Friday, 8 April 2016


For Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, knowledge is key to a meaningful life

(Photo by Román Castellanos-Monfil)
During a conversation before a full audience in Battell Chapel on April 6, Yale professor and Christian theologian Miroslav Volf asked Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf what Christians and other non-Muslims would do well to learn from Islamic tradition.
Yusuf answered that one of the most significant concepts they might learn is the Muslim idea of “brotherhood” — the belief that all people are from the same human family.
“One thing that is deeply troubling for me is that there is so much [racial] tension,” Yusuf said, adding that racial tensions in the United States have become so fierce that, when hearing that a police officer shot an African-American person, some people automatically assume the action was justified while others assume it was not. He described this reaction as one that is based on “nouns and adjectives”: police officer, African-American, white, and black.
“Real morality,” Yusuf told his audience, “has to be rooted in verbs and adverbs — to get out of looking at people as ‘other’ than you.” He added that in the United States, some people speak of Arabs in a way that would be “completely unacceptable” if they were talking about any other group of people.
“The Prophet said God does not look at your bodies or your forms; he looks at your hearts and your actions,” continued Yusuf. “To me, you could replace that by saying, ‘He doesn’t look at your adjectives or your nouns; he looks at your verbs and your adverbs.’”
Yusuf, considered one of the most influential Islamic scholars in the Western world, is the president and co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States. He took part in a conversation with Volf as part of the Life Worth Living Program’s series of public talks examining the question: What is a life worth living? The Islamic scholar gave an address titled “A Muslim Vision of the Good Life” before talking with Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. The center developed the Life Worth Living Program to revive discussion and reflection of the question of what makes a good life. Volf is also a co-teacher of the undergraduate humanities course “Life Worth Living,” and took part in a conversation with New York Times columnist David Brooks earlier this semester examining that topic.
In his address, Yusuf periodically read from verses of the Koran to illustrate some of the principal tenets of Islamic tradition— which holds, he told his audience, that acquiring knowledge is the most important activity human beings can undertake to control the baser elements of human nature, among them lust and anger.
In many Muslim countries, he said, families’ most prized possessions have often been their personal libraries.
“Prophet Mohammed said to be a scholar, to be a student of knowledge, a helper of the two, or be a lover of those [people],” Yusuf said.
In his own life, Yusuf acknowledged, some of the “most beautiful human beings” he has ever encountered were those who are uneducated, but who are believers of Islam who have shown great hospitality. He shared a story about how he was part of a group that was stranded in the middle of the Saharan Desert in West Africa, when a Bedouin sheep herder came to assist. After serving the group a meal, the herder stayed up all night holding up the travelers’ tent so it didn’t collapse on them in the wind.
“What I see is that some people are facilitated to learn — their circumstances are ripe for that — and other people are deprived of that,” Yusuf said. “So the people who have the gift of learning should actively be engaged in trying to spread that gift to other people because learning, in the true sense of the word, is not learning for a degree or learning to become somebody of stature or of wealth, but learning for the sake of God in our tradition.”
Yusuf told the audience that in today’s world, it is a challenge to practice any religious tradition, including Islam.
“There are lot of things in tradition that [others] see as odious, they see them as hateful or they see them as discriminating. And I think a lot of tradition is problematic. … We have to debate these things. Trying to understand our traditions in the world we are living in is very difficult. It is a very confusing world. We’ve lost a lot of the things that have enabled us in the past to be much more human.”
He emphasized the Muslim belief, illustrated in the Koran, that humans learn compassion through their own suffering and adversity, saying, “Empathy is one of the most important qualities” in his religious tradition.
“This is our challenge,” he told his audience. “For me, living a good life is trying to learn this knowledge of my tradition, which says that the real purpose of our existence here is to come to know God … to know God through difficulty, through hardship, through suffering. And in coming to know God, the soul is expanded.”
Yusuf said one “fundamental sin” in Islamic tradition is acedia, which he described as distractibility and boredom, a type of “spiritual sloth.”
“It’s a spiritual sickness and it has affected our civilization to a profound degree,” Yusuf said. “We’re constantly trying to distract ourselves with drugs, sex, money, with the pursuit of fame and the pursuit of power.”
Yusuf, who converted to Islam as a teenager after a near-death experience, added, “One of the signs of the impoverished state of our community is that somebody like me actually represents the tradition [publicly].”
As a Muslim, he said that he is especially bothered when he hears others describe ISIS as “medieval,” explaining: “I’ve spent a lot of time with medieval scholars, and I know for a fact that they have nothing to do with these people [ISIS]. And in fact, if those people were actually reading [the work of such scholars], they would not be doing what they are doing.” Likewise, he said that he knows of no medieval scholar in the world who would ever justify suicide bombers, saying that they and their defenders are “without any understanding of the philosophical ethics” of Islam.
During his conversation with Volf, Yusuf said that one of “the most powerful motifs” in Islamic tradition is the assumption of personal responsibility and the practice of self-examination, rather than blaming or judging others for wrong behavior. In Islamic tradition, he said, “to have knowledge of God, first and foremost one has to know the self, because we have been made in a metaphysical image of the reality.”
Volf noted in the conversation that 50 years ago, Time magazine had a cover story titled “Is God Dead?” He asked that question of Yusuf.
“If we look at [God] as a concept, [he’s] certainly dead in a lot of people’s minds,” Yusuf answered. “But if somebody says its not raining and it’s raining, it doesn’t mean it’s not raining. The Koran says to the atheists: Let’s wait it out.”
He later continued, “I think God has some sympathy [for atheists]. The only people who remember God as much as believers are atheists. They take God seriously, and that’s such a compliment. For atheists, the idea of God is so great that they can’t believe in him. In some ways, it’s like unrequited love.” He added that there has never been an atheist he has met who hasn’t brought up the topic of God within the first few minutes of conversation.
Yusuf’s visit was also sponsored co-sponsored by Yale Divinity School, the Yale Chaplain’s Office, the Yale Muslim Student Association, the Yale Youth Ministry Institute, the William H. Pitt Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation.


