After being bombarded by Salafi-Wahhabi-Takfiri propaganda for so long, the appearance of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on the Muslim scene was refreshing. Over the past few decades, the Californian-based scholar has played a primordial role in spreading the traditional, mainstream, Islam of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Tasawwuf in the Western world and drawing scores of believers into a normative form of the Muslim faith. For this, he must be commended.
Although many people were pleased to see an American scholar assume a position of leadership in the Western world, hoping that it would start to turn the tide of religious colonialism and outside interference in our domestic religious affairs, the fact that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has received financial, political, and logistical support from Britain, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey calls his independence into question. A formidable form of soft power, funds from global and regional players typically come with conditions which are either explicit or implicit. For this, he must be cautioned.
Even though Shaykh Hamza Yusuf was one of the first Muslim scholars to receive a copy of The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, he has steadfastly refused to sign the Covenants Initiative, a statement that has been endorsed by hundreds of Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and activists. What he found objectionable is a source of wonder for it simply says:
We the undersigned hold ourselves bound by the spirit and the letter of the covenants of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) with the Christians of the world, in the understanding that these covenants, if accepted as genuine, have the force of law in the shari‘ah today and that nothing in the shari‘ah, as traditionally and correctly interpreted, has ever contradicted them.
As fellow victims of the terror and godlessness, the spirit of militant secularism and false religiosity now abroad in the world, we understand your suffering as Christians through our suffering as Muslims, and gain greater insight into our own suffering through the contemplation of your suffering.
May the Most Merciful of the Merciful regard the suffering of the righteous and innocent; may He strengthen us, in full submission to His will, to follow the spirit and the letter of the covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the world in all our dealings with them.
In short, the Covenants Initiative merely reiterates our commitment, as Muslims, to abide by the treaties and promises that the Prophet Muhammad made with the People of the Book. Evidently, nobody is compelled to sign petitions or statements and the Shaykh is entirely within his rights to decline such an invitation. The Covenants of the Prophet have been widely embraced by the Muslim Community. The list of signatories only represents a small segment of supporters.
Like other scholars, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is entitled to his opinions. He is free to keep these private or make them public. He could have expressed support for the Covenants of the Prophet. If he had reservations regarding the authenticity of the Covenants of the Prophet, he could have shared his sentiments in a scholarly study. Shaykh Hamza could also have adopted a position of neutrality. For this, he would be within his rights.
The fact of the matter, however, is that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has actively opposed the Covenants of the Prophet. In fact, several attempts were made by faculty members at the first accredited Muslim undergraduate college in the United States to organize lectures on the Covenants of the Prophet. Numerous other attempts were made by outside parties who wished to organize lectures on the Muhammadan Covenants at Zaytuna. All such efforts were reportedly scuttled by Shaykh Hamza. If this is indeed the case, then he should be called to account.
I call Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to the Covenants of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. I call Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to reconciliation, brotherhood, and friendship, failing which I challenge Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to a televised public debate, held on neutral ground, before a neutral audience, and moderated by an impartial personality, on the authenticity of the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the People of the Book.
By Dr. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas Islam) – Muslim scholar, author, and activist. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Islam and the People of the Book: Critical Studies on the Covenants of the Prophet (2017), a three-volume encyclopedic work on the letters, treaties, and covenants of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah.
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