Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: A Tribute
For those of us who remember a pre-9/11 world, the English speaking Muslim community, was pretty dull. That may be a bit of an over exaggeration, to be fair I was only 15 when 9/11 happened, and I was still at the beginning of my development as a self-motivated (struggling) practicing Muslim. So as a result I didn’t do as much reading or research as I have done since then. Or it may be specific to the British Muslim community, for years we’ve had to put up with non-English speaking community ‘leaders’ . 9/11 of course caused a media storm that’s still lingering nearly 10 years on, in its initial stages the spotlight was put on ‘young, homegrown radicals’ being spawned as a result of them being unable to relate to their ‘leaders’, and all of a sudden Mosque committees up and down the country almost uniformally said: “Hey man, this is some serious stuff.” Sine then there has been some effort by Mosques to recruit home grown scholars or at least those who have a firm grounding in English. Of course things didn’t change quick enough and 4 years later 52 people were bombed in my home city. Ironic it took a massacre for us to realise things were going terribly wrong, akin to the reality of racism in Europe post the holocaust.
For confused young people such as myself, we went looking for answers in the post-9/11 world. And in that age (and to this day) there was only one person you turned to, Google. Which explains why it took me so long to find Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. It was in 2006/2007 that I had the great opportunity to live for a year in the city of Cambridge, and I got my first taste of the ‘Imam al-Ghazali’ of our time, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. At the same time, one of my acquaintances, who would eventually become one of my best friends became a student of Shaykh Abu Ja’far, from there it snowballed and I was onto Mas’ud, Sunni Path, Shaykh Suhaib Webb, and of course Shaykh Hamza. I eventually realised my local Mosque attendees were not a bunch of a heretical deviants as Google would have me think, that the phrase “Qur’an and Sunnah” had been oversimplified as an advertising slogan for Muslims pandering orthodoxy, that I can’t make my own rulings and just pick and choose what I feel like doing and turning my back on a thousand years of the greatest scholars of human history, the list of changes I went through goes on.
I’ve listed quite a few different factors that affected me at this time, but why Shaykh Hamza in particular? Why not dedicate a post to Shaykh Abdal Hakim, as brother Da’wud Israel has done? (To be fair he said he’d do a whole week). He was my first true experience with orthodoxy, I say experience, it was more of him giving the khutbah through the speakers and me paying attention. But then again, he is on regular speaking terms with one of the best friends I mentioned earlier, I have listened to more of his talks, bought more of his books, read more of his articles, live only 50 miles away from him, at one point lived in the same city as him, hell I even gave him a lift once (It’s a long story and he probably doesn’t remember me), so why Shaykh Hamza?
Shaykh Hamza, in our modern day and age, love it or hate it, represents Muslim orthodoxy today, he has inadvertently become the face of traditional Islam. Unfortunately for some people that means ‘Sufism’, but I’m not going to go into that, I’m just going to say that Shaykh Hamza currently isn’t even in a Tariqah or has a Murshid, nor does he even talk about the time he did. His lectures are all over YouTube, his face is all over the Internet, when it comes to a moderate orthodox for Muslims, particularly in North America, he’s what people think of, and I’m happy it’s him.
I realised the effect Shaykh Hamza has had when I went to a seminar on potential Arabic teachers for the institute I study at. One of the founders mentioned in the late 90s and early 2000s young Muslims started to want to learn about Islam and actually study it, as opposed to the few Muslims who grew up in Mawlana families, and it was because of Shaykh Hamza. This was further brought home to me by a wonderful blog post on the Habib Umar tour site. He brought to life the scholars and institutions of the Muslim world. If it wasn’t for him, people wouldn’t know about Mauritania, or Tarim, Shaykh Ahmad Zarruq, Imam al-Ghazali, these are things he talks about regularly and it’s stuff he brought into the open which ordinary Muslims like me across the English speaking world would have never heard of. It then begs the questions, is he the mujadid, the renewer of Islam in our century? No. As much as this is a tribute to Shaykh Hamza, it is a tribute to his teacher, Shaykh al-Islam Murabit al-Hajj, the mujadid of our time.
He is Sidi Muhammad ould Fahfu al-Massumi, aged at over 100 years old, the word I have heard best describe him is a ‘sage’. In a world of YouTube and 24 hour Islamic satellite channels, it seems most appropriate that the greatest scholar of our time time resides in a simple tent in the Sahara desert. At a young age he mastered the 18 sciences of Shari’ah, and went on to memorise all ten readings of the Qur’an and the six major collections of Hadith, as well as many other texts. At the age of 19, after promising his mother he would return, he left his village to perform the Hajj on foot, a journey that took a total of three years. Since then, thousands of scholars have learnt from him, many of whom have gone on to become great luminaries in their own right. In the 1980s Shaykh Hamza, then still a student, set out to the remote area of Tuwamirat, to study under the man who would have the greatest impact on his life. I personally believe the main reason why Shaykh Hamza has become so prominent in the world today is because of the time he spent with Murabit al-Hajj, having personally lived with him in his tent for a period of time. Perhaps the greatest piece of evidence we have that Murabit al-Hajj is one of the renewers of Islam in our time, is that despite the fact he lives in one of the remotest parts of the world his influence has a global effect, Shaykh Hamza being one of those examples. This post is a tribute to him, his tribe, his nation, and all those who have taken from him. May Allah raise his rank and grant us more like him.
To read more about Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj, I would recommend the following links: