaintances would admonish him publically for some of his statements.)[19]
Speaking of that time, Sheikh Hamza reflected later about life before and after 9/11,
“On Sept 11, my life was changed very radically; I thought I had a busy life before Sept 11.  It was actually slow, calm and enabled me time to reflect and time to think about things at a deeper level; What I found after September 11, things began to move so quickly that I really missed the opportunity of just being able to sit back and deliberate.”

Meetings with Bush

“My initial reaction was, ‘Whoever goes into the places where Rulers are, they will have tribulations’
That's a Hadith, and I proved it right…again"[71]
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
"I would say in terms of the response of the United States, I was deeply troubled by it, I think it was a very aggressive and really in many ways, I don't think it was justifiable”[72]
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
Seven days after the Twin Towers fell, President Bush requested to meet with a Muslim leader.  A Muslim aide in the White House knew Sheikh Hamza personally, and when the request was presented to him, the aide contacted Sheikh Hamza.[20]
In Parallel, while Sheikh Hamza was in Washington, the FBI sent several agents to his house to question him regarding some statements he had made earlier that year.  To the FBI’s great consternation, Sheikh Hamza’s wife told the agents that they could find him with the President.
Back from Washington, Sheikh Hamza organized a talk to explain what had happened at the White House.  The lecture was given away free by Alhambra Productions at that time.
“It was a very difficult trip.  I was asked by somebody I know.  People probably know he’s working in the White house.  He’s a Muslim, son of a very prominent Muslim. 
He called me up and said, ‘They’re asking for somebody to come and talk to the President, and represent the Muslims’.  And he said, he thought that I would be the best person, in my estimation, “So can you do that, can you come?”
I talked to Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.  And he said it was a Fard on me.  “You have to go.”
I went, and I was part of about 30 religious leaders there.  The Head of the Mormons was there, Head of the Franklin Ministries, his son Franklin Graham.  The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in America.  Just a lot of prominent religious leaders (were there): The Tibetan lama, there was one of the Heads of one of the National Sikh Organizations and a Methodist Bishop, a lot of different people.
From that group, a handful, six of us, were asked to meet with President Bush in the Oval Office. 
I put forward 4 points.  We were given quite a bit of time, I was allowed to say all the points that I wanted to say. 
I gave a copy of the “Essential Qur’an” and I had spent the night before going through it and putting stick’ems on all the verses that I thought were the most pertinent.  I said, ‘I know you’re very busy, so if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, read these verses.’
And then I gave him a book, “Thunder in the Sky”, which is a book that Thomas Cleary translated on the humanistic use of power.  How to use power to benefit humans and not to harm them.  I also gave him a piece of Calligraphy that Mohammed Zakariya did (he did the Eid stamp). 
When I called him (Mohammed Zakariya), he’s in Virginia, he lives a few miles away from the Pentagon, he was writing what’s called a Hilya in calligraphy, from the Shifa of Qada Yad, and it was a description of the Prophet SAW from Amr bin Al-Aws. When he heard the explosion, he told me the sentence he was literally writing was, “He would never repel an evil with another evil.  But he forgave and he condoned.”
The beauty of this, is that only Allah can do this.  That’s for Mohamed Zakariya, because Allah is the Author of this. Allah is the one who has decreed all of this.  And that was for Mohamed Zakariya.  It was a moment for him, and then it was related to the present.
That’s our teaching, that’s his description, and that’s why we know that no matter what America has done to Muslims anywhere, our teaching is that we don’t pay evil for evil.  And that’s Islam, it’s not all this rage and anger that’s out there.  That is Islam, and it’s a hard thing to do, but when you remember, that this is dunya, and you’re looking at Infinity, you’re not looking at dunya, you’re not looking at 50, 60, 70 years, you’re looking at infinity.  And you want Allah to forgive you for your own evil. 
Isn’t that what we all want? We just want forgiveness on Uom al-Qiyyama, because we’re all guilty.
