Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Controversy
The Muslim Twitterverse erupted this past Friday (12/23) in response to false and racially insensitive statements made by world renown American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf at the Annual Revitalizing the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention in Toronto Canada.
During a Q & A session moderated by Mehdi Hassan, Shaykh Hamza was asked if it was a mistake that in general Muslims have gone “awol” during anti-racist movements such as Black Lives Matter. He responded in part by explaining that “there are twice as many whites that have been shot by police but nobody ever shows those videos. It’s the assumption that the police are racist and it’s not always the case…I think it’s very dangerous to just broadstroke any police that shoots a black as immediately being considered a racist, sometimes these are African American police officers. The police aren’t all racist.” The following day, Shaykh Hamza sought to address the swirling controversy in his keynote speech. Unfortunately, many of his subsequent statements were also viewed as inflammatory. One statement in particular stood out for many: “The biggest crisis facing the African American community in the US, is not racism. It is the breakdown of the Black family. I think it is one of the great tragedies of that community”. This remark harkened back to the negative and stereotypical tropes of Black pathology developed over 50 years ago in the “Moynihan Report” and used to obscure the very real structural and systemic inequalities faced by the Black community.
Given the tendency for our social media feeds to become echo chambers confirming our pre-existing views, many folks have not had an opportunity to read or hear perspectives from those with whom they may have differing opinions.
See below the RIS2016 ROUND UP: a brief timeline and selective (not exhaustive) list of those leaders and others who have weighed in on the controversy and its fall out in the community.
Imam Suhaib Webb
"I feel compelled to address what Sheikh Hamza Yusuf said tonight at @RIS since I was there. My hope is that he will issue a clarification so we can all get on with our lives. His mistakes tonight illustrate the need for scholars and activists to sit together and learn from each other. If not, I fear that the gulf between the two will only grow wider."
Darakshan Raja - A Few Points
co-Director, Washington Peace Center
"...A few points to note:
- Sh. Yusuf stated that had Muslims lived anywhere else after 9/11, it would have been much worse, so while its not perfect in the US, the US does have a better "criminal justice" system in the world and has some of the best anti-discriminatory laws.
CORRECTION: The US is the leading jailer in history. The US incarcerates more people than most nations combined. The mass incarceration system in the US has been recognized as a system that is a continuation of Jim Crow. There are numerous texts by Black scholars on this and people can watch the 13th on Netflix to get a better sense. There has also been a recognition that the mass incarceration system has played a destructive force in Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities..."
Got Privilege? Leadership, Accountability and Dismantling AntiBlack Racism in the American Ummah
Islam Today Radio Show, Host Kameelah Rashad
Islam Today Radio Show on WURD900am with host Kameelah Rashad with special guests Donna Auston, PhD candidate in Anthropology at Rutgers University and Margari Hill, co-Founder of MuslimARC. The Muslim Twitterverse erupted this past Friday 12/23 in response to false and racially insensitive statements made by world renown American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf at the Annual Revitalizing the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention in Toronto Canada. Three Black Muslim women, Kameelah Rashad, Donna Auston and Margari Hill provide insight and expert commentary on race, racism and movement building in the American Muslim community
Yasmin Mogahed - Reflections
"There have been very high emotions on all sides regarding Sh. Hamza's statement at RIS. I did not hear about it on social media. And I did not walk in at the end. I was sitting in the front rows, present from the beginning til the end of both the original, as well as the clarifying statements the following day. Here are my reflections."
Dawud Walid - Thoughts
"My thoughts regarding Shaykh Hamza & the #RIS2016 controversy:
1) Though he made a number of statements pertaining to race that I see very differently and in fact found a couple to be highly offensive, I don't believe him to have malicious intentions. Those who are calling him a white supremacist are being extreme."
Imam Omar Suleiman - Religious Leadership
"As your religious leadership, we are all deeply flawed human beings just like you. We make mistakes, deserve to be held accountable, and deserve second chances just like you. Do not feel like you need to defend our mistakes. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Defending us and defending our mistakes are not the same thing. The best thing you can do is to lovingly help us see our errors without transgressing in response to our transgression..."
HInd Makki - Unanimous in Heartache & Anger
"When the vastly diverse, Black and African American Muslim communities, from east to west, north to south, males and females, Canadians and Americans, academics and religious leaders and lay persons, converts and raised-Muslims, Millennials and Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, progressives and traditionalists - are nearly unanimous in their heart ache and anger, the conversation must cease to be about whether a thing was misinformed and unintended to harm; the conversation must be about centering the aggrieved and repairing the harm."
Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick - Speak Clearly
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"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!!!"
Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick - Call for Operational Unity
Call for Operational Unity
The recent controversy surrounding 'Black Lives Matter' and 'Racism' at the RIS Convention in Toronto has raised up a lot of emotions. I want to make it clear that my strong statements were made as a result of my 'life experience'. As an African American with a Native Grandparent, I was a child of the "Sixties" in the USA and watched my friends get killed, jailed and exiled in the struggle for liberation. I suffered personally from Racism and White Privilege so for me there is no compromise with these evils.
As for Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, I have known him personally and found him to be a person with a sincere heart, a brilliant mind and a excellent practice of Islam. Sometimes when people are put in positions that they are not suited for, they say and do things that are hurtful and misunderstood. This does not mean that we, as Muslims who disagree, should demonize each other or feel hatred in our hearts.
Linda Sarsour - It's Real, It's Raw
"...This all is to say that we should recognize that scholars, imams, activists, media personalities have greater responsibilities than the ordinary person and this must be taken seriously. We must also recognize that these people are human beings - flawed human beings. They make mistakes. Sometimes we have to repent. We should also stay in our lanes and be comfortable with saying "this is not my area, I defer to so and so".
Let's not idolize anyone because when we do - we will always be disappointed. Our community must also not shy away from uncomfortable & courageous conversations - this is needed in order to unite us in a way we need so badly right now. Let's not dismiss the pain and hurt that lives within so many of us, in particular Black & indigenous communities. It's real, it's raw..."
Hamza Yusuf Stokes Controversy with Comments about Black Lives Matter and Political Islam
"The prominent American Muslim theologian Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has been widely criticised for comments he made about the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Answering a question about whether Muslims should get more involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement which campaigns against systematic violence and racism against black people, Shaykh Hamza went onto defend the American criminal justice system. Speaking at the Reviving Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto yesterday, he later went onto criticise political Islam".
Hamza Yusuf and the Dangers of Black Pathology
"Black pathology is the idea that black people are—perhaps simply by virtue of being born black—steeped in pathology, unable to think and behave normally, healthily, sanely. Black pathology states that we are inherently flawed, not in a “all of mankind is flawed” sort of way, but in a “something is specifically wrong with those people” sort of way. So the many problems that have befallen black people have nothing to do with concerted efforts of concentrated racism and everything to do with our messed up wiring, which prevents us from pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps like so many others. Yes, I know Yusuf never made such bold and direct claims, but there was definite danger in his words.
White Racial Rhetoric & Black American Muslims
Layla Abdullah-Poulos, NbAMuslims
Imam Shadeed Muhammad, Rawdah.org
They say that panic causes tunnel vision, and there is no doubt that the callous broad brush response of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a clear indication of this truth. Positions of privilege have afforded many the luxury to speak without parameters, and without consideration of the 'whole picture'.
The response of Shaykh Hamza was dismissive and undeniably erroneous, and lends to the one-dimensional narrative that has contaminated the view of many in the Muslim world with respect to the state of the African American community. False eloquence is an exaggeration, while true eloquence is simply emphasis.
#BlackMuslimFamily Twitter Chat
sponsored by Muslim Wellness Foundation
"....The Black community is continually bombarded with messages and images that we are inferior, pathological, lazy, irresponsible and biologically prone to criminality. Our families are depicted as dysfunctional, fatherless, drug addicted and fundamentally defective. Many have been hurt and shocked by the statements made by an esteemed leader. We wholeheartedly reject this characterization of our families. We are resilient, we are beautiful, we are grounded in a belief that God is our guide and protector. We must affirm who we are and celebrate our own humanity, as it is clear that it would be a mistake to wait for others to do so on our behalf.
Join us on Twitter this evening (6pm EST) for the #BlackMuslimFamily conversation. How do you resist internalizing these negative messages about the Black family? Share your thoughts about the personal and emotional impact of the Black pathology trope. Post your own pictures, reflections and affirmations demonstrating the beauty, dignity and strength of the Black Family in Islam!
Shaykh Yasir Qadhi - Quick Points Re: #RIS2016
"Some quick points regarding the #RIS2016 controversy:
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable and respected figures of Islam in the Western world. He is senior to me in age (he embraced Islam while I was still a toddler!), has spent more years preaching and teaching Islam, and has studied Islam in more countries than I have.
An attack on his persona in light of minor slips is not only unwarranted, it is un-Islamic. We are all humans in the end of the day, but some of us have spent a lifetime of service that should make the rest of us pause before we engage in character assassination..."
