The second of seven children, Imam Zaid Shakir was born in Berkeley, California in 1956. He was raised in Atlanta and then in New Britain, Connecticut. He attended college for a short time at Central Connecticut State University and then joined the U.S. Air Force in 1976. During his tour of duty in the military, Shakir converted to Islam. He later returned to school and obtained a bachelor’s degree in international relations from American University. After that, he earned a master’s degree in political science from Rutgers University. He eventually became the Muslim chaplain at Yale University.
Shakir is known for having expressed his desire to see the United States eventually become — “not by violent means, but by persuasion” — a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law. “Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said.
In Shakir’s view, Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the existing American order, because it “is against the orders and ordainments of Allah.” “[T]he orientation of the Quran,” he explains, “pushes us in the exact opposite direction.”
Shakir has condemned terrorist attacks against civilians. Although he was harshly critical of the December 2008 Israeli offensive into Gaza, he warned Muslims against responding with anti-Semitic attacks on Jews. On January 8, 2009, he wrote, “…the Muslim blogosphere is filling up with angry calls for the indiscriminate murder of Jews … [S]uch calls for indiscriminate killing have nothing to do with our religion.”
Shakir’s opposition to attacking Israeli civilians did not, however, deter him from defending Hamas. Although he described Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli towns as “ill-conceived,” he said that the organization “was never given a chance to prove its commitment to the peace process.”
Shakir also appears to embrace 9/11 conspiracy theories. In October 2007 he described the September 11th attacks as having “occurred under dubious circumstances that have yet to be thoroughly examined.”
According to Shakir, American foreign policy has been hijacked by the military-industrial complex. In May 2009 he admonished the U.S. for its “pattern of demonization, destabilization, and the invasion of hapless Third World nations,” saying that such aggression is always carried out under the guise of national interests. Among those he listed as victims of American “demonization” were Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, Muammar Qadhafi, and the Taliban.
Downplaying the national-security threat posed by radical Islam, Shakir dismisses the possibility of another massive terrorist attack taking place in the U.S. He says not only that 9/11 is “unlikely to be replicated,” but also that it “did little lasting damage to this country.” “This illustrates,” he said, “the overblown threat of the ‘Islamic Fascist’ enemy.”
In a 2007 article, Shakir, objecting to the term “Islamic fascists,” said that President Bush’s agenda “shares far more with the fascist movements of the 20th century than [do] any of the Islamic groups or states he and his political allies seek to condemn.”
“Hamas calls for the liberation of Palestinian lands not the physical elimination of the Jews. Al-Qaeda calls for the end of Americans strategic presence in the Middle East and not the destruction of America. The Iraqi resistance calls for the end of the American occupation of Iraq and not the end of America. The various Jihadi groups in Kashmir call for the termination of the Indian occupation of Kashmir and not the termination of India. The Chechen resistance calls for the end of the brutal Russian occupation of their lands and not the end of Russia.”
In 2008 Shakir took issue with the film Obsession, which, in an effort to warn the West about the gravity of the Islamist threat, showed clips of radical Muslim clerics and terrorists preaching jihad. Shakir described the film as an “anti-Islamic” piece of “black propaganda.”
In 2009 Shakir collaborated with Hamza Yusuf to establish Zaytuna College in California — the first four-year, accredited Islamic college in the United States.