We think that we’re independent of Allah.  We’re all guilty from that perspective.  But the point is, here he is writing that, and I told him (President Bush) that, “this is what he was writing, when the Pentagon was struck, ‘That he does not repel an evil with an evil.’”
That’s the beauty of our Deen.  That’s a true story, it’s not made up.  Because, Mohammed Zakariya is a true Sadiq, He’s Truthful, he doesn’t lie.  And I believe him, I don’t need any witnesses, the angels were the witnesses.  Those are our two Just witnesses. 
The points that I made, the first was emphasizing and that it had to be reiterated again and again that Islam does not have anything to do with this.  That this is not the teaching of Islam, it’s the religion that teaches mercy, compassion and when it uses martial force, it uses it with just laws.  Non-combatants are never involved. 
It’s based on legitimate authority, not on vigilantism.  We don’t believe in vigilantism, we don’t believe in outlaws. 
We don’t believe in Robin Hood.  It’s kind of interesting: in this culture, Robin Hood is a hero.  He stole from the rich and gave to the poor
Then even more bizarre, and I told them this on 60 minutes, I doubt they’ll put that on there.  I said Samson is the first suicide bomber, and he’s in the Bible.  If you don’t know the story of “Shamsoon”, Samson was in the temple of the Philistines, he was an Israeli.  He asked, ‘where are the pillars that hold the temple up?’, and he goes and in chains, he pushes them, killed himself and everybody else.  As revenge for the Israeli’s against the wrongs of their enemies.
 I was taught that as a child, he was a hero.  That’s not in the Qur’an, it’s conspicuously absent from the Qur’an. 
The second point was the danger of Polarization.  That this could polarize the world.  And we could get a self-fulfilling prophecy of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’: China, Islam vs. the West.  Nobody wants that, there is no benefit in that, except for warmongerers.  People that make money off of the Death of other people. 
And then the idea of consensus.  I had already talked to Sh Abdullah bin Bayyah, and I also conveyed that to some Arab Ambassadors, that I felt that there should be a summit meeting of the most prominent Muslim Ulema in the Muslim world to declare Terrorism as inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and that it is prohibited by Ijma and that there should be an Ijma of that. 
This should be rejected, and I also suggested that there should be one done of the Abrahamic religions in somewhere like Rome or Jerusalem or somewhere there’s a declaration that it is not consistent with the teachings of the Prophets the taking of Innocent lives, whether it is State Terrorism or individual terrorism, it is rejected by religion, and let them be seen as what they are: political means to political ends.
That’s not what the Prophet’s came to teach.  They came to teach Prophetic means to Prophetic ends.
The last was about oppression. That this country had a responsibility in creating just regimes because of the power this country has.  That we have to recognize the oppression and extreme circumstances in the Muslim world that breeds the type of extremism that exists in some parts of the Muslim world. 
I think that Muslims are incredibly moderate.  I think the Iraqi’s have displayed incredible patience and perseverance and lack of animosity and hatred.  I think the Muslims are a testimony.  One thing, Ismail Faruqi said, he was in debate once, and I heard this from somebody that was present and a man he was debating was just saying how terrible the Muslims were and Ismail Faruqi said, “You see the Muslims now with their corruption, and you go to their countries and you can laugh at how corrupt these countries are and despicable, but have you seen us suffer?  Have you seen what happens to us when we get afflicted with pain and suffering?  Then you’ll know who we are”. 
He said “because when we lose all our money we don’t jump out of buildings”.  We say “Mashallah, La Kuwata illa Billah”.  And that’s the truth.  You know the Muslims have been incredibly patient in the light of all this….
…I was asked to be the guest that night, of the First Lady, and I was told that there was going to be a speech, I had no idea that it would be, the way it was, I really didn’t.  But that’s the situation I was in.  And my intentions in it were trying do what I could do, in this type of crisis.  I mean you just you have to do what you think is the right thing and the best thing for the overall benefit and I would say not just for Muslims but for everybody.  Al-Mas lahul-ama.  Because we have a concern for humanity in general, and certainly for the Muslims in particular. 
Always, the Ummah is paramount, but we’re also supposed to be caretakers of humanity.  That’s a task that we’re given by Allah.  So we should not act without the rest of humanity in our considerations. 
