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Reclaiming Malcolm X’s Legacy

Imam Omar Suleiman

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The following is an excerpt from a speech Sh. Omar Suleiman made at the Audobon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated.

Martyrdom at the Audobon

The martyr has eternal life. Malcolm may have died here, but as Muslims we believe that he was also received by his Lord, at this very spot, into a much better place. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said that when a person dies, either they are relieved from this world, or this world is relieved from them. I believe we can safely say that Malcolm was relieved from this world as he transitioned to his rightful place.

But where does that leave us? The world, and this country specifically, needs Malcolm’s message now more than ever. With the deliberate attempts to erase him from history, we must push back. In his own words, “History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.” Multiple forces have tried, and continue to try, to silence Malcolm, but his voice is too powerful. He knew how he would be portrayed. As his autobiography was coming to a close, he said to Alex Haley, “When I am dead – I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form – I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right when I say that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with ‘hate.’”

Caption: 2/22/1965-New York, NY: Crowds jammed the sidewalks outside the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem hours before the fatal shooting.

He also said, “I know that societies often have killed people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America then all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”

Malcolm had the courage to challenge everyone to do better. He challenged white America to reckon with its pathology of racism, and black America to strive for self-empowerment. He challenged Muslims globally to live up to the anti-racism scriptures of Islam, and to practice its doctrine of equality and striving for the oppressed. He challenged every human being to see their fellow man as a full human being. Finally, he showed us what it looks like to constantly challenge one’s own judgments and evolve with revealed truths. This was not only a sign of his integrity, but the mark of his undisputed sincerity.

“Despite my firm convictions,” he stated, “I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, a flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of the intelligent search for truth.”

He continued, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost and, as such, I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

El Hajj Malik El Shabazz

Malcolm never stopped growing. He was too great to stay little, too global to stay Detroit, and too defined to stay X.  He continued to grow until he became El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, our black shining prince. Yet, he was always critical of himself, and true to what he believed in. In March 1964, as he formally moved on from the Nation of Islam, he wrote in his letter to Elijah Muhammad, “I am and always will be a Muslim.”

He never took the more convenient route, only the route of truth. And he displayed, more than anything else, what it looked like when you had the courage to match your convictions. As Don Will said, “Change is revolutionary by nature and Malcolm’s transformation serves a lasting testament that we, as people, are not resigned to our character flaws or personal misfortunes. Your world is a microcosm of our world and they shift accordingly as well.”

Despite the fact that he was a minister in the Nation of Islam, the founder of Muslim Mosque Inc., and one of the greatest Muslims in the world, he rejected the term “honorable” for himself, choosing instead to be referred to simply as “Brother Malcolm.” However, as the eulogist said, “When we honor him, we honor the best of ourselves. Malcolm was a political, cultural, and religious revolutionary.”

The last words Malcolm was introduced with were from this spot, “The one who loves you so much that he would give his life for you.”

Malcolm loved the unloved because he knew what it was like to be abandoned.

Malcolm loved Ali before he shook up the world, when he was just a teenage Cassius Clay.

Malcolm was of the first to recognize what true intersectionality looked like when he became the first prominent black leader in America to speak out against the Vietnam War, and to recognize the injustices against the Palestinian people, whom he visited in Gaza in 1964.

Well before Wakanda, Malcolm knew that a strong Africa was essential to the plight of black people in America and around the world. Before the “Black Is Beautiful” or “Black Power” movements, before Ali said, “I’m beautiful,” and James Brown, “I’m black and I’m proud,”  Malcolm said, “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair and the color of your skin?”

Malcolm unapologetically put global white supremacy on trial, and was willing to stand alone as its most vocal prosecutor. He boldly wrote from Africa, “I WANT TO DISMANTLE THE ENTIRE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM OF RACIAL EXPLOITATION.”

We all owe him so much

When Ali shakes up the world, we owe Malcolm.

When Chris Jackson, who became Mahmoud AbdulRauf after reading Malcolm’s autobiography, takes a stand against militarism, we owe Malcolm.

When Colin Kaepernick kneels in protest of police brutality, we owe Malcolm.

When young black children find beauty in themselves and refuse to internalize toxic bigotry, we owe Malcolm.

When a prisoner in America’s modern system of slavery starts to liberate his mind by reading, and finds hope in faith, refusing to succumb to what the system has tried to permanently reduce him to, we owe Malcolm.

When activists rise to defy seemingly unconquerable systems of exploitation, we owe Malcolm.

