Middle East studies in the News
Muslim Leader Admits Anti-Semitism, Racism Rife Within Muslim Communities [on Hamza Yusuf]
by Jonathan D. Halevi
January 2, 2017
Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar and the co-founder of Zaytuna College, came under fire in the Muslim community in the US and Canada following his statements at the Reviving the Islamic (RIS) Spirit conference in Toronto (December 24-27, 2016) about black on black crime. Numerous American and Canadian Muslim scholars, Imams, community leaders and activists harshly criticized Hamza Yusuf blaming him of racism and some even of deviating from Islam.
Speaking with Mehdi Hassan at RIS, Hamza Yusuf said among other things the following:
"A lot of the problems in the United States with the black community being shot by the police –we have about 15,000, between 15 to 18 thousand homicides a year, 50 percent are black on black crime, literally 50 pe[rcent]... One black person being shot or white, there are twice as many whites had been shot by police, but nobody ever shows those videos. It's the assumption is the police are racist and it's not always the case, and I think it's very dangerous again to just broad stroke any police now that shoots a black is immediately considered a racist and sometimes these are African-American police officers... It is an important debate though, because I think, you know, we can't, the police aren't all racist, we cannot say that."
Under the pressure of criticism, Hamza Yusuf apologized:
"I just want to say one thing about the other night. I should listen to the audio and I understand why some people got upset and I sincerely my intention was never to offend or upset anybody. I actually went to, my mind sometimes gets ahead of me especially when I'm tired, and there was no transition to where I was trying to get to, and so it does actually came out as very insensitive to me listening to it personally. So you know there's a sincere apology to anybody that was offended."
Abdullah Hakim Quick, member of the Canadian Council of Imams lashed out at Hamza Yusuf and went out to say that he does not represent Mohammad, whom Muslims believe is the final prophet sent to humanity. On December 25, 2016, Quick posted the following:
"Muslim leaders in the Americas who do not recognize the systematic subjugation and continued suppression of Black people in the West and do not speak clearly against the organized racism that is raising its head today should step down and keep their mouths shut!!! They do not represent Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in their cowardice and should stop blaming Black People and Native People for their weak family structure or drug addiction. Stop victimizing the victims. Is their no blood in our veins or is it cold water? Are Muslims attending conferences to be entertained or to seek guidance? May Allah raise up courageous leadership from our people and protect us from hypocrisy!!!"
Boonaa Mohammed, Canadian senior Dawah (preacher) activist, writer and performer, slammed Hamza Yusuf for accusing the black community of its own problems. The following are excerpts from Boonaa Mohammed's Facebook post on December 26, 2016:
"I'm glad Sh. Hamza Yusuf clarified his statements at #RIS2016 and it takes a big man to own up to mistakes. I don't believe he had malicious intent and hates black people or is a racist at heart...
"Even in the middle of his apology at 15:50, he goes onto repeat that he believes "the biggest crisis facing the African American community in the United States is NOT racism, it is the breakdown of the black family". (The audience than goes onto clap for him) This statement is loaded with so much racism that it's really hard to comprehend an educated Muslim, never mind a scholar, would actually agree to it.
"In essence, this is a false narrative which completely undermines the history of slavery in North America, the ghettoization of black people, the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, the continuation of police brutality, lack of access to education, health care and employment opportunities and the overall institutionalized system of racism which was designed to advance white people at the expense of people of colour... why is it so hard to understand the plight of Black People is rooted in systematic discrimination and not baby daddy issues?..
"Personally I forgive him, as I believe he is a man of Taqwa and wouldn't intentionally try and harm anyone at that level. But I do believe in this regard he is VERY wrong and needs to be educated alongside his fan boys/girls who are more obsessed with defending him than they are with defending the truth. I do see this whole incident as a good internal case study for Muslim leaders and activists alike, that it doesn't matter how big you think you are, everyone is in need of improvements."
Tarek Fatah, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, who is ostracized by the mainstream Muslim community because of his secular views, said that radical Muslims managed to shut down a moderate voice in the Muslim community only because he dared to speak the truth. On December 26, 2016, Tarek Fatah posted the following:
"One of the nicest Islamic clerics in America, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf faces the wrath of Islamists at a Toronto Islamic Conference. His crime? He touched on Black on Black violence. I've met him twice and have heard him countless times and he has been a voice of moderation and humility. Now for speaking the truth he is being grounded."
Interestingly, Hamza Yusuf's statements at the same Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto on anti-Semitism and racism within Muslim communities went unchallenged.
Based on his own experience and knowledge, Hamza Yusuf revealed that the Muslim communities in North America are rife with hatred toward Jews and racism against non-Arabs.
The following is the transcript of Hamza Yusuf's statement at RIS:
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"We should all be against any ideologies of superiority of one people over another people. It is completely antithetical proposition, but we have some of the worst racism in our own community... We have some of the worst racism in our own community. The anti-Jewish rhetoric, you know, here in the Islamic community is horrific.
"And one of the things about Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah who is an Arab Sheikh – I've never over 20 years I've known him, I've never heard him saying a bad word about Jewish people ever, and yet I've heard in our community so many blatant remarks [about Jews].
"Also, do you know what it is like to be a Pakistani in a lot of Gulf states or in India or from Kerala even worse. Do you know? Talk about people, talk about white privilege, what about Arab privilege over non-Arabs in the Middle East? I mean, I just feel like we have so little moral capital while pointing our finger at other people and it actually makes me a little sick to my stomach when I see all these people rising up about this anti, you know, anti this kind of white privilege and all these things and it's like our community is rife with these things [racism] and our religion is so profound... [Question: How do you deal with that in our community?] by practicing Islam, that would be a good start."
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