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Are there limits in giving and accepting opinions? Thoughts on Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's controversial statements

" O Mankind! Indeed, We ( i.e. Allah) created you from a single male and a single female, made you into nations and tribes So that you will know ( and benefit) from each other. Indeed, the most noble of you- in the sight of God- are those with the most reverence, Indeed, Allah is the All-knowing, All-Aware." ( Q 49:13)

The yearly Revival of the Islamic spirit [RIS] conference attracts thousands to Toronto from all over North America. While previous events have been the source of some controversy, this year's RIS has generated-within only two days- perhaps the biggest firestorm to date-  universal discussion and arguments between Muslims. It has opened wounds and disputes on social media.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf - in the course of an interview with Mehdi Hasan, made some controversial statements about issues ranging from Black Lives Matter movement [BLM], Police shootings, and seemingly equated The Muslim Brotherhood [Al Ikhwan Al Muslimoon] with ISIS. At one point, he asserted that the biggest problem faced by African Americans was the breakdown of the family. This particular assertion has been the object of the greatest amount of criticism on social media. ( 1)

This post is not intended to be a rehash of what he said. From many angles, Muslim leaders as well as average people have been composing posts, articles, videos and tweets on Twitter either defending or attacking him, and of course this has also opened the door for sectarian and racist minded folks to preach their divisive messages.

Another well known personality, Imam Suhaib Webb [who is White American]- sharing the stage at the RIS event, felt compelled to compose a lengthy refutation of Sh.Yusuf on his Facebook page.

Subsequently, Sh. Yusuf delivered a speech yesterday  apologizing for any "miscommunication" and at length explained precisely what he meant.(2)

I listened to that speech twice, and while I have my own reaction to his comments, it raised for me the question of whether or not individuals "of privilege"  are allowed to speak on subjects that they themselves seemingly have not experienced.

In essence, the majority of refutations against him argue that because he is white, he is automatically unqualified to speak on affairs involving African Americans. His critics acknowledge that both his family and himself have been deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, that he has been a defender of African American causes, and most critics even acknowledge that he is not personally a holder of any racist views, nonetheless, they assert, his white skin prevents him from having any understanding of these issues or any useful advice!

Race as a criterion for judgement

Let's change around the dynamics a bit. A White  patient is in the hospital with a medical situation that requires immediate, emergency treatment. That patient discovers that his doctor is African-American!

The White patient's refusal of treatment at the hands of his Black doctor would rightfully be seen as stupid, and an indicator of racist beliefs. This scenario is not a conjured, hypothetical situation. This has happened many times, per discussions with three African-American doctors I know. I'm sure that our readers will likewise know of similar situations in their professional lives, where services have been declined, even needed ones such as medical treatment, until a Non Black individual( or whatever desired)  would turn up to provide the needed service.

Refutations of views- be they political, social, religious, etc. should not be based upon skin color. A believer in God is to know that God created all the colors and all the languages intentionally. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [ Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] is known to have said that there is no virtue in being one thing or another. The Prophet in his final address also said that "all of them are from Adam, and Adam was from dust."

 Truth should be the criterion for judgement

We can simply use another word rather than truth, as that sounds too religious. We can use the word facts, or the word data.

It does not bother me that anyone's viewpoints are debated, rejected and refuted. That is a part of anyone's life, especially a person serving any public capacity. In many respects, scholars, scientists, and academics make their careers by analyzing and dissecting arguments of other figures.

A person's usage of data, their interpretation of evidence, that is what should be addressed. It should never get personal, never hit under the belt with foul language and name-calling.

Moreover, if we are serving any public capacity, we should be open to accepting knowledge, regardless of the source. The Prophet is reported to have said that knowledge is the lost property of a believer. He also is reported to have said that one should seek knowledge even into China.

In cooking, music, clothing styles, humans have always taken from each other, deleting and adding as they see fit. This creates the diversity of life that makes life so interesting.

A person- even if they are seemingly on the outside, can be a vessel for good advice and guidance. That is the way Allah made things.

To assert that  guidance is restricted  to one's racial or ethnic [or even madh-hab!] grouping  is nothing short of adopting a Chosen people mentality. Moreover, it acts as a barrier from receiving God's blessings, simply because one does not like the packaging. The Qur'an ( 2:91, among other verses) indicates that there were Jews who rejected Muhammad as God's Prophet only because of Muhammad's ethnicity.

The Prophet's supplication is quite succinct in the lesson it conveys. He prays "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it. And show us falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom."

So the issue should not be the packaging of the message. The issue should be deciphering what is truthful and beneficial, distinguishing it from what is vain and useless.


(1) Sh.Hamza Yusuf's initial interview can be found here. [url][/url]

(2) His second speech, which included an apology, can be viewed here. [url][/url]

This post first appeared on Shamsuddin Waheed, please read the originial post: here

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Are there limits in giving and accepting opinions? Thoughts on Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's controversial statements


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