When young Muslims exercise their right to not only live with dignity in this country, but also challenge the country to be more dignified, we owe Malcolm.

Malcolm was and is our strength. He gave us shoulders to stand on and an intellectual foundation to build on. And he showed us how sincere faith can push us through any fear.


The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is the site where Malcolm X was assassinated 53 years ago. The goal of this Campaign is to not only revive the Center but to ensure that it serves as a world class memorial site documenting the legacy of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz for the benefit of future generations.  Launch Good Campaign

Imam Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting, a Bachelors in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    aronno anindo

    June 1, 2018 at 10:33 AM

    Masha Allah, what a speech! Love it!

  2. Avatar

    Alonzo Gardner

    June 1, 2018 at 7:30 PM

    Elijah Muhammad made Malcolm x.and Malcolm would tell you so.

  3. Avatar

    Alonzo Gardner

    June 1, 2018 at 7:34 PM

    Elijah made Muhammad Ali and made Farrakhan Muhammad they will all tell you so.

    • Avatar

      Jena Deen

      June 1, 2018 at 9:57 PM

      Allah, The Creator, made Malcolm, Ali, & You. Humble yourself.

  4. Avatar

    Kirkland S Haywood

    June 1, 2018 at 10:28 PM

    Malcolm did not have the luxury of protection afforded to Elijah Muhammad or Louis Farrakhan, but yet had no fear of death. I have respect for all three men, but the HONORABLE El Hajj Malik El Shabazz was/is the epitome of black manhood, our shinning prince. Remember, he was going to take America to the world court for atrocities against black Americans and they killed him. Nuff said.

  5. Avatar

    Robert Hemingway jr

    June 2, 2018 at 12:34 AM

    Everyone knows who was behind the cowardly act that took Malcolms life

  6. Avatar

    Robert Hemingway jr

    June 2, 2018 at 12:38 AM

    I know this article is not about the assassination, but to read comments saying Elijah Muhammad made Malcolm? What y’all smokin

  7. Avatar

    Sheldon X

    June 2, 2018 at 6:59 AM

    The Most Honerable Elijah Muhammad made Malcolm X and he would tell you so. Elijah is who the Prophets prophesied would come. Check Malachi. Join the Nation of Islam. ☮️

  8. Avatar

    Mustafa Bey

    June 2, 2018 at 7:03 AM

    Malcolm X!!!

  9. Avatar

    Abdullah Brown

    June 3, 2018 at 6:03 AM

    I would like to see more attention and research regarding the life of the woman behind Malcolm: Ella Little-Collins. His older sister, she helped raise Malcolm, stood by him through his wild years, followed him into the NOI, and preceded him in leaving NOI for Sunni Islam. She paid for his Hajj, identified his remains, and paid for his funeral, taking care to assure that he was buried as a Sunni Muslim. This was an extraordinary person whose role in the modern history of Islam is terribly underappreciated.

  10. Avatar

    SpecialKinNJ

    June 3, 2018 at 6:21 PM

    As one who is not a fan of Malcolm, re “when” all the behavioral consequences of his tenure will be realized, I’m inclined to agree with what Wayne and Holly had to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc-PfdqKPiQ

  11. Avatar

    Henry

    June 6, 2018 at 11:12 AM

    When Malcolm X visited Gaza in 1964 is was occupied by Egypt and Gamal Abdel Nasser…..

  12. Avatar

    Javon Roye

    June 28, 2018 at 11:07 PM

    The power in the last section of this article where you state how much we owe Brother Malcolm is chilling! Great read.

  13. Avatar

    Ekram

    July 1, 2018 at 3:18 PM

    Mash Allah
    Barekelahufik for the great writing .

