Are Supporting and Siding with Tyrants Halal in Islam, Sh Hamza Yusuf?

Extracted from:


I get it. I used to defend Sh Hamza Yusuf for certain things as well. You can search my Facebook posts. As late as 2016, even. So I get that some of you will react angrily to criticism of the man given how he is a scholar and has been teaching Islamic subjects for decades.

But, at a certain point, things can no longer be ignored. When there is a repeated pattern of statements and associations, we are left no choice but to revisit prior assumptions. I went through that revisiting process. And increasingly many others are as well with HY and with other select Muslim figures who repeatedly make choices against Islam and the interests of Muslims. [And I emphasize “select” because it is only a small group and the majority of our ulama are not like this alhamdulillah.]

I am not going to rehash every egregious error HY has made over the past 20 years. But here are some select, salient items:

  • He has repeatedly expressed support for secular governance and denounced any sort of political Islam, including non-violent political Islam. He finds the notion of Islam influencing government legislation “delusional” and akin to Zionism. [For examples of this, see below]
  • He has made highly questionable statements on the validity of religions other than Islam, statements which, at the very least, flirt with perennialism. [He claims he is not a perennialist.]
  • He has called for reforming traditional Islamic positions in order to make them compatible with modern notions of “religious freedom.”
  • He is closely tied to secular tyrants [in particular, the UAE], works for them in their institutions like the “Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.”
  • He has praised these tyrants, chastised their political opponents, [seemingly] mocked their victims, and urged Muslims to remain loyal to them.
  • He has stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is on the same spectrum as terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. He said this at a particularly sensitive time when the MB was being brutally suppressed in Egypt and the UAE designated Western Muslim groups, like CAIR, as terror organizations for being allegedly linked to the MB.
  • He is a member of a Trump State Department Commission on Human Rights, assembled by the former head of one of the biggest human rights abusers in the world: the CIA.

That is quite the resume.

Now recently, he has come under fire for a video clip of one of his talks where he criticizes Syrians for their plight in the aftermath of the Syrian Revolution. You can watch my take on the video here:

Many brothers and sisters are hurt and disappointed by those critiquing Sh Hamza’s comments in the video clip. But the problems with his statements here are huge:

  • He uses highly insensitive and hurtful words for Syrian victims of the brutal crimes of Assad. We can assume that he didn’t intend his words to be deliberately mocking. But intention is one thing and actual effect of words and actions is another.
  • He lays the blame for the situation of Syrians at the feet of Syrians who protested Assad. In reality, Assad and his puppet masters are solely responsible for the brutal crackdown of what were initially peaceful, non-violent protests in 2011. They are responsible for the destruction of Syria, not Syrians and not even the Syrian opposition (and this is not to defend the actions of the opposition, though many prominent scholars have defended their armed resistance; see below).
  • He uses a hadith in a highly selective and imbalanced way to suggest that any opposition to rulers leads to Allah’s punishment and, furthermore, that opposition to rulers is tantamount to oppression of the self!
  • He characterizes the rule of tyrants as “wisdom,” saying that there is wisdom that there are tyrants like Saddam Hussein ruling with an iron fist. He ignores the undeniable historical and geopolitical reality that these tyrants have been installed over the Muslim world by Western powers to control and exploit the Ummah.
  • He says that Muslims don’t deserve civil institutions and are better suited to be ruled over by tyrants like Saddam Hussein, and he cites Iraqis who supposedly wish Saddam had never been overthrown. Of course, HY completely glosses over the fact that Saddam was overthrown by US military invasion, not mass protest or revolution. The fact that many Iraqis lament the loss of Saddam is not some point in favor of tyrant rule, as HY seems to suggest. Rather, their lament speaks to the relatively worse situation the savage US invasion has created.

All of these points HY has made in other contexts, by him and, even more nakedly, by his teacher and mentor Sh Abdullah bin Bayyah, who has been deputized by the UAE to spread what has by now become a gospel of tyranny: All opposition to rulers, even non-violent, is Islamically forbidden. Only obedience and strict submission to them is Islamically acceptable, even when those rulers are secular tyrants who violate Islam and the most fundamental rights of their populations.

Sadly this is a long record of outright serving the interests of oppressors, some of whom are actively involved with the plight of millions of Muslims.

Red Herrings

Some have gone so far as to claim that criticizers of HY are defending the Syrian revolutionaries and the destructive results of the Revolution. But, putting my personal views aside, does criticizing Sh HY’s immoral, unjust statements means that one supports the Syrian revolutionaries?

No, this does not follow, logically. One could be opposed to both. It is indeed possible to denounce tyrants and their agents and ALSO not support armed revolution. At the very least, it is possible to remain silent and not go out of one’s way to praise tyrants and call their oppression “wisdom.” None of that logically entails supporting armed revolution.

We need to slow down and think logically.

It should be said: There is no traditional Islamic position that supports the aiding of tyrants or siding with them, as we see from the likes of HY and others. People have become very confused by these scholarly agents of tyrants, but some clarifications need to be made.

The way the issue is being framed now is incorrect. The main question being asked is: Is it permissible to rebel against a ostensibly Muslim ruler? This is a complex question with many details (and the complication that some of these Arab tyrants are not actually Muslim). I have never claimed that there is a clear answer to this question because it is all case-by-case and requires ijtihad from ulama. When it came to the Syrian Revolution, there were major scholars on both sides. Major scholars like Sh Kurayyim (teacher of Sh Ramadan al-Buti), Sh SabuniSh Muhammad Hassan al-DiduSh Muhammad Yaqoubi, and Sh Qaradawi signed off on it and strongly condemned Assad.