Muslim Wellness Foundation
Discussing Controversy - Hamza Yusuf at RIS
...The incongruity of a White American Muslim scholar speaking to a mostly non-black audience and responding to a question about solidarity with the movement to assert the dignity of black life by mentioning social maladies within the black community without mentioning the corresponding systemic and structural racism that helps to produce and sustain those maladies, should not be lost on anyone. With deference to Shaykh Hamza, I recognize that someone who doesn’t have experience or ḥusn adh-dhann of him could reasonably see his comments as having an uncomfortable semblance with the notion of black pathology. Black pathology is the idea that black people are inherently incapable of thinking and behaving correctly and it is often used to explain away systemic racism. In other words, it’s not that bank redlining and intentionally racist public-housing redistricting policies keep economically depressed black communities confined to areas without jobs, they’re just lazy. It’s not that extremely punitive sentencing for low-level, non-violent drug offenders have wreaked havoc on black men, it’s just sexual irresponsibility that has led to the dissolution of the black family..."
Imam Hamza Yusuf & The Compound Ignorance of White Supremacy
"At a conference dedicated to reviving the Islamic spirit, leading American Islamic scholar Imam Hamza Yusuf was asked about Muslim solidarity with the black lives matter movement. In response, Imam Hamza Yusuf outright trivializes the black struggle with a litany of remarks demonstrating he is completely clueless about systemic nature of white supremacy and its role as a political system. As an answer to a question about Muslim solidarity with black lives matter, Imam Hamza Yusuf went on to laud America for having the best anti-discrimination laws in the world. He educated his audience on the high black on black crime, and proceeded to assert that not all police officers are racist.
Hashtag BlackMuslim Family Is Virally Gorgeous
"To be Muslim in America is to be a direct beneficiary of the gorgeous triumph of Black Muslims since the inception of the young nation. On December 26, 2016, the Muslim Wellness Foundation, led by its founder UPenn Chaplain Kameelah Rashad, headed up a symbolic initiative to get Black Muslims to share their photos, stories, and sentiments with #BlackMuslimFamily. t's success is still barreling through cyberspaces reaching 3.5 Million people via Twitter alone. This weekend has been a controversial one in which endeared Scholar Hamza Yusuf came under fire after being asked about Muslim Solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the Muslim Brotherhood at the Reviving Islamic Spirit Convention “RIS2016” in Toronto.
After receiving continued critique, he returned to the stage the next evening to apologize. In regards to his dismissal of the need to solidify the relationship between Muslims in the movement for Black Lives he cited, “The most damage to Black people in America does not come from racism, but is from the breakdown of the Black family.” Many believed he only continued a false pathology about Black people, summarily erasing the strides of families all over the world. #BlackMuslimFamily brutalized this misconception while celebrating the sheer elegance of Blackness in Islam. In these hard times ahead, we need to love each other. All of us. Our Shuyukh, our families, our communities"
Some Remarks on Hamza Yusuf, Racism & Metaphysics
Caner K. Dagli, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Holy Cross
"At the recent RIS conference, in an interview with Mehdi Hasan, Hamza Yusuf made some remarks about racism and the black community that upset many people. He was criticized by some for being insensitive or for speaking about matters he did not fully understand, and in some cases even attacked for being racist and perpetuating white privilege. I believe that many who felt hurt and exposed had a right to be upset (since words have a way of spiraling out of control despite the intentions behind them), as Sh. Hamza himself pointed out in his clarification. I also think that he was in many cases unfairly maligned by people who did not fully attempt to understand what he was trying to say, and whose outrage was misdirected."
This Is Not About Hamza Yusuf
"Prominent Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf's comments on Black Lives Matter and white privilege have angered many within the global Muslim community. His views are neither new, nor are they unique in the community. For many people reading this, I’m sure you are now aware of the kerfuffle caused by Hamza Yusuf’s recent comments at RIS 2016 about anti-racist movements within the Muslim community and institutional injustice in the Black community in America. To put it lightly, it didn’t go well. As I was listening, I started to sink into my chair at home, hoping that the rhetoric would get better. I had to stop the audio halfway. Many times Mehdi Hasan was trying to throw Hamza Yusuf the proverbial lifeline to steer the conversation in the right direction, but to no avail. After the social media explosion, his apology in response didn’t help. As much as I would like to make this about Hamza Yusuf, it’s not. This is about a history of institutions, so-called activists groups, governments, political and religious movements dealing in what I call “cognitive dissonance” ideology, as it relates to the suffering of Black people in America."