  14. Avatar

    Tadar Wazir

    February 25, 2019 at 10:01 AM

    Everyone is born a Muslim – research the meaning of the word? Then one’s environment causes one to become what one later on becomes. One’s environment may have enough influence to cause a person to become a non-Muslim or range from an ignorant – one with little knowledge of what a Muslim is – Muslim or a saint; and with the right pressures and frequencies – we are all composed of all of the elements that make up the physical matrix of the universe – for the right amount of time one can change from one form of physical, intellectual, and spiritual existence into another based on our individual faith. One of the ways that we are molded into the shape that we are sent here to be is by being taught by another human being. Elijah Muhammad with his 3rd grade southern farmer education did all that he could to inspire Bros.: Malcolm X aka Al Hajj Malik Shabazz, Muhammad Ali, and his son Wallace, aka Warith Deen Mohammed – whom he exclaimed the last time when his distractors within the Nation of Islam wanted to get him put out of the NOI “This is what I’ve been looking for!” And asked his wife Sis. Clara Muhammad if what he just stated was true, to which she replied yes. Afterwards he told Wallace in front of all of his ministers who were present at that meeting that he could teach what he was teaching anywhere. – Being their teacher who was placed their by Allah for their benefit to get His recipe for them to turn out right he the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is the man behind these men who all acknowledged him for the good that he taught them to their dying days. Bro. Al Hajj Malik Shabazz made it known that he would be murdered but the NOI would not be the one’s who would do so, because he knew how he was being shadowed all over the world, and different things that happened in his travels let him know that there were forces at work to stop him and his influence. He said that the FBI were writing letters to both him and Elijah Muhammad to keep them at odds with each other. The ones apprehended for his assassination were members of the NOI – according to the one who later became a “Sunni” Muslim while incarcerated; and having visited with Bro. Al Hajj Imam W. Deen Mohammed – with no knowledge of who in the NOI chain of command originated the note they got to take out Malcolm X. Bro. Al Hajj Malik Shabazz said that he had no animosity towards Elijah Muhammad and doubts that any of his letters were reaching him due to the way things were being played out in the media and life. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad became disillusioned by what his teacher Bro. W. D. Fard Muhammad had taught him when he went to Mecca and saw that the streets were not paved in gold, he found out that Muslims – like the people of the Bible – are allowed to have more than one (1) wife, and a couple of other things were not as he had been taught to teach. In a 1961 radio broadcast, I have a copy of it which can become available for those who want it, The Hon. Elijah Muhammad made it clear that he was not teaching us religion, due to the religion being too big and the time too short. But he did say that he knows that “Allah is G-d” without the usual who came in the person of statement attached to it, and that we need to get into Islam as soon as possible. With the former FBI Director’s mandate to not allow any savior to arise who would unite the Negro all one has to do is connect the dots.

  15. Avatar

    Yes I said it

    June 16, 2019 at 7:02 PM

    Great article but Muslims in America predominantly know nothing of this great man or don’t care to. Specially black, African Americans in this country paved the way for all immigrants who came thereafter yet are marginalized by their Muslim peers and maligned as if the first and second generation immigrant Muslims they paved the way for are the racists who enslaved the African Americans to begin with. I am not African American but I am black and I can say that if Islam wasn’t the truth I would’ve left if because of the nationalism and racism of Muslims in America who would never let you marry their daughters, befriend them, or share genuine salaams. In short most Muslims are just as racist as the whites of the civil rights era in terms of stereotyping blacks.

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Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dr. Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera

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Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address

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Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition

Dr Usaama al-Azami

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Sepoy rebellion, Shaykh Hamza

In recent years, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a notable Islamic scholar from North America, has gained global prominence by supporting efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deal with the fallout of the Arab revolutions. The UAE is a Middle Eastern autocracy that has been the chief strategist behind quelling the Arab revolutionary aspiration for accountable government in the region. Shaykh Hamza views himself as helping prevent the region from falling into chaos by supporting one of its influential autocratic states. However, more recently, he has become embroiled in another controversy because of comments he made regarding the Syrian revolution in 2016 that surfaced online earlier this week and for which he has since apologised. I will not discuss these comments directly in this article, but the present piece does have a bearing on the issue of revolution as it addresses the question of how Islamic scholars have traditionally responded to tyranny. Thus, in what follows, I somewhat narrowly focus on another recent recording of Shaykh Hamza that has been published by a third party in the past couple of weeks entitled: “Hamza Yusuf’s response to the criticism for working with Trump administration”. While it was published online at the end of August 2019, the short clip may, in fact, predate the Trump controversy, as it only addresses the more general charge that Shaykh Hamza is supportive of tyrannical governments.

Thus, despite its title, the primary focus of the recording is what the Islamic tradition purportedly says about the duty of Muslims to render virtually unconditional obedience to even the most tyrannical of rulers. In what follows, I argue that Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule—a contention that he has been repeating for many years—is inaccurate. Indeed, it is so demonstrably inaccurate that one wonders how a scholar as learned as Shaykh Hamza can portray it as the mainstream interpretation of the Islamic tradition rather than as representing a particularly selective reading of fourteen hundred years of scholarship. Rather than rest on this claim, I will attempt to demonstrate this in what follows. (Note: this article was sent to Shaykh Hamza for comment at the beginning of this month, but he has not replied in time for publication.)

