Extremist Background of U.S. Islamic College’s Leaders

by THE GLOBAL MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD DAILY REPORT September 3, 2010
US media is reporting on the opening of what is described as the first Muslim College in America. According to a report in the LA Times:
 
“Why a Muslim College in America?” the Anaheim event was headlined, as if anticipating the query from audience members. And throughout the four-hour gathering, the speakers repeatedly stated why they believed such an institution was needed, calling it an idea whose time has come.
 
Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley lecturer in Near East studies and a co-founder of Zaytuna, said that touch of defensiveness came after more than a year of crisscrossing the country and gauging sentiment from the American Muslim community.
 
“There’s still some lack of clarity from the members of the community whether this is something that is needed at this point or not,” Bazian said after the fundraiser. “People need to feel this is something that is needed for them to invest in it.”
 
Zaytuna, which hopes to become the first accredited, four-year Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, this week welcomed its first students to its rented space in a Baptist seminary in Berkeley. The college, which has about a dozen faculty members, will offer two majors at first, in Arabic language and Islamic law and theology.
 
Muslims in the U.S. have founded schools, mosques and religious organizations. An accredited college is the next step, Zaytuna’s founders say. They cite a long tradition of other faiths founding their own educational institutions and seminaries.
 
“If you have distinctive views of the world, it’s important to have institutions to pass on that view,” Zaytuna founder Sheikh Hamza Yusuf said. A convert to Islam and Northern California native, Yusuf is considered one of the leading Islamic scholars in the U.S.
 
But the college, which has been in the works for several years, is more than just an item on a religious community’s to-do list.
 
Zaytuna (which means “olive” in Arabic) stems from a growing desire in much of the U.S. Muslim community for leaders and imams who understand Islam within a Western context.
 
“In order to have an American Muslim identity, we needed leaders who were raised in institutions here to lead those communities,” said Imam Zaid Shakir, another of the founders. Shakir, who converted to Islam while serving in the Air Force, is an Islamic scholar who has studied in Egypt, Syria and Morocco.
 
An online biography provides the following details about Dr. Bazian:
 
Hatem Bazian is the current president of the American Muslims for Palestine. Dr. Bazian received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in near eastern studies and ethnic studies and a master’s degree in international relations from San Francisco State University. Currently, Dr. Bazian is a senior lecturer in the Near Eastern Studies and Ethnic Studies Departments at UC-Berkeley. In addition, Dr. Bazian is an adjunct professor at: UC-Berkeley Law School at Boalt Hall, religious studies at Saint Mary’s College of California and UC-Davis. Dr. Bazian co-hosted “Islam Today”, a weekly radio magazine show covering Islam and its diverse people around the world. Since 9/11, he has appeared on many TV and radio interviews and was also a translation consultant for the San Francisco Chronicle on a number of stories relating to Islam, Muslims and global politics.
 
One of the other officers of the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) is Salah Sarsour, a board member of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee as well as the registered agent for the Wisconsin chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS), a part of the US Muslim Brotherhood closely tied to the Egyptian organization. The Sarsour family in Milwaukee is known to have many ties to the Hamas infrastructure in the US. A previous post discussed a a “Gaza Solidarity Day” jointly organized by the MAS, the far-left A.N.S.W.E.R coalition, and the AMP.
 
Video from an April 2004 antiwar-rally shows Hatem Bazian calling for an “Intifada” in the US:
 
“Are you angry? [Yeah!] Are you angry? [Yeah!] Are you angry? [Yeah!] Well, we’ve been watching intifada in Palestine, we’ve been watching an uprising in Iraq, and the question is that what are we doing? How come we don’t have an intifada in this country? Because it seem[s] to me, that we are comfortable in where we are, watching CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox, and all these mainstream… giving us a window to the world while the world is being managed from Washington, from New York, from every other place in here in San Francisco: Chevron, Bechtel, [Carlyle?] Group, Halliburton; every one of those lying, cheating, stealing, deceiving individuals are in our country and we’re sitting here and watching the world pass by, people being bombed, and it’s about time that we have an intifada in this country that change[s] fundamentally the political dynamics in here. And we know every— They’re gonna say some Palestinian being too radical — well, you haven’t seen radicalism yet!”
 
More video from the same conference shows Bazian talking about the “Arabs who are coming to help” in Iraq. Dr. Bazian later claimed that his remarks on a US Intifada were misunderstood.
 
Hamza Yusuf first came to public in connection in connections with provocative statements he made shortly before the 911 attacks. According to a Washington Post report (see Note 1):
 
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 America.
 
The Post report goes on to detail Yusuf’s history of anti-American and anti-Semitic statements:
 
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 scholar.”
 
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 railroaded.
 
“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.”
 
A previous post discussed Hamza Yusuf’s more recent statements in which while codeming the Holocaust denial movement, he appears to compare the Holocaust to Palestine and Iraq. Other posts and reports have discussed his relationships with the Global Muslim Brotherhood which include:
 
  • The UK-based Radical Middle Way which features Yusuf as a speaker as well as Global Muslim Brotherhood leaders such as Tariq Ramadan and Jamal Badawi.
  • An appearance at a Toronto convention whoch also featured Ramadan and Badawi as well as other Global Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
  • A YouTube video made by the US Muslim Brotherhood 
(Note 1 “Muslim Leaders Struggle With Mixed Messages” Hanna Rosin and John Mintz, Washington Post, Tuesday, October 2, 2001; Page A16 )
 
Reprinted with permission from the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report.
 

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