A Response to Hamza Yusuf

I remember sitting in my history of Islam classes, waiting for the professor to talk about West Africa. Waiting for the person who has a doctoral degree in Islamic studies to speak on Mali or Ghana. Waited for him to talk about the glorious empires that black African Muslims produced, but it never happened. I thought well, we are in America, maybe he will talk about Muslim slaves in America. About how Omar ibn Said was forced into slavery after being captured during a war in present day Senegal. How he wrote his autobiography in Arabic, beginning with writing Surah Mulk from memory, that too, never happened. After my studies were over, void of any comment of black Muslims, I continued studying on my own. If I could not get the education from school, I can just do this myself. I picked up books like Servants of Allah and The Lost Cities of Africa and learned more about how West African Muslim slaves in America lived; and different Islamic cities in Sub-Saharan Africa.


One day, I wrapped my self in a coat and a scarf and went to an art gallery in DC. While I was walking home I walked passed a bookstore and took a peek in the window, but it wasn’t a book that caught my eye it was a familiar face. I went inside to get a better look, and it was Hamza Yusuf in the flesh. I was so excited I took my phone out, got a selfie with him and told him all about my studies. How I was researching Timbuktu, black Muslim history, and other topics. We exchanged information then I went on my way.


Then comes RIS2016, when Hamza Yusuf equated racism to an “accident.” Yusuf, seems to not understand that racism, a systematic form of oppression, which impacts housing, healthcare, and education; is not an accident. Racism at it’s very core is very intentional and violent.   When asked about police shooting black people in the United States, Yusuf jumps to black on black crime statistics, in which he said fifty percent of homicides are black on black crime. Hamza Yusuf gave a very familiar answer which we heard from conservatives during the 2016 Presidential election. As if, somehow, the humanity of black people, is tied to crimes that we, as a race, commit.


But, Hamza Yusuf did apologize, or at least he tried to in the best way his white male frame of mind allowed him. He says that he was suffering from a lack of sleep and had been awake for twenty hours straight, in fact, he does not remember what he said. As I said on twitter, his original rant, was not the ramblings of someone who lacked sleep. He was able to rattle of black on black crime statistics off hand, he meant what he said. Not only did he mean was he said he interrupted the interviewer to make his statement.


Here is where Hamza Yusuf crossed the line, for me, at least. He said, (as a white male), the biggest crisis to the African American community, was the break down of the black family. Void of the fact that the prison industrial system has a huge impact on the “break down of the black family.” Not to mention the historical component that slavery has had on the black family over generations. What Hamza Yusuf fails to realize is that the break down of the black family is just as much caused by racist policies that have been in place since the colonial era, as the personal failing of individuals.


What white Muslims, fail to realize, is that Islam historically, has a history that is very black and brown. The black history, is largely ignored; one can go through entire Islamic studies courses and not learn about one Sub-Saharan Muslim dynasty. On top of being ignored, we have to deal with being talked down to by a white man who, in my view, is no different than a far right conservative in his statement.  Hamza Yusuf can only understand the world in a frame of reference of a white male and that is perfectly fine. What is not fine, is the fact he seems blissfully ignorant on systemic racism while wanting to force his opinion on us.


I do not think Hamza Yusuf is a bad person nor do I think he is a racist. I think he is like every other white person who only has to deal with racism when asked about it. I have looked Hamza Yusuf in the eyes and spoke to him and believe he has a good heart and intentions. For me and many people I know, the way we interpret Islam is intertwined with our experience as black people living in a society that does not value us. Muslims do have a racism problem and it one that needs to be addressed on many levels, not just when a white Muslims says something predictable. I hope Hamza Yusuf takes this opportunity and reaches out to black Muslims, especially black Muslim women who have a far better intersectional critique than myself.


6 thoughts on “A Response to Hamza Yusuf

  1. As Salaam Alaykumu brother,

    Great articulate maasha Allah!

    However I would like to point out some things that most seem to be unaware of , and that is the Arabs themselves were as black as black people today and any other black sub Saharan that you have mentioned. We are under the illusion that Arabs were white people due to translations given by people who try to literally translate without considering how the Arabic language was used.
    There are definitely people who know the truth and deliberately conceal it to suit their own evil desires and because they just can’t handle the truth. I would like you to visit my site where I have brought detailed references to light which explains this all. Alajamwalarab.com

    I believe that if people knew the truth we would be able to deal with with better and people would stop saying things that are completely incorrect and out of line. He is a line from a famous Arab scholar who said

    Abu Tayyib Al Laghwhi (350 AH) said in regards to Fadl Ibn Abbas’s poem,” in his book kitaab Al Idaad page 162.
    ” He means that his colour is the colour of the Arabs, and it is jet black”
    يعني ان لونه الون العرب، و هو سواد

  2. I don’t agree with most of what Hamza Yusuf said. What I don’t get is how people combat ignorance with ignorance.

    “What white Muslims, fail to realize, is that Islam historically, has a history that is very black and brown. The black history, is largely ignored”

    How do you fix your mouth to utter those ignorant words just because THIS white Muslim seems to have failed to realized this with these particular statements he recently made? White Muslims are a minority in Islam, particularly in America, but really, all over the world. The fact that it is not well known is not because of them, if it is because of anybody it is those that are the majority in representing Islam (that would be the brown you mentioned). Also, as far as our Muslim community goes, I would like to let you in on a little secret. Many (not all) of these “Overseas” Muslim communities in America, are not welcoming to ANY American Muslims, INCLUDING white Muslims, especially the Indian/Bengali/Pakistani Muslims. This is from my own personal experience as a white/ Latina Muslim. As for this country, the systemic racism and discrimination is the sole reason for the breakdown of black families, from what I can see, so as I sai, I don’t agree with him either, but that’s no reason to assume all white Muslims are ignorant, because that in itself is ignorant.

  3. I thank you for your study, but until the world understand Black Africa and where all form of Allah beginning started..their will be racism in this creepy World…peace and blessings always…Allahu akbar..APDTA…Salaam…

  4. Assalamu Alaykum brother. I think you are misunderstanding what Shaykh Hamza meant by accident. He was using it in the scientific sense. Everything has both essential and accidental attributes. In this case he was speaking of the human being. Racism is not an essential attribute of a human being, ie a human does not need to be rascist in order to be human it is not part of what makes a human. All other attributes are then termed accidents, an attribute can exist in an object but it does not have to. So for example being mortal is an essential attribute of a human being. Being kind on the other hand is an accidental attribute.


    Just wanted to make this clear.
    Forgive me if I’ve overstepped my position.

  5. Assalaamualaikum

    I am a muslim of Indian origin residing in post apartheid South Africa. I hear you bro. The ‘Islam’ brought here in the 1900s by traders was more Indian than a Mutton Khorma. We failed to ascimilate with the black population in religious and humanitarian terms for 100 years and limited our contact with the black human as our servant or customer. His cheap labour and low wages were of interest to us but not his future or his/her heart or beliefs. The chase for mineral resources here left the black family scattered and over the last 40 years, shattered. Social challenges such as HIV, violence, alcoholism, illiteracy etc are a daily reminder of how the born ‘Muslims’ failed their fellow black souls here and reflects on our ‘version’ of Islam.

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