  1. Muhammad Ali Ben Marcus
    Good Morning to you all undeserving Earthlings! One day I decided to understand that damn world we were all living or surviving in. I did not have to go to any Freemasonic university, but just walked outside and went on the highest hilltop around and look at the world from above. What I saw horrified me. First I walked away from all the religions, Gods and ideologies inspired to or made up by human Earthlings. I had to look at those arrogant WWI, WWII, Bank Gangsters' Revolutions, Genocidal Campaigns even against unarmed and defenseless nations, worse than wild animal cruelty, mendacity, lies, greed, envy, jealousy, perversions and blatant materialism in all aspects of lives, and only then did I come back to Earth to understand humans. I thought I understood them, but the only thing I understood was that the GOOD ones were not good enough and that the EVIL ones were growing worse than ever and absolutely nothing could stop them. This made me understand that the Gods or God running the Universal Show was very incompetent or in simpler terms DID NOT EXIST AT ALL except in the hearts of some and in their way of life while always remaining the slaves of those having not only ONE HUGE EYE on the world but actually running the whole Show. Some religions called it SATAN! If SUCH A GOD never or does not exist, SUCH EVIL has always existed and is the undisputed God of the world and that we humans have sold to Him the undisputed God of all our humanity. Doomed are we who think for a moment that the pursuit of and struggle for freedom, truth, Justice, and a Moral Way of Life will ever stop SATAN without a POPULAR REVOLUTION! And this can and will never happen unless the people of religion say enougis enough and stand up against and FIGHT Evil, all kinds of Evil and stop preaching USELESS religions and IMPOTENT GODS! BAFS
    Saturday 9th of April 2016

    I was extremely lucky to be the son and grandson of slaves and subjects of at least two European Empires, the British and the French, and indoctrinated by the Catholic Church which was their direct accomplice in crime and perversion. This allowed me to know who they really were and still are as they have not changed at all except becoming more evil.
    In the seventies I started a series of lectures on Palestine and a few other topics like religion and morality discussing issues like freedom, truth, justice and a moral way of life, but they did last long as I had to leave the teaching profession in 1975.

    With the advent of the Internet I found more confirmation about the endless lies we were taught at school making me a staunch proponent against the Public School Sewage System. I understood that nothing short of a REAL REVOLUTION can achieve anything given the repeated failures of gradual efforts to fight the Government systems the Empire has set up in all colonised and neo-colonised nations including their own.

    Why Satan is ruling over us is very easy to understand, and even if the following quote is not authentic, the words in it makes a lot of sense to me as my understanding has not been contaminated by Racist and Imperialist European Church teachings. Jesus preached the Word of God, his Father, and preached OBEDIENCE and PRACTICE of the Word. He never preached cooperation with Caesar or even the payment of taxes to an occupying and murdering force, which would definitely go against the Word of God.

