by MASQ UK
‘…people… have become so trapped in the trappings of religion that they have forgotten its true essence’ (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf)
As has already been detailed on this website, in a recording uploaded to YouTube last year (has since been removed) Shaykh Hamza Yusuf made a number of statements about the founder (peace be upon him) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (AMJ), his followers, the members of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at-e-Islam Lahore (AAIIL) and the famous Qur’an translator Marmaduke Pickthall. Following his wild inaccuracies, heavy handed language and catastrophic decision to agree with and affirm that tens of millions of people who recite the kalima shahada are non-Muslim, he felt compelled to issue a retraction on the Sandala website. Quite unsurprisingly, however, he chose not to rectify the overindulgences highlighted in our initial response, but to instead deepen his anti-AMJ/AAIIL rhetoric as he apologetically played to a theatre of fading admirers and dissenting voices.
You see, his mistake was that in the middle of his tirade against Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him), he dared to direct a few crumbs of praise in favour of Maulana Muhammad Ali (ra), his translation of the Qur’an and the AAIIL (see original post for a more detailed discussion on this). Once the video was released, an onslaught of abuse and discontent was heaped upon Shaykh Yusuf, both on forums and websites across the web. Admirer quickly turned sceptic, and the South Asian anti-Ahmadi propaganda machine charged full steam ahead.
Below are some of his statements accompanied by a few of our comments in response.
[Shaykh Yusuf] The error I wish to clear up concerns a statement I made some years ago while commenting on Imam al-Tahawi’s creed. In dealing with the section on the “seal” of prophecy in that text, I brought up the false interpretation of that concept used by the false prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In retrospect, perhaps I should have refrained from providing a detailed explanation. Instead, I ventured into a thorny area, based upon my understanding of the key figures of the Ahmadiyya movement, and in doing so, I made some statements that I am obliged to retract.My error was in differentiating between the status of the two groups – the Lahoris and the Qadianis – of the Ahmadiyya movement, and stating that the Lahoris are not outside the fold of Islam. My understanding of this issue came from people I trust, not to mention Al-Azhar University’s approval of Muhammad Ali’s Religion of Islam as well as his insistence in the introduction to his Qur’an translation that he was a Muslim who accepted the finality of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
Though I clearly stated that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a false prophet and is considered outside the fold of Islam, as are his followers, and I warned people about reading Muhammad Ali’s books, I inappropriately commended his English translation of the Qur’an. I am certainly not the first Muslim to have done so, as some well-known scholars of the past have acknowledged the merit of Muhammad Ali’s translation, and some translators, including Yusuf Ali and Marmaduke Pickthall, not only relied heavily on it but also praised it. Regrettably, I was in error by doing so. Adherence to the sound principles of our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is our only salvation from error. According to a hadith, to praise deviants and innovators is to aid in the destruction of Islam. I seek refuge in God from that and ask forgiveness for anything done unwittingly to that disastrous end.
[Comment] A conservative estimation would put the number of Ahmadi Muslims well into the tens of millions. Each of them recites the kalima shahada at least five times a day during their salat, not to mention their sunna and nawafil prayers. Shaykh Yusuf has here agreed with and affirmed the edict that each one of them, their forefathers who were Ahmadi and the founder of the AMJ (peace be upon him) were and are all outside the fold of Islam. He is a Shaykh of wide repute, classically trained by scholars held in high esteem, and so cannot hide behind the abstract consensus of some ‘Ulema’. He carries his own accountability (hisab) upon his shoulders with regards to such matters. The irony of his affirmation that Ahmadis are non-believers resonates in the profound quotations he himself stated at the outset of his article, namely:
“Whenever someone calls his brother Muslim a kafir, one of them must be a kafir [either the one being accurately being called a kafir, or the one who falls into kufr, by inaccurately accusing his brother of being a kafir].”
– Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him
“Takfir should be reserved for one who clearly falls into apostasy, states it openly, chooses it as his din, rejects the testimony of faith, and leaves the religion of Islam altogether.”
– Taqi al-Din al-Subki
“To deem a thousand disbelievers Muslim is safer with God than to deem one Muslim a disbeliever.”
– Imam Abu Hanifah
One would have reasonably expected that the above admonishments would weigh heavily upon the heart and conscience of a person of the Shaykh’s standing. As he knows, by the Prophetic standard a Muslim is one who professes the shahada – Ahmadi Muslims do so every day. Regarding the second statement, he should know that Ahmadis have never openly nor secretly professed apostasy (God forbid), chosen it as their din (religion), rejected the shahada or left the religion – and they never will because they are devout Muslims.
And so based on what is plain and accessible to all, the Shaykh clearly ignored the safer position highlighted in the final statement and in doing so left himself liable to falling prey to the hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) millions of times over – and Almighty God knows best. One shudders at the thought and is left not only confused, but also with a critical question in mind: If the Shaykh does not here appear faithful to the statements of the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him), our righteous predecessors, or even his own Independent Reasoning (ijtihad), then who or what does command his allegiance? Are reactionary apologetics more important than his regard for the Prophetic instruction and the guidance of our righteous predecessors? These are questions for the Shaykh’s conscience.
Additionally, you may have observed that the Shaykh backtracked on his position vis-a-vis Marmaduke Pickthall and a group of modern Qur’an translators (see original post). Rather than to have only rectified his initial position, he should have issued an apology.