Opposing all government vs opposing a government

Shaykh Hamza argues that “the Islamic tradition” demands that one render virtually absolute obedience to one’s rulers. He bases this assertion on a number of grounds, each of which I will address in turn. Firstly, he argues that Islam requires government, because the opposite of having a government would be a state of chaos. This is, however, to mischaracterise the arguments of the majority of mainstream scholars in Islamic history down to the present who, following explicit Qur’anic and Prophetic teachings, opposed supporting tyrannical rulers. None of these scholars ever advocated the removal of government altogether. They only opposed tyranny. For some reason that is difficult to account for, Shaykh Hamza does not, in addressing the arguments of his interlocutors, make the straightforward distinction between opposing tyranny, and opposing the existence of any government at all.

A complex tradition

Rather than support these tyrannical governments, the Islamic tradition provides a variety of responses to how one should oppose such governments, ranging from the more quietist—opposing them only in one’s heart—to the more activist—opposing them through armed rebellion. The majority of later scholars, including masters such as al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795/1393), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) appear to have fallen somewhere between these two poles, advocating rebellion only in limited circumstances, and mostly advising a vocally critical posture towards tyranny. Of course, some early scholars, such as the sanctified member of the Prophetic Household, Sayyiduna Husayn (d. 61/680) had engaged in armed opposition to the tyranny of the Umayyads resulting in his martyrdom. Similarly, the Companion ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr (d. 73/692), grandson of Abu Bakr (d. 13/634), and son of al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam (d. 36/656), two of the Ten Companions Promised Paradise, had established a Caliphate based in Makkah that militarily tried to unseat the Umayyad Caliphal counter-claimant.

However, the model of outright military rebellion adopted by these illustrious scholars was generally relinquished in later centuries in favour of other forms of resisting tyranny. This notwithstanding, I will try to show that the principle of vocally resisting tyranny has always remained at the heart of the Islamic tradition contrary to the contentions of Shaykh Hamza. Indeed, I argue that the suggestion that Shaykh Hamza’s work with the UAE, an especially oppressive regime in the Arab world, is somehow backed by the Islamic tradition can only be read as a mischaracterisation of this tradition. He only explicitly cites two scholars from Islamic history to support his contention, namely Shaykhs Ahmad Zarruq (d. 899/1493) and Abu Bakr al-Turtushi (d. 520/1126), both of whom were notable Maliki scholars from the Islamic West. Two scholars of the same legal school, from roughly the same relatively peripheral geographic region, living roughly four hundred years apart, cannot fairly be used to represent the swathe of Islamic views to be found over fourteen hundred years in lands as far-flung as India to the east, Russia to the north, and southern Africa to the south.

What does the tradition actually say?

Let me briefly illustrate the diversity of opinion on this issue within the Islamic tradition by citing several more prominent and more influential figures from the same tradition alongside their very different stances on the issue of how one ought to respond to tyrannical rulers. Most of the Four Imams are in fact reported to have supported rebellion (khuruj) which is, by definition, armed. A good summary of their positions is found in the excellent study in Arabic by Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Dumayji, who is himself opposed to rebellion, but who notes that outright rebellion against tyrannical rule was in fact encouraged by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) and Malik (d. 179/795), and is narrated as one of the legal positions adopted by al-Shafi‘i (d. 204/820) and Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855). As these scholars’ legal ideas developed and matured into schools of thought, many later adherents also maintained similar positions to those attributed to the founders of these schools. To avoid suggesting that armed rebellion against tyrants was the dominant position of the later Islamic tradition, let me preface this section with a note from Holberg Prize-winning Islamic historian, Michael Cook, who notes in his magisterial study of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong that “in the face of the delinquency of the ruler, there is a clear mainstream position [in the Islamic tradition]: rebuke is endorsed while [armed] rebellion is rejected.”