He Apologized? We Have No Idea What An Apology Means
“An apology, if it is truly an apology, is no more than a hope and a prayer—that the damage you’ve done can be repaired, and that you will be forgiven by both your Lord and the ones you’ve wronged. An apology should never be shared for the purpose of silencing or dismissing those hurt by the original transgression. If it is, it is not an apology. Rather, it is a euphemism for telling the wronged that they that don’t matter and that their pain doesn’t have the right to be felt. In other words, it is merely another transgression itself...I didn’t expect it to hurt this much. I guess there are some things that really just tip the balance, and you don’t know how much you’re hurting until a single word causes your legs to give out from beneath you and you fall to your knees.
But that’s the best position to be in because you’re already kneeling before the Healer of hearts, and the prayers flow as effortlessly as the tears.
Yet still, when that single word comes from the mouth of a believer, the emotional pain is excruciating."
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf - Food for Thought
"Salaam alaykum: I am sorry my interview has generated so much ill-will in our community. My request for those defending me is to recognize the mistake in the insensitivity of my response. Here is an article written by my friend and colleague, Dr. Abdullah Ali, a young, highly talented, and brilliant scholar of Islamic law and tradition. We have known each other for many years. Again, for those who find difficult to bear criticisms of those they love among their teachers, please note that I accept as valid Shaykh Abdullah's criticisms and request that no one react to them negatively in my defense; they are from someone I love deeply and who I know loves me deeply. Please read, as there is much food for thought."
From Frames to Familiar: Concerning Shaykh Hamza & RIS2016
"If you find yourself wounded at sea, there is a high probability sharks will attack you. That’s how I would describe many of the antagonists who assailed Shaykh Hamza Yusuf after his recent gaffe at RIS 2016. Besides a few sincere and objective critics, I saw many seizing the opportunity to avenge old vendettas, and many commoners who felt the world just needed to know their misinformed opinion of the man.
On the other hand, many of his diehard advocates were like moths drawn to a flame; justifying his every word, with one person even posting fox (faux) news statistics about black-on-black crime. I’ve always felt that most people tend toward extremes, and only the minority are blessed with the gift of balance. Observing responses over the past few days has only deepened my conviction. I pray that some good will come from this fiasco."
Hind Makki - RIS2016, Racism & Angel Kisses
"A few days before what happened at #RIS2016 happened, I was engaging in a post about these candies, started by a young Palestinian American man. He encouraged Arab Americans to start a campaign asking companies to stop naming chocolate-covered marshmallows "Ras al 3abed" which means Slave's Head. Ziyad Brand, one of the largest Arab American companies, markets these candies with the non-racist name Angel Kisses.
RIS2016, BLM, and White Supremacy
I have a few thoughts on a recent Reviving the Islamic Spirit 2016 (RIS2016) controversy that might be clarifying, or at least add to the intelligent discourse on the subject. First, let me start off by self-declaring as an African-Canadian Muslim, slightly removed from the direct reality of life as a black person in America, although inexorably drawn in due to the pull the United States has on Canadian politics and life as the hegemon of our continent, and arguably the world. RIS, held in Toronto, Canada, has become a mainstay in the annual Islamic conference circuit, an indication of the close connection between Muslim events and communities in Canada and the US. Finally, and most importantly, racism doesn’t adhere faithfully to borders".
RIS2016 - On Conflict & Reparation of Harm
"Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's remarks at RIS2016 regarding #BlackLivesMatter, Police Brutality and Black on Black crime has generated a firestorm of debate in the last several days. Many have focused not on the inaccuracy and insensitivity of the comments made, but on the nature and tenor of the ensuing critique of Shaykh Hamza's words. I would like to re-focus our collective action on the pain of the members of the Black Muslim community; many of whom are deeply disappointed and injured by the statements made by this well-known and well-respected (white) American Muslim leader."
Hamza Yusuf Is Not A Racist
Imam Zaid Shakir
"This past weekend, the internet was set ablaze by a maelstrom of opinions originating from some statements made by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in an interview with the journalist, Mehdi Hasan. Although there were three distinct controversies arising from that interview, the one eliciting the most intense and wide-ranging discussion is connected with the issues of race, police violence and the black family. Were my grandmother alive to reflect on the myriad ways discussing such an emotive combination could go awry in today’s tense sociopolitical climate she would have shaken her head and said, “Lord have mercy.”
