FBI Pays Hamza Yusuf A Visit
ININ NOTE: This is very yellow journalism. But then look at the paper and
look at the author's names and then you will understand why.
Muslim Leaders Struggle With Mixed Messages
By Hanna Rosin and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 2, 2001; Page A16
On Sept. 20, FBI agents showed up at the house of Hamza Yusuf, a Muslim
teacher and speaker in Northern California. They wanted to question him
about a speech he had given two days before the Sept. 11 attacks, in which
he said that the U.S. "stands condemned" and that "this country has a great,
great tribulation coming to it."
"He's not home," his wife said. "He's with the president."
The agents thought she was joking, Yusuf said. But she wasn't. That day
Yusuf was at the White House, the only Muslim in a group of religious
leaders invited to pray with President Bush, sing "God Bless America," and
endorse the president's plans for military action.
"Hate knows no religion. Hate knows no country," Yusuf said that day outside
the White House. "Islam was hijacked on that September 11, 2001, on that
plane as an innocent victim."
Yusuf's mixed message created awkwardness for the White House -- and
revealed a dilemma for the suddenly very visible Muslim leadership in
The president invited Yusuf because he is one of the "leading Muslim
clerics," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. When the president
meets with a group, "you should never assume . . . that he would ever agree
with anything anybody in that group has said," added another Bush spokesman,
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Yusuf's speeches would occasionally stray into
anti-American rhetoric, hitting apocalyptic themes. At least one other
Muslim leader invited to the White House since the attacks also has made
provocative remarks about America.
But now Yusuf has joined other American Muslim leaders as they have closed
ranks behind the message that Islam is a peaceful religion and that
extremists are outside its fold.
No one suggests that Yusuf had anything directly to do with the attacks, and
he has not endorsed violence against American targets. But some Islamic
experts said Yusuf is one example of a Muslim leader who speaks of peace to
the American public though he has used incendiary language in private.
The contradictory idioms are, in part, an outgrowth of the American Muslim
community's reluctance to air its disagreements in public, said Ali Asani,
an Islamic studies professor at Harvard University.
Muslims "are so sensitive about the perception of Islam," Asani said. "Even
when there are disagreements within the Muslim community about extremism,
they will project to the outside that we are all monolithic and peaceful."
Asani, who has watched the spread of rhetoric such as Yusuf's with dismay,
added that it was time for a reckoning. After Sept. 11, the more extreme
leaders went "on alert," said Asani. "They realize that they are part of the
problem, that the Sept. 11 incident can be the result of this kind of
thinking they have been propagating for so many years."
Yusuf said he partly regrets the speech, adding that it was "tragic timing"
and that he would never give it now, after the attacks. "I don't want this
country to be destroyed," he said. "I don't want to have punishment come to
this country. I'm not a wrathful person."
Yusuf was born in California to an American Catholic father and a Greek
Orthodox mother. He converted to Islam at age 17, and studied with Muslim
scholars in the Middle East. Then he returned to college in this country and
began teaching Arabic and Islamic affairs at a center in California. He is
known among his students as a charismatic teacher who can speak to the
experiences of young second-generation Muslims.
His Sept. 9 speech was not the first time Yusuf drew criticism. In 1995 he
said, "the Jews would have us believe that God had this bias to this little
small tribe in the middle of the Sinai desert, and all the rest of humanity
is just rubbish. I mean, that is the basic doctrine of the Jewish religion
and that's why it is a most racist religion."
"Those are old speeches," Yusuf said yesterday about those remarks. "I've
spent 10 years in the Arab world and I've learned their language. . . .
Anti-semitism, anti-anything does not reflect my core values. If people were
fair, they would see my spiritual growth, as a person, as a religious
He gave his Sept. 9 speech in Irvine, Calif., to a gathering to support
Jamil Al-Amin, a Muslim cleric facing charges in the slaying of a sheriff's
deputy during an Atlanta shootout and the wounding of a second deputy. The
case of Al-Amin, known previously as the 1960s black radical leader H. Rap
Brown, has rallied Muslim activists around the country who say he is being
"He's a man who by necessity must speak the truth," Yusuf said of Al-Amin in
the speech. "That is a dangerous man. . . . Within this government are
elements who will do anything to silence the truth. They'll assassinate
either the person or the character."
He told his audience that that was merely one example of the injustice and
immorality rampant in America.
"This country is facing a very terrible fate," he said. "The reason for that
is that this country stands condemned. It stands condemned like Europe stood
condemned because of what it did. And lest people forget that Europe
suffered two world wars after conquering the Muslim lands. . . . [Europe's]
countries were devastated, they were completely destroyed. Their young
people were killed."
Yusuf also mentioned the conviction of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind
Egyptian cleric convicted of sedition and sentenced to life in a U.S. prison
in connection with a plot to bomb Manhattan's Lincoln and Holland tunnels
and other New York landmarks. "That sheikh was unjustly tried, was condemned
against any standards of justice in any legal system," Yusuf said, citing
Rahman's lawyer, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark. "Now [he] sits
in jail because it was a foregone conclusion."
Yusuf said yesterday that the attacks had taught him a lesson.
"One of the things I have learned is that we in the Muslim community have
allowed a discourse of rage," he said. "This has been a wake-up call for me
as well, in that I feel in some ways there is a complicity, that we have
allowed a discourse centered in anger."
Another popular Muslim cleric invited to the White House after the attacks
also has made controversial remarks. Muzammil Siddiqi, who also spoke at a
service at the Washington National Cathedral after the attacks, harshly
criticized U.S. support for Israel at a rally outside the White House last
October, at which marchers chanted in praise of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah
"America has to learn," Siddiqi said at the rally. "If you remain on the
side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Please, all Americans. Do you
remember that? Allah is watching everyone. God is watching everyone. If you
continue doing injustice, and tolerate injustice, the wrath of God will
Siddiqi could not be reached for comment.
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