But there were also clearly plenty of outliers, or more qualified endorsements of rebellion against tyrants, as well as the frequent disavowal of the obligation to render them any obedience. Thus for the Malikis, one can find Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) who asserts that advocating rebellion against tyrants is the main position of the madhhab; similarly among later Hanafis, one finds Qadi Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d. 370/981); for the Hanbalis, one may cite the positions of the prolific scholars Imam Ibn ‘Aqil (d. 513/1119), Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), and in a more qualified sense, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. Among later Shafi‘is, I have found less explicit discussions of rebellion in my limited search, but a prominent Shafi‘i like the influential exegete and theologian al-Fakhr al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes explicit, contrary to Shaykh Hamza’s claims, that not only is obeying rulers not an obligation, in fact “most of the time it is prohibited, since they command to nothing but tyranny.” This is similar in ways to the stance of other great Shafi‘is such as al-hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani who notes concerning tyrannical rulers (umara’ al-jawr) that the ulama state that “if it is possible to depose them without fitna and oppression, it is an obligation to do so. Otherwise, it is obligatory to be patient.” It is worth noting that the normative influence of such a statement cited by Ibn Hajar transcends the Shafi‘i school given that it is made in his influential commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari. Once again, contrary to the assertions of Shaykh Hamza, there is nothing to suggest that any of the illustrious scholars who supported rebellion against tyrannical rulers was advocating the anarchist removal of all government. Rather they were explicitly advocating the replacement of a tyrant with a just ruler where this was possible.

Al-Ghazzali on confronting tyrants

A final example may be taken from the writing of Imam al-Ghazzali, an exceptionally influential scholar in the Islamic tradition who Shaykh Hamza particularly admires. On al-Ghazzali, who is generally opposed to rebellion but not other forms of opposition to tyranny, I would like to once again cite the historian Michael Cook. In his previously cited work, after an extensive discussion of al-Ghazzali’s articulation of the doctrine of commanding right and forbidding wrong, Cook concludes (p. 456):

As we have seen, his views on this subject are marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism. In this Ghazzālī may have owed something to his teacher Juwaynī, and he may also have been reacting to the Ḥanafī chauvinism of the Seljūq rulers of his day. The duty, of course, extends to everyone, not just rulers and scholars. More remarkably, he is prepared to allow individual subjects to have recourse to weapons where necessary, and even to sanction the formation of armed bands to implement the duty without the permission of the ruler. And while there is no question of countenancing rebellion, Ghazzālī is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands and rebuke unjust rulers in harsh and uncompromising language.

Most of the material Cook bases his discussion upon is taken from al-Ghazzali’s magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Such works once again demonstrate that the Islamic tradition, or great Sufi masters and their masterworks, cannot be the basis for the supportive attitude towards tyrannical rule on the part of a minority of modern scholars.

Modern discontinuities and their high stakes

But modern times give rise to certain changes that also merit our attention. In modern times, new technologies of governance, such as democracy, have gone some way to dealing with challenges such as the management of the transition of power without social breakdown and the loss of life, as well as other forms of accountability that are not possible in absolute autocracies. For their part, absolute autocracies have had their tyrannical dimensions amplified with Orwellian technologies that invade private spaces and facilitate barbaric forms of torture and inhumane degradation on a scale that was likely unimaginable to premodern scholars. The stakes of a scholar’s decision of whether to support autocracy or democracy could not be higher.

Modern scholars like Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1345/1926), someone who Shaykh Hamza’s own mentor, Shaykh Abdullah b. Bayyah (b. 1353f./1935) considered a teacher until fairly recently, has advocated for an Islamic conception of democracy as a possible means to deal with the problem of tyranny that plagues much of the Muslim world. He is hardly the only scholar to do so. And in contrast with some of the scholars of the past who advocated armed rebellion in response to tyranny, most contemporary scholars supporting the Arab revolutions have argued for peaceful political change wherever possible. They have advocated for peaceful protest in opposition to tyranny. Where this devolved into violence in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this was generally because of the disproportionately violent responses of regimes to peaceful protests.

Shaykh Hamza on the nature of government

For Shaykh Hamza, the fault here appears to lie with the peaceful protestors for provoking these governments to crush them. Such a conception of the dynamics of protest appears to assume that the autocratic governmental response to this is a natural law akin to cause and effect. The logic would seem to be: if one peacefully calls for reform and one is murdered in cold blood by a tyrannical government, then one has only oneself to blame. Governments, according to this viewpoint, have no choice but to be murderous and tyrannical. But in an age in which nearly half of the world’s governments are democracies, however flawed at times, why not aspire to greater accountability and less violent forms of governance than outright military dictatorship?

Rather than ask this question, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf appears to be willing to defend autocracy no matter what they do on the grounds that government, in principle, is what is at stake. Indeed, in defending government as necessary and a blessing, he rhetorically challenges his critics to “ask the people of Libya whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Yemen whether government is a blessing; ask the people of Syria whether government is a blessing?” The tragic irony of such statements is that these countries have, in part, been destroyed because of the interventions of a government, one for which Shaykh Hamza serves as an official, namely the UAE. This government has one of the most aggressive foreign policies in the region and has been instrumental in the failure of representative governments and the survival of tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

Where do we go from here?