Something that I really want to emphasize here, I thought that the most profound person and the one that seemed to be the most genuine person of all these people that I met, was Rabbi Joshua Habberman.  What he said to Bush, he defended Islam. 
I looked over at him, we were In this room, it was the Roosevelt room or something, and there was all these (dignitaries there)…Mayor Giuliani was there, and the Governor of New York, and the chief of staff and all these big (people), and he was sitting in a corner reading something in Hebrew.  Everybody else was smoozing and doing all that. 
I went over and sat next to him and said “What are you reading?” 
He said, “I was reading the Psalms.” 
He was, he just seemed like a genuine person. We spoke quite a bit, He felt most comfortable (with me) I think. 
He just said “You know the tragedy of this, is that American’s are so ignorant of Islam.  And they don’t know the greatness of the Civilization, they don’t know history and they really think this represents in anyway, Islam.” 
He said, “This is the real tragedy” and he said “And I’ll tell you, I know as somebody who has studied Islam, the easiest religion for a Jewish person to convert to is Islam. “
Wallahi, that’s what he said to me. 
“Your Shariah is not that different from what Musa was given”, Moses he said, “was given.“
And there’s good people out there.  You know, that person was a genuine, that’s what I got from him, and I asked him, are you a student of Martin Luber, he said “Yes”.
And that’s what Martin Luber was about, having real regard for other human beings.  I think that as, we Muslims need to inculcate that in our relations with these other people…
…One of the Bishops said to the President, in the Oval Office, “You have to remind the American people what the Bible tells us, ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord”.  That’s what he said, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord”.  Don’t make this vengeance.  Because that’s what people want, they want vengeance, and vengeance is not from any of the Prophetic traditions.
And the other thing, and I did say about ‘Infinite Justice’, it’s an Attribute of God.  It’s like saying You’re God.  And he was shocked, and he said, ‘We don’t have any theologians down at the Pentagon, and they name this stuff.’  And they changed the name. 
Alhamdulillah, but see, that’s the thing; demystify power and a lot of it, is just a lot of ignorance.
…He seemed to be listening very attentively to what I had to say…when I mentioned a couple things, he confirmed it, said ‘Absolutely I agree whole heartedly with that.’  I was told, he had mentioned to one of the aids there, the presentation and points made and explanations were useful.  I was told that.
Four or five times he specifically came up to me, shook my hand very firmly and thanked me in what seemed to me a very hearty thanks for just coming.  And edifying him…
…That was my take on it. I was impressed.  There were only 3 of us that spoke in that meeting.  Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, said a very short thing that he was willing to go wherever to service the troops, if there was going to be a war.  The Jewish man said that he really hoped that the President would reconsider that, that he felt that war was the worst thing to do.  And he was emphatic about that.  But I did feel that he did listen, and that he asked people to pray.  He asked the people there to go back to their communities to really ask people to pray…
…Afghanistan, I did mention Afghanistan to him.  I said that I felt that the Afghani’s have been so hard hit and there’s been so much death and destruction there, that they can’t take anymore.  And that the vast majority of those people are innocent people.  I mentioned that more Innocent blood is going to further polarize the world, and there is going to be more Muslims that view America as inherently belligerent towards the Muslims.  And that it’s going to turn into a Christian-Muslim type thing. 
He said that it was a major fear of theirs.  He said, “I was rebuked for using the word Crusade.” 
He said, “When I said it, I didn’t mean it in a religious connotation.”  But it was the first word that came to him, because it is an English word that indicates that.  If you look it up in the dictionary, that’s what it means.  So, there seemed to be a real serious concern there. 
And I think the deliberation here, because it looked like they were just going to go and bomb like crazy.  And it seems like, and I’m really hoping and praying to Allah SWT, that it doesn’t escalate.  But it is slowing down a little bit…”[73]
Well it did escalate.  And they did bomb like crazy.  And the rest would go down in history.