BUT that is NOT the issue with HY. He should be asked: Is it permissible to aid, promote, defend, and otherwise side with a ruler who is massacring and oppressing Muslims?

The answer is NO. There is absolutely no ikhtilaf on this. Point to one scholar who has allowed this. In fact, most of the major ulama of our tradition suffered immensely for refusing to side with tyrant sultans, everyone from Imam Malik to Imam Ahmad to Ibn Taymiyya and countless others. And all those who did not directly oppose the injustice of the ruler remained silent and did not justify, whitewash, or otherwise cooperate with the ruler in his oppression.

And it should be noted here that HY is not the only prominent American Muslim figure making these mistakes of aligning with and servicing the project of tyrants. The reality is, American governments, including left-leaning ones, are also brutal oppressors of Muslims. How many of these figures were involved with the Obomber administration, on the payroll, or are still connected to the Democratic party in some form or fashion? The reality is, some of those throwing stones at HY are living in glass houses.

So, it is wrong to claim that HY is a quietist. If only he were promoting quietism. In reality, he is loudly pushing legitimization of tyrants. Why? What compels him to constantly do PR for these secularist tyrants and attend their Orwellian “peace” fora? Can’t he stay silent instead of blaming Syrians for their plight and all-but-explicitly telling Muslims around the world to be thankful for secular dictators?

Isn’t the danger and harm of siding with tyrants obvious? I have addressed this before. These tyrants are Western imperial agents meant to suppress the Muslim world for the interests of Western powers. This has undeniable perils for millions of Muslims. But there is also the religious danger. These tyrants are actively aiming to transform Islam, distort it for their purposes. Scholars who side with tyrants are lending legitimacy to such projects. And, furthermore, when respectable scholars are seen associating and defending blood-thirsty tyrants, many in the Muslim community become increasingly disillusioned with scholars, thinking that ulama are corrupt. Many have admitted recently of their disappointment with HY for his recent pro-tyrant statements despite having been dedicated students of his for many years. These are all major harms.

So, HY should address these concerns that so much of the community has with his actions. These are the community’s questions, not mine. So he should answer them. And why don’t his loudest defenders and closest students pressure him to answer, instead of bending over backwards with all kinds of ridiculous justifications for what is seen as unjustifiable? What’s going on there?

And to those who want to defend HY’s position on revolution and uprising, what about this:

The most blatant contradiction from the UAE-backed “anti-rebellion” camp of HY and others is their deafening silence when it came to the UAE inciting revolt against Muhammad Morsi in Egypt. Where was their concern for law and order then? Where was their concern for chaos and loss of innocent life at that crucial time? This is clear inconsistency.

PS – Excerpt from HY’s The Prayer of the Oppressed, published in 2010:

“The modern Muslim obsession with so-called Islamic governance is a dangerous fantasy. It has led to a politicization of Islam that has eviscerated its spiritual power and exalted indiscriminate violence as a ‘justifiable means’ to Islamic ends.”

Philosophically, HY is completely opposed to the idea that Islam can have anything to do with government legislation. He says to think otherwise is “delusion.” He forcefully spells this out here.


Deen Intensive, which facilitates much of HY’s programming outside of Zaytuna, made a statement defending HY.

First of all, again, why are others constantly speaking up for HY instead of him directly addressing these major concerns?

Secondly, the statement is titled “What’s Your Intention?” But intention is irrelevant here as far as the community is concerned. The expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” is apropos. What matters to millions of Muslims around the world is the impact that these words and actions have and the larger foreign interests they serve. To try to justify damaging, harmful, Islamically deleterious words and actions by appealing to private intentions is categorically rejected in Islam. As Sayiddna Umar famously established: We judge by what is apparent.

Thirdly, the article does not address HY’s involvement with the UAE, which is the entire beef of contention. The whole thing glaringly skirts the entire issue.

Fourthly, they link a speech that HY made in 2012 at a Washington DC rally, where he condemns Assad and his father for being brutal tyrants. But what are we to make of this when in HY’s more recent comments above, he is characterizing Syrians as being humiliated by Allah for their opposition to the ruler? Didn’t HY express exactly the opposition he later characterizes as folly, worthy of Divine humiliation?

Deen Intensive claims that in the recent clip, HY was “only” criticizing the “architects” who “started the bloodshed,” but that is nowhere expressed in the lecture. In the full lecture, the context of HY’s statements are very clear: He considers it a grave metaphysical error for one to work to rectify the world of its problems without first rectifying one’s internal state. This is the discussion that leads to him speaking of Syria, the implication being that Syrians are suffering because of deficiency in their spiritual state.

Now, it is absolutely true, of course, that Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves, as HY cites from the Quran. But it is egregious to use this example of Allah’s Sunna in context of denouncing opposition to secular tyrants while simultaneously attacking the very notion of political Islam, as HY consistently does in an official capacity in his involvement with the UAE Peace Forum and elsewhere. Demanding justice and demanding that secular tyrants stop their rape and terrorizing of Muslim populations around the world does not require one to be spiritually complete or even spiritually healthy. Islamically, even the spiritually degenerate have rights and can demand those rights.

Fifthly, what is also interesting is Deen Intensive cites HY’s involvement with a “high level meeting in Rome with faith leaders, government officials, and academics.” HY’s teacher, Bin Bayyah, has been, of course, heavily involved with facilitating the Vatican’s recent tour of the Arab world and holding Catholic mass in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Since then, the UAE has also announced the building of Churches and Hindu Temples in their country, which is a shocking development in terms of Islamic ethics and the clear-cut prohibition agreed upon by scholars of constructing such religious buildings in Muslim lands according to the Sharia. So, it is not clear what role HY played in such matters, but more burning questions are raised by his involvement with Bin Bayyah and the Vatican.





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