Hamza Yusuf was born (in Washington State) as Mark Hanson in 1959, to parents who were American academics. He became a Muslim at age seventeen and then spent ten years studying Islam in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere. Today he may be the West’s most influential Islamic scholar. He commonly appears as a guest speaker at events organized by various chapters of the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada.
In 1995, Yusuf described Judaism as “a most racist religion.” In 1996 he expressed his contempt for the United States:
“[America] a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights.”
On September 9, 2001 – just two days before the al Qaeda attacks against America – UCLA’s Al-Talib magazine co-sponsored a benefit dinner titled “Justice for Imam Jamil Al-Amin” (a convicted cop-killer formerly known as H. Rap Brown) at UC Irvine. Among the speakers at this benefit was Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, who spoke about the fate he foresaw for America:
“They [Americans] were ungrateful for the bounties of Allah, and so Allah caused them to taste fear and hunger. That is one reason and, I would say, that this country is facing a very terrible fate. The reason for that is that this country stands condemned. It stands condemned like Europe stood condemned for what it did…. This country [America] unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too to illiterate to read the writing on the wall.”
At this same rally, Yusuf lamented that Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as unfulfilled plans to destroy various Manhattan bridges and tunnels, had been “unjustly tried” and “condemned against any standards of justice in any legal system.”
After September 11, 2001, Yusuf moderated his views to some degree. He became an advisor to President George W. Bush, and he described the 9/11 attacks as “mass murder, pure and simple.” In October 2001 Yusuf said: “September 11 was a wake-up call for me. I don’t want to contribute to the hate in any shape or form. I now regret in the past being silent about what I have heard in Islamic discourse and being part of that with my own anger.”
Yusuf is, however, still occasionally critical of the United States. In 2002, for instance, he said:
"What America would like to do is they would like to unite the world based on shared, quote-unquote, values, because I don’t like that word, based on these shared values of consumerism, gratuitous consumption, of pleasure and the world is created basically for play and entertainment and as a pastime, and music and dancing and basically bestial lower self behaviour and this is what they’re spreading all over the world. So everybody will look the same, in their jeans and their Nikes shoes, and everybody will listen to the same sugared pop music, and everybody will eat the same hamburger, French fries and milkshakes and everybody will have the same banal perspectives on the world. So this type of unity which is based on reducing the human being to an automaton, who has no volition of its own and who simply sleepwalks through life without any sense of identity, awareness or tradition. This is the unity they’re hoping to achieve with this idea of some kind of one world. Maybe with some new-age spirituality thrown in there because people do tend to have some spiritual needs..."
Yusuf also criticized the “dominant world order, which is a capitalistic, western world order.” And he lamented “what happened in the 19th century with the abdication of Islamic Law and the usurpation of it ... by western legal systems.”
In September 2004, Islam scholar Daniel Pipes reported that Yusuf had recently, proudly announced (at the Islamic Society of North America’s national conference) that he had “failed” a “test” which Pipes had devised -- a test containing a number of questions designed to determine whether a particular Muslim respondent is radical or moderate in his beliefs. “I took that test and I failed,” said Yusuf, meaning that by Pipes’ standards he rated as a radical. “And I want to say to all of you, I hope you fail that test too.”
The questions on Pipes’ “test” asked, among other things, whether the respondent: believed that it was wrong for Muslims to “give up their lives to kill enemy civilians” in suicide bombings; was willing to “condemn by name as terrorist groups such organizations as Abu Sayyaf, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya,… Hamas,… Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad,… and al-Qaida”; agreed that Muslim women should “have equal rights with men”; thought that “jihad, meaning a form of warfare, [was] acceptable in today's world”; was willing to “accept the validity of other religions”; acknowledged that Muslims may have something “to learn from the West”; believed that non-Muslims should “enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims”; thought that Muslims should be permitted to convert to other religions; believed that Muslim terrorists were “responsible for the 9/11 suicide hijackings”; was willing to “accept enhanced security measures to fight militant Islam, even if this means extra scrutiny” of Muslims at airports, for example; agreed “that institutions accused of funding terrorism should be shut down”; and hoped that Western nations would be transformed “into majority-Muslim countries ruled by Islamic law.”
In September 2006 Yusuf stepped back from his previous attacks on Judaism, offering this explanation:
“I was not raised as an anti-Semite. My sister converted to Judaism, is married to a Jewish man. I have nephews that are Jewish. I was not raised with any prejudice at all. But I was infected when I lived in the Muslim world. I lived in the Arab world for over 10 years, and I think I did get infected by that virus for a period of time. But I grew out of it and realized that not only does it have nothing to do with Islam, but it has nothing to do with my core values.”
In a 2007 interview, Yusuf was asked to explain the reasons for Muslim anger around the world. He replied: “If you had one word to describe the root of all this rage, it’s humiliation…. It’s everywhere. You don’t think it’s humiliating to have a foreign force come into your land?”
In 2009 Yusuf collaborated with Ziad Shakir to establish Zaytuna College in California -- the first four-year, accredited Islamic college in the United States.