“I played little league and high school baseball. I was actually the captain of my high school baseball team. 
And in baseball, when you play in the little leagues, it's split; You have Peewee league, Little league and the Majors.  And in Little League, the balls are very slow.
When you move up to High School ball, they get faster. By the time you get into College and Pro-Ball, you can barely see them.
And all of us felt in many ways, at some level, we were people that had been up at bat against very slow pitches, and suddenly now we're up against Major League pitchers. 
And they're saying 3 strikes, you're out, and you haven't even seen the first pitch.  You literally haven't seen the first pitch. 
…These people are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions, to illicit responses from you that are already pre-determined.  And if you don’t know how to deal with that, if you're not trained to do that, you can easily end up doing things that are a disservice to the community.
And I have felt the pangs of that, painfully.”[74]
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
Much later, Sheikh Hamza defended his actions during the final months of 2001.  He repeatedly stated that he did not have the training to step into the international light, and did the best he could.
He would open up about those days, during an interview with Haroon Sellers,[21]
“For people who are familiar with my work, amongst some of them, there was this idea that I made this 180 degree turn (after 9/11).  And it’s simply not true.  And for people that really knew me before…it was very consistent with what I think, what I believe.  So I was thrust into certain situations that I personally don’t believe I was prepared for, I really wasn’t.
To use a sports metaphor, it was like someone in the little leagues suddenly getting thrust into the big leagues, and without having any training.  And the speed of the pitch was so much faster. 
I certainly did not have any media understanding.  I did theoretically, but actually living it, experiencing it, seeing how your words can be maligned.  I hadn’t experienced that before as an individual.  I’d read about it.  I’d heard about people, who had it happen to them. 
To experience it, is very different….What does that mean to be in front of millions of people?  What does it mean, when CNN has a camera in your face and they’re asking you a question, and you’re realizing this is going out to millions of people.  And I have to say, what is going to be the most judicious statement that I believe, and the least harmful, to the Muslims overall.
So, I was put into a position that…I was certainly not neither ready for, nor fully cognizant of its import.  So, that was a major lesson for me.  That people are being paid, these interviewers are being paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars because they’re very clever people. If they want something, they know how to get it.  They know how to elicit a response.  And, if you don’t know how that game works, you can be abused and manipulated.  And that was a lesson. 
But overall…the latter half of the decade of the 90’s, about ‘96 onward, I was having a lot of introspection about the state of the Muslim community.  And you’ll see that in talks that I gave.  I think a good one is the Stations of Gratitude and the duties of Brotherhood, where I did talk about certain things that were very troubling in the Muslim community, and that was long before 9/11. 
So, when people saw me suddenly. People that didn’t follow a lot of my talks, they didn’t know what I was all about.  They might have seen me once at ISNA, or heard me a few times, and they really didn’t follow my thought.  As because I had been teaching for a long time, and I have a lot of material out there, particularly recorded material, not as much written material, which is part of the problem, because in written material, it’s much less difficult to misunderstand.  Oral speech is actually very complicated, because the grammar is not in the speech, “[75]
On his Blog, Sheikh Hamza wrote about his Radio interview about Jihad,
“I once said on a radio program, `Jihad is never used in the Qur’an to mean war.` [22]  Many people misunderstood my statement and, in response, quoted several Qur’anic verses that used various derivations of the verb “jahada.”
In the Qur’an, various forms of the word occur four times. In Surah Taubah, it is used in the indefinite form, which can be understood to exalt it; however, according to some of the great usuli scholars, it is for generality, as not all of the Usuli scholars stipulate a negative before an indefinite to mean a generality (people who know usul will know what that means), and so it refers to the general struggle of Muslims, which obviously includes going out to defend themselves but is not limited to that type of struggle only.”[76]