Open Letter to Shaykh Hamza & Imam Zaid on RISGate
By Omer Mozaffar, Muslim Chaplain, Loyola University
Dear Shaykh Hamza and Imam Zaid -
I hope this letter reaches you in the best of health and Iman. I submit this letter to you in full respect, writing as someone (not Blackamerican) who goes through all of your materials in detail, offering with this short letter, an observation: though it is not a bad thing, it is a reality that you are both a bit out of touch with the current flock of Muslims. That this letter is an Open Letter speaks to the era, rather than your personalities. Meaning, I’m also speaking to your critics. Thus, when I was listening to Shaykh Hamza’s interview and apology, I was hearing something appropriate for the early 2000s, rather than 2016
What You Can Do to Learn About Structural Racism Post-#RIS2016
"As we continue to process the impact, consequences and implications of #RIS2016 and the comments made by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (and ensuing discussions that overtook Muslim Facebook and Twitter), I strongly recommend every mosque, Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Muslim-led organization in the U.S. pledge to do the following. These are tangible, concrete steps that can increase us all in knowledge, skills and empathy to understand structural racism and anti-Black racism, God willing."
MuslimARC Statement on RIS 2016
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative
The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) has been following the controversy arising from the statements made by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf that arose during the 2016 Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention. The initial statements, problematic response to criticism, and discussions on social media are emblematic of a toxic and divisive racial discourse in North America. All underscore the importance and necessity of quality anti-bias and anti-racism training to uproot the ill effects of systemic racism in our ummah
American Muslims and the Historical Struggle for Black Lives: A Reflection on Malcolm X in Between the World and Me
Spike Lee canonized him as a black hero in his 1992 film, Malcolm X, and he was referenced at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration as a dangerous, militant foil to a sanitized, pacifist rendering of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..1 He has been both the quintessential black revolutionary for Marxists and a paragon of “post-Hajj” Islamic orthodoxy for many Muslims. Many have attempted to stake a claim in (or denounce) the multitudes that he contained so effortlessly. Yet Malcolm-the-Black-Hero and Malcolm-the-Muslim seem rarely to meet each other in contemporary discourse—despite their emergence from a man for whom these identities walked hand-in-hand. How, then, are we to understand his legacy at a time when a prominent face of American Islam has spoken out against the movement for Black Lives even as calls for solidarity between Muslims and communities of color in the age of Trump are invoking his name anew?
Advice on How to Be Allies to Black Muslims
I reverted to Islam almost 15 years ago alhamduillah (Thanks to Allah) and the biggest challenge I have faced over that time wasn’t wearing hijab, or learning to pray, or even coping with Islamophobia-as I was already experiencing discrimination based on my gender, race, class, and mental illness, I had already built up some resilience around this.
No, the biggest challenge I have faced and continue to face is navigating anti-Black racist bias within Muslim communities-particularly when it comes from otherwise kind, friendly, highly educated Muslims who see themselves as open-minded or even progressive-but whose response when Black Muslims challenge their statements, writings, events, or organizational culture as exclusionary or alienating of Black Muslims is to get angry, defensive, launch personal attacks and sometimes just be plain mean. And, I will probably receive similar backlash to this article.
Between Personal Mistakes & Public Responsibility: A Response to SHY & RISGate
Imam Marc Manley
"...As to the charge of white supremacy, public reason (a institution given more over to emotional conclusions than thoughtful reflection) would hasten to exonerate SHY due to the common—and misplaced—understanding that white supremacy must always be equated with violence and intent. Due to such groups as the KKK, whose overt and repugnant acts of violence against blacks for example, white supremacy has been falsely entrenched only in violence. This is not to say that white supremacy cannot result in acts of violence, as was just cited, but that it needn’t always be so. If we allow ourselves a more nuanced definition of white supremacy—white privilege being a subcategory of it—then we can move beyond the repugnant, coarse, and limiting definition of white supremacy to one which allows us to tease it out of its hiding place. As the scholar of Black Studies, George Lipsitz, writes concerning the legacy of whiteness and racism in America, “whiteness is everywhere in American culture, but it is very hard to see”
RISGate 2016: 3 Things (Among Many) Muslims Did Right
It has been over a week since a noted Muslim scholar made incendiary statements promoting the usual bigoted rhetoric used to derail conversations about systemic racism at the 2016 Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention. The scholar referred to common myths about the Black American experience like “Black-on-Black” crime and the breakdown of Black families and the subsequent attempt to apologize exacerbated the situation with the use of the typical “I have Black friends” to demonstrate how one can not be guilty of touting racist language.
...it is important to note some of the positive things that occurred because of this debacle of cultural incompetence.Here are three things, out of many, that Muslims did right.