    But, because Rome was sole ruler of both Church and State, it made sure that Christians never rendered unto God the things that are god's, but rendered everything unto Caesar.

    "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ).[Matthew 22:21]

    THOU SHALT NOT STEAL! But, the Caesarist or Papal (Secularist) Christians spent their lives, generation after generation, for over a millennium STEALING (usury included) and PAYING TAXES. Today, the world is governed by entities that have ousted God from the government with the very help of Christians and Muslims who claim they believe in God, but yet are SLAVES to the Omnipotent State!

    Sunday 10th of April 2016

  3. Je vais perdre mon dernier travail...
    Apr 14 at 5:00 PM

    Pour toute réponse, écrire à :

    Chère Correspondante, Cher Correspondant,

    La série (noire) continue: sauf miracle, je perdrai mon deuxième (et dernier) travail de professeur que j'avais en Angleterre. En septembre dernier, j'avais en effet été embauché par deux instituts de cours particuliers. En mars, l'un des deux m'a congédié brutalement (voir ma vidéo sur le sujet). Il me restait encore l'autre, avec lequel je travaillais davantage. En décembre, la patronne m'avait d'ailleurs confié que je "faisais" 60% de leur chiffre d'affaire. Les cours que je donnais avec lui me rapportaient environ 600-700 £ par mois (le coût de la vie en Angleterre fait qu'1 £ équivaut à 1 € en France).

    Seulement voilà, les nouvelles se propageant au sein de la (petite) communauté française, ce que je craignais vient d'arriver : ma patronne a appris voilà quelques heures qui j'étais. Aussitôt, elle m'a téléphoné. Elle ne m'a pas encore congédié, ignorant ce qu'elle allait faire. Mais elle m'a franchement dit: "Votre personnalité risque de faire couler ma boîte..."; "Si vous étiez prof de mon gosse, je vous virerais...". Mais elle ne peut pas croire que le sympathique prof que je suis soit une "autre personne"; elle veut donc comprendre pourquoi je défends ces idées qui la "dégoûtent" et qui la "font vomir". "Cela me fait drôle de savoir que je parlais à quelqu'un d'autre", m'a-t-elle dit. je lui ai répondu qu'elle ne parlait pas à "quelqu'un d'autre", qu'il n'y avait qu'un seul Vincent Reynouard. J'ai ajouté que je mettais une barrière étanche entre ma vie de prof et ma vie de militant politique. Rien à faire: "C'est sur Internet, donc vous faites tout pour diffuser vos idées." _ "Oui, mais pas à mes élèves." _ "Oui mais ils peuvent l'apprendre et maintenant que trois instituts sont au courant, croyez bien que cela va faire le tour de Londres très rapidement..."
    J'ai pu obtenir qu'on se rencontre, face-à-face, samedi soir après mes cours. Elle a accepté. Mais l'espoir est très, très mince. Car outre que mes "idées" la "font vomir", la peur du qu'en-dira-t-on est très forte.

    Il est amusant (si l'on peut dire) de voir que dans ces moments, tous les nobles idéaux de liberté d'expression et liberté d'opinion s'effondrent en une fraction de seconde. Vous êtes un être abominable qui "prêche la haine" et, donc, qu'il faut écarter.

    Bref, ça continue... Dans moins d'une semaine, je me retrouverai à nouveau sans ressources. Et cette fois, ce sera en exil, sans famille, sans rien... Comme le disait mon arrière-grand-père: "Dans la vie, tout s'arrange, même mal..."

    Je prépare actuellement une vidéo de deux heures environ qui remet à l'endroit l'histoire des années 1918-1939 : Hitler voulait-il prendre sa revanche militaire sur la France? Que penser des passages anti-français de Mein Kampf, Que dire du réarmement allemand? Fallait-il "marcher" pour la Pologne en 1939 au nom de la "parole donnée"?...

    Sachant que je n'ai plus aucun espoir, je m'empresse de publier le maximum de vidéos qui remettent l'histoire à l'endroit. Après, je pourrai (me) reposer en paix. Mais pour l'heure, ma détermination reste intacte: nous somme en pleine guerre idéologique et je ne déserterai pas le champ de bataille où je figure en première ligne. Il ne s'agit pas d'orgueil déplacé, mais de servir l'intérêt commun...

    Avec toute mon amitié,