Weapons of Mass Destruction

“And I shake, for the children`s hearts, that were petrified, as the bombs dropped on Baghdad.  And I feel ashamed, that I`m in this country, when things like that that can happen in out lifetime. 
And we reject it, we reject it.  We will speak the truth, and we are American`s and we are Muslims.”[77]          
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
“They say it’s not about the oil.  But…it's about the Oil”[78]        -Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
“I have never supported War.  I do not believe in War in the modern world.  I am totally against War.  I am against War in all of its Modern manifestations.  Because all I see is human suffering, when I see War.  And therefore I want to end War.”[79]|
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf

The Decade After

“Regarding the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem,
I once heard a student of Keith Kritchlow, who’s a professor here in England in Sacred Architecture.  And I heard this professor give a lecture, and he said, “It is almost a perfect design, but there`s only one problem. It’s lacking the intermediary piece.”
And what he said is, the Dome represents Heaven, and the Octagonal base represents Earth.  But there is not an intermediary piece, and in Architecture, this is something that is lacking, because we always need that intermediary piece and you’ll see this in many sacred structures; A third piece.
I went up to him, and this is Ilham, Alhamdullilah, I went up to him, after the lecture and said, “With all respect to your knowledge, I’m not an architect, and my knowledge is very little in this field.  But you are mistaken; there’s a reason why they left out that piece.”
And he said, “What is that?”
And I said, “This represents the meeting of Heaven and Earth, without intermediary, because this represents the meeting that the Prophet (SAWS) had with his Lord, without the mediation of Gabriel.”
And he literally just said, “Wow”, which is the way non-Muslims say ‘Subhanallah’.”[80]
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
Sheikh Hamza has taken on a larger role in the Post 9/11 world.  Where before, he was at the re-educating Muslims at a personal level, he has moved forward to present his Dawah to the World. 
When the Danish Cartoons became an international topic, Sheikh Hamza was invited to Denmark to speak to the groups there.
Among his many numerous activities in the past several years have been the creation of an Islamic Educational TV show for the Arab world entitled “Rihla” (Journey) or “'Yalla Shabab” on MBC. 
The focus for the show has been to overshadow Arab Soap Opera’s that premiere specifically during Ramadan.  With several years behind it, and a high ranking, the show is doing quite well in the Middle East.  Many Muslims now recognize Sheikh Hamza on the streets of the Middle East due largely in part to this show.
At the international level, Sheikh Hamza entered the ranks of the UN. 
 “He is a member of the C100, a division of the world economic forum, a high level group to strategize in ways which bridges can be built between the West and the Muslim world.  He was also a special advisor to the United Nations high level committee, “The Alliance of Civilizations” and was a discussion leader at the UN’s meeting in Doha.”[81]


“I always take that with a serious grain of salt, like being the most influential Muslim Scholar in the West, because I'm having trouble influencing my 16 year old right now.”
-Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
In 2009, The Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre[23] published the “500 Most Influential Muslims” publication amid much criticism.  Sheikh Hamza was ranked 38th Most influential in 2009, and 42nd in 2010.  He was the only North American Muslim to break the top 50 list.  The short text on Sheikh Hamza bears printing:
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson is the Western world's most influential Islamic scholar. He is seen as one of the foremost authorities on Islam outside of the Muslim world, having spent a decade learning at some of the premier institutions in the Islamic world. He runs the incredibly successful Zaytuna Institute in California.
Hanson is fundamentally an American scholar. His popularity, and accordingly his influence, stem from the fact that although his knowledge of Islamic scholarship is comparable to that of important scholars in Muslim countries, his application of it is rooted in the lived experience of a normal American. In his speeches he is able to relate Islamic teachings in a way that American Muslims find easy to understand.
Hanson is one of the founders of the Zaytuna Institute. This institute is one of the most well respected centers of Islamic education in North America. It has been groundbreaking in combining cutting edge educational technologies with traditional Islamic education-setting the standard for Islamic education in the West. Hanson has built a huge grassroots following, particularly among young western Muslims.


