Hamza Yusuf, Mehdi Hasan and the Diet of Intolerance

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hamzah-yusuf-mahdi-hasan

Nobody expected such treatment of a respectable scholar of our times. Mehdi Hasan himself is an asset to the Ummah. We do not have many like him and everyone knows that he has nothing but good of the Muslim community and humanity at heart. So on that Friday two of our gems became victims of unguarded comments. That has to be understood in order that we do not squander our existing intellectual treasure.

MUHAMMAD TARIQ GHAZI |  Caravan Daily

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]olerance – especially intra-Ummah tolerance – as one of the conditions for revival was the theme of this year’s IRS (Reviving the Islamic Spirit) convention that concluded on the last Sunday of the year in Toronto. Dduring the course of the annual convention, one of its star attractions, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, ironically became the target of our own intolerance. It was unfortunate, to say the least.

Like modern mediamen, I am not going to stick through dynga and further spread the stench. On Friday 23 December, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf was tired to the bones after many hour-long journey from the Middle East. He had said something with regard to social improvement within ethnic communities in the United States  and Mehdi Hasan who was interviewing him in one RIS session just raised that issue, getting a response that would have elated Tim Sebastian. The hornet’s nest was stirred up as if to defeat the very purpose of the RIS convention. However, quick remedial measures, statements and gestures by the alert organizers as well prominent scholars present in the convention saved the situation. First and foremost, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf himself came on the mike and offered unconditional apology – more than once, saying that he did not intend to hurt anybody. But the tweeter was abuzz – proving one more time that these modern (anti)-social media are characteristically anathema to the Ummah of Moderation. They are not made for us, regardless of the opinion of a cellphone-holder

All that the respected Shaykh had said was that our communities in the US were suffering partly because of the breakdown of family. Who doesn’t know that institution of family has become dysfunctional in modern societies and the sufferers are not Muslims alone. Secondly he advised the community to engage in self-assessment rather than reacting emotionally when caught in tragic situations.

However, the issue was not Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, as it was not the late Junaid Jamshed a few years ago. It was our unforgiving nitpicking and unmindful tirade against our own heroes. Perhaps we do not groom heroes without first slandering them.

On Friday 23 December, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf was “interviewed” by Mehdi Hasan, the rising star on the horizon of the Ummah. He had come to the convention venue right from the airport. He was dead tired, said Mahdi Hasan, adding that he would try to “put some life in him”. But then he had a dig at him, a la Tim Sebastian, and the man who apparently was not in his elements said something that he would never say otherwise. Moments later there were hornets all over the tweety-world of little sense.

Nobody expected such treatment of a respectable scholar of our times. Mehdi Hasan himself is an asset to the Ummah. We do not have many like him and everyone knows that he has nothing but good of the Muslim community and humanity at heart. So on that Friday two of our gems became victims of unguarded comments. That has to be understood in order that we do not squander our existing intellectual treasure.

We are human beings. Everyone of us is prone to make innocuous errors. Communities, not just individuals, are tested in such situations. The Sunnah of Hazrat Adam is to admit the mistake, offer an apology and seek forgiveness.

Therefore the word to be remembered is tolerance, acceptance of the view with which we may not agree. When was it decided that there should not be any difference of opinion in a civilized society. And who said that our high-caliber intellectuals must always profess a single, rigid opinion. History of this Ummah is not devoid of instances of intellectual or academic differences and  tolerance.  The more learned and original you are, the greater is the possibility of disagreement. But these instances of tolerance are beyond our common knowledge since we do not care to read our own history and lives of our heroes.

Imam Ibn Abi Shayba (d.849CE) was a Hadith compiler who had devoted one full chapter in his Hadith compendium Musannaf against certain opinions of Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767CE). A millennium later, all allegations were refuted academically by Imam Zahid Al-Kawthari (1879-1951). The point to remember and emulate is that one Imam differed from another Imam a century senior to him and the whole Ummah – scholars, academics and common people – tolerated that critical difference of opinion, with respect to both the Imams, for one thousand years until yet another Imam cleared the haze of criticism. During these 1,000  years millions of scholars and academics differed with Imam Ibn Abi Shayba but none of them ever condemned him, abused him, slandered him, since that was unbecoming of civilized behavior set by the Rasool-Allah and that was never expected of our men of knowledge for our men of knowledge. Thus reacting differently in such situations betrays absence of Ilm in the persons who engage in throwing invectives and launching tirades while disagreeing with men of knowledge. Muslims have never accepted Abu Lahab as a role model.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a human being and his opinion on social issues may be rejected by scholars who may offer other causes of our societal problems and prescribe other remedies. Demanding “explanations” from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, or others in similar situations, and shaming him serve no useful purpose and defeats the struggle to reform our society internally.

At a larger scale, the problem is with the Ummah itself. We live in difficult times. That is what many of the speakers at the RIS-2016 said during the three-day convention. Multifarious difficulties are causing frustration and despondency to many people. They genuinely want these difficulties to end soon. But it is not an electric switch to be flipped up or down to turn darkness into light. Light is within ourselves and has to be switched on to brighten the surroundings. By switching off that inner-light we simply increase the darkness around us.

All that we must remember is that we worship Allah Who forgives even the greatest sin of Shirk when a person regrets and repents. Those who are incapable of forgiving, feed themselves on a diet of increased frustration.

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