In summary, Shaykh Hamza’s critics are not concerned that he is “supporting governments,” rather they are concerned that for the last few years, he has found himself supporting bad government and effectively opposing the potential for good government in a region that is desperately in need of it. And while he may view himself as, in fact, supporting stability in the region by supporting the UAE, such a view is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the evidence. Given his working relationship with the UAE government, perhaps Shaykh Hamza could use his position to remind the UAE of the blessing of government in an effort to stop them from destroying the governments in the region through proxy wars that result in death on an epic scale. If he is unable to do this, then the most honourable thing to do under such circumstances would be to withdraw from such political affiliations and use all of his influence and abilities to call for genuine accountability in the region in the same way that he is currently using his influence and abilities to provide cover, even if unwittingly, for the UAE’s oppression.

And Allah knows best.

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Raising A Child Between Ages 2-7 | Dr Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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children drawing crayons

This is called a pre-operational period by Jean Piaget who was focused on cognitive development.

Children this age have difficulty reconciling between different dimensions or seemingly contradictory concepts. One dimension will dominate and the other will be ignored. This applies in the physical and abstract realms. For example, the water in the longer cup must be more than that in the shorter one, no matter how wide each cup is. Length dominates over width in his/her mind.

Throughout most of this stage, a child’s thinking is self-centered (egocentric). This is why preschool children have a problem with sharing.

In this stage, language develops very quickly, and by two years of age, kids should be combining words, and by three years, they should be speaking in sentences.

Erik Erikson, who looked at development from a social perspective, felt that the child finishes the period of autonomy vs. shame by 3 years of age and moves on to the period of initiative vs. guilt which will dominate the psycho-social development until age 6. In this period, children assert themselves as leaders and initiative takers. They plan and initiate activities with others. If encouraged, they will become leaders and initiative takers.

Based on the above, here are some recommendations:

In this stage, faith would be more caught than taught and felt than understood. The serene, compassionate home environment and the warm and welcoming masjid environment are vital.

Recognition through association: The best way of raising your kid’s love of Allah and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is by association. If you buy him ice cream, take the opportunity to tell them it is Allah who provided for you; the same applies to seeing a beautiful rose that s/he likes, tell them it is Allah who made it. Tell them stories about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Statements like: “Prophet Muhammad was kinder to kids than all of us”; “Prophet Muhammad was kind to animals”; ” Prophet Muhammad loved sweets”; ” Prophet Muhammad helped the weak and old,” etc. will increase your child’s love for our most beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Faith through affiliation: The child will think, “This is what WE do, and how WE pray, and where WE go for worship.” In other words, it is a time of connecting with a religious fraternity, which is why the more positive the child’s interactions with that fraternity are, the more attached to it and its faith he/she will become.

Teach these 2-7 kids in simple terms. You may be able to firmly insert in them non-controversial concepts of right and wrong (categorical imperatives) in simple one-dimensional language. Smoking is ḥarâm. No opinions. NO NUANCES. No “even though.” They ate not ready yet for “in them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people.”

Promote their language development by speaking to them a lot and reading them books, particularly such books that provoke curiosity and open discussions to enhance their expressive language. Encourage them to be bilingual as learning two languages at once does not harm a child’s cognitive abilities, rather it enhances them.

This is despite an initial stage of confusion and mixing that will resolve by 24 to 30 months of age. By 36 months of age, they will be fluent bilingual speakers. Introduce Islamic vocabulary, such as Allah, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), masjid, Muslim, brothers, salaat, in-sha’a-Allah, al-Hamdulillah, subhana-Allah, etc. (Don’t underestimate the effect of language; it does a lot more than simply denoting and identifying things.)

In this pre-operational period, their ability of understanding problem solving and analysis is limited. They can memorize though. However, the focus on memorization should still be moderate. The better age for finishing the memorization of the Quran is 10-15.

Use illustrated books and field trips.

Encourage creativity and initiative-taking but set reasonable limits for their safety. They should also realize that their freedom is not without limits.

Between 3-6 years, kids have a focus on their private parts, according to Freud. Don’t get frustrated; tell them gently it is not appropriate to touch them in public.

Don’t get frustrated with their selfishness; help them gently to overcome this tendency, which is part of this stage.

Parenting: Raising a Child from Age 0 to 2 | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

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