Around 2003, Sheikh Hamza began to increase the number of books he published per year.  His books continue to typically be translations of pre-modern Islamic Arabic texts. 
Some of the books he has authored: The Burda (2003), Purification of the Heart (2004), The Content of Character (2004), The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (2007), Agenda to Change our Condition (2007), Walking on Water (2010) and The Prayer of the Oppressed.
His book “Prayer of the Oppressed” preluded the “Arab Spring” by only 6 months.  The Tunisian and Egyptian Government’s fell within 6 months of the book’s publication.  In the introduction to the text, he speaks of the miraculous nature of the poem (Prayer of the Oppressed),
“On the night we finished the recording in Fes[24], it was quiet and still when we emerged from the studio, into the cool night air and went for a late dinner.  Then, at around three o'clock in the morning…(we) set out with Mohammed Bennis and his fellow singers, in a car, to our hotel to pick up our bags and leave immediately for the taxi stand outside Bab Boujloud. One of the people of goodness in England had entrusted me with a monetary gift to deliver to Sidi Ismail Filali, a sincere servant of God who lives in Fes, spending his days carding wool and his nights calling on God. Because we had to catch an early flight from Tangiers later that day and had a drive of several hours ahead of us, I knew I would not have time to visit him and deliver the gift; so I asked Sidi Mohammed if he would do it. No sooner had I completed the question than we happened to pass by a large, windowless van with a man standing alongside it. It must have been 3:30 AM by now. Sidi Mohammed exclaimed, that looks just like Sidi Ismail! 
We swung the car around and went back to find that, sure enough, it was Sidi Ismail. We greeted each other, embracing warmly, and Sidi Ismail exclaimed, Glory to God! We just finished the Burdah and a recitation of the Qur'an in its entirety, and in the closing supplication, I asked God to see you tonight! By God, I swear it is true, and I did not know you were in Morocco. No sooner had I absorbed the import of what he told me than another surprise awaited me. Sidi Ismail opened the back door of the van revealing about twenty spiritual seekers with radiant faces. As if conducting an orchestra, Sidi Ismail raised his hands, and as he brought them down, the entire group broke into a spontaneous rendition of the prayer of Imam al-Dar'i, the very prayer we had just finished recording with the Fes Singers. This much is true: Sidi Ismail had no knowledge that I was in Morocco at that time, nor that we had just completed the recording of the prayer of Imam al-Dar'i. God is my Witness. 
Upon returning to the United States with the recording…my task was largely done, but there remained one missing piece: I had hoped to include the poem's chain of transmission back to Imam al-Dar'i, for the blessing of its lineage and the barakah of its narrators. I asked a close friend and scholar who had the chain, but a few years passed, and it was not forthcoming. I thought perhaps that I should not put the work out and that it was something not meant to be, as I felt insistent on acquiring the chain as a permission from its author, so to speak. 
On a blessed journey to Medina last year with my teacher and dearest friend, Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a master of both the inward and outward sciences, I happened to mention to him, while riding in a car in the middle of the Arabian desert, that I had translated the poem of Imam al-Dar'i. He smiled and said, He is in my chain from my father. I then boldly requested from him the chain of transmission. He looked at me and said, God willing. Time passed, and no chain came. I was beginning to believe that the poem would remain in my large collection of incomplete works. Then, on a more recent trip, as I was leaving for Medina again from Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah's house in Jeddah, he gave me the chain, and I felt it was time to release this poem.”[82]
How many an author has already published their text before the ink is dry?  Alhamdulillah, for the Ulema who still stand with the traditional way.

Taking Zaytuna to the Next Level

A large part of Sheikh Hamza’s focus from 2007 to 2012, has been to move Zaytuna to the next level; namely, as an accredited Ivy League University. 
Possibly, as part of that effort, he has taken on roles at various Universities as an advisor.  Currently, (in 2011) he is an advisor at Stanford University, in their Program in Islamic Studies[25].  As well, he advises for “The Center for Islamic Studies” at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union. He also serves as a member of the board of advisors of George Russell's One Nation[26]. In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal.[83]
Zaytuna College, as it is now called, has already (in 2011) completed its first year.

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