The "Sufi" Master of Deceit: Hamza Yusuf Hanson
by Stephen Schwartz
In the long and exhausting historical process gripping America since the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, some things have become tediously predictable. One such is the series of efforts by Hamza Yusuf Hanson, based in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the country's most strident radical Islamist preachers, to reinvent himself as an adherent of the spiritual Sufi Muslim tradition.
Before 9/11, Hanson, a convert to Islam, was known for his high-pitched, hysterical rhetoric in denouncing America. His manner was notable in that many radical Muslim clerics tended to affect a quieter demeanor, even when dispensing a message of venomous hatred. Hanson, by contrast, appeared to have taken his oratorical cues from newsreels of Adolf Hitler or the harangues of Fidel Castro.
Hanson's bigoted declamations are well recorded and widely-known. As previously noted on FSM, in 1995 Hanson described Judaism as "a most racist religion." On September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11, Hanson hollered in Los Angeles, "This country (America) unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too illiterate to read the writing on the wall."
In another pearl of Hansonian wisdom, the Islamist extremist side of his multiple personality babbled freely at a 1996 convention of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a paramilitary front for Pakistani jihadists. There Hanson described America as "a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights or any other element of this society that is held sacrosanct by the ill-informed peoples that make up this charade of a society… [F]undamentals of Islam are being compromised… [C]onvention resolutions are meaningless Masonic exersises (sic) devised by men who desire to engage people in forums that would insure nothing changes… [T]here should be no voting or debate… [W]e have no room for ayes or nays." The final lines in this quotation reflect the standard radical Islamist contempt for all forms of democratic governance.
But after 9/11, as noted, a seemingly new Hamza Yusuf Hanson appeared. The former America-hater began parading as an alleged adviser to President George W. Bush, on the basis of a limited exchange of irrelevant views. Hanson began lecturing on Sufism, or Islamic spirituality, in a manner some said was more reminiscent of a self-help program than serious instruction in religious thought. And when, as such things inevitably will, he began facing questions about his turn around, Hanson assembled a cadre of enforcers to quash those who would challenge him. These acolytes, in the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere, harass critics with tendentious e-mails, and work, with notable success, to elicit praise in print, from naïve journalists, for Hamza Yusuf as the epitome of Islamic moderation.
One member of Hanson's entourage, Aftab Malik, is extremely interesting, in that his association with Hanson provides echoes of the themes in Hanson's pre-9/11 agitation. Malik has defended Hanson against my criticisms of him on FSM, labeling such inquiries into Hanson's ideological shell game as expressions of crude American patriotism, leading to hate crimes! Malik throws in other gratuitous insults and distortions, to substitute for real answers. But moderate Muslims see no contradiction between belief in Islam as a normal religion and deep feelings of patriotism, and I refuse to apologize for my devotion to America's interests.
Malik's past includes a role as an editor for one of the most troubling authors in Islam today: Harun Yahya, a Turkish Islamist known for producing elaborately-printed volumes in many languages. These works include anti-Masonic conspiracy propaganda, in line with the bizarre vocabulary Hamza Yusuf Hanson employed when he was open about his Islamist radicalism. Malik's name appears as editor of Harun Yahya's 2002 book, Islam Denounces Terrorism, published in a lavish four-color format in Turkey, and purporting to be a Muslim response to 9/11. But according to Harun Yahya, as supported by Aftab Malik, the "real root of terrorism" is found in neither extremist ideology nor political grievances, but in… Darwinism.
Thus, once again, the mask slips in the circle of Hamza Yusuf Hanson. Harun Yahya represents something beyond radical Islam, which might best be called "crank Islam." But whatever pseudo-intellectual garb Hamza Yusuf Hanson and his friends put on, they cannot escape reality: they have separated themselves from normal American life, first in the name of "pure Islam" and now as purported devotees of Sufism. They cannot be trusted in dialogue or cooperation with moderate Muslims, or members of other faiths. While he and his followers occupy a large space in the American Muslim community, and express themselves loudly and vigorously, Hanson remains alienated and hostile to the common values that will bring repudiation of extremism and acceptance in American religious life for moderate Islam.