[Shaykh Yusuf] When the issue concerning the difference between the Lahoris and Qadianis was brought to my attention, I made several calls to scholars I know and trust, and received different opinions about the religious category under which the Lahoris fall. One prominent and well-known Pakistani scholar informed me that while there is a nuanced difference between the two groups, both, however, are equally anathematized in Pakistan. Another well-known American scholar of Islam informed me that he was under the same assumption as I based upon Al-Azhar’s certification of Muhammad Ali’s Religion of Islam. He stated that Al-Azhar would never certify an apostate’s work on Islam. Nevertheless, since that time, several fatwas and statements of various scholars I trust stating the contrary opinion have come to my attention and convinced me of my error.
Al-Azhar has ruled that both sects are outside of Islam, and I accept the ruling of the former rector and mufti, Shaykh Al-Azhar, Gad al-Haqq, may God have mercy on him. I am very cautious of takfir, but if a body as meticulous as Al-Azhar issues an official position about a group, we are obliged to concede to them. I have great respect for the balance and moderate tradition that Al-Azhar represents and know that they do not take takfir lightly. Hence, I defer such judgment to them, and retract my previous statement. As the saying goes, “The people of Mecca are more familiar with their mountain trails.”
[Comment] There are a few points of interest here. In the first paragraph of the essay, Shaykh Yusuf clearly elucidated upon how he arrived at his initial opinion, stating: ‘My understanding of this issue came from people I trust…’. Without recognising the glaring irony, he later states above that he realised the error of that opinion by making, ‘…several calls to scholars I know and trust’. This begs the question: If the first set of people he chose to rely upon were untrustworthy, then how can he/we rely upon the credibility of the second set?
The Shaykh mentions that he spoke to a scholar from Pakistan who admitted that there are nuanced differences between the Ahmadis and Lahoris, yet they are, ‘…equally anathematized in Pakistan’. This appears to be more of a cultural and social attitude towards the two groups than a legal (Shar’i) grounding for casting a second group of people, who also recite the kalima shahada, outside the fold of Islam. Then again, perhaps that is all it takes these days?
The Shaykh advances his argument by discussing a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar and then concluding that he must concede to his ”trusted” consorts or guides. In outlining this, the Shaykh states: ‘I have great respect for the balance and moderate tradition that Al-Azhar represents and know that they do not take takfir lightly. Hence, I defer such judgment to them, and retract my previous statement. As the saying goes, “The people of Mecca are more familiar with their mountain trails.”’
Two points emerge here: firstly, he has already established that his initial opinion was partially based on the fact that, ‘…this issue came from people I trust, not to mention Al-Azhar University’s approval of Muhammad Ali’s Religion of Islam…’ This again highlights another conflict of trust. Nevertheless, his opinion is based on the fatwa of Shaykh Gad al-Haqq who served as the Shaykh al-Azhar from 1982 to 1992. And so what of the following Shayukh of al-Azhar who sat in their positions from the time of the claim of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) until the seat was passed onto Shaykh Gad al-Haqq, and thus had ample opportunity to issue the same fatwa?
Abd al-Rahman al-Qutb al-Nawawi 1900-1900
Salim al-Bishri 1900-1904
Ali al-Biblawi 1904-1905
Abd al-Rahman al-Shirbini 1905-1909
Hassanuh al-Nawawi 1909-1909
Salim al-Bishri 1909-1917
Muhammad al-Jizawi 1917-1927
Muhammad al-Maraghi 1927-1929
Muhammad al-Zawahiri 1929-1935
Mustafa al-Maraghi 1935-1945
Mustafa Abd al-Rizq 1945-1947
Muhammad Ma’mun al-Shinnawi 1948-1950
Abd al-Majid Salim 1950-1951
Ibrahim Hamrush 1951-1952
Abd al-Majid Salim 1952-1952
Muhammad al-Khadi Husayn 1952-1954
Abd al-Rahman Taj 1954-1958
Mahmud Shaltut 1958-1963
Hassan Mamoun 1963-1969
Muhammad al-Fahham 1969-1973
Abdel Halim Mahmoud 1973-1978
Muhammad Abd al-Rahman Bisar 1979-1982
Does the Shaykh’s respect extend to the above twenty-two Shayukh of al-Azhar, or just a single Shaykh? Furthermore, what of the fact that as recently as in 2002, long after Shaykh Gad al-Haqq passed away, al-Azhar not only endorsed the book in question by Maulana Muhammad Ali (ra), but a further five books he wrote? The Shaykh is perhaps also unaware that when the book ‘Religion of Islam’ was sent to al-Azhar, they went further than to simply endorse it, but actually published it themselves in an edition which is still scattered across book shops in Cairo? Our purpose here is not to endorse books written by members of the AAIIL, but simply to highlight some clear discrepancies in the Shaykh’s arguments and methodology. Indeed, the Shaykh was correct to describe this as a ‘thorny area’, but perhaps due to his own overindulgences and negligent lack of effort in researching the subject – rather than any error on the part the AMJ.
The second point relates to the statement: “The people of Mecca are more familiar with their mountain trails.” It may have been lost on the Shaykh, but Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) was born and lived in India, not Cairo. And so the Shaykh deferred his trust to the shepherds of the wrong trails.
Lastly, the most disappointing thing to come out of the Shaykh’s statement is a serious flaw in methodology and scholarly integrity. He knows full well that not a single person heralding from of our shared righteous predecessors, Maliki or otherwise, would have affirmed the blanket kufr (disbelief) of tens of millions of people on the basis of a few conversations with trusted scholarly friends, as he appears to have done. They certainly would have sought the advice of the learned, but it would have been beyond one’s wildest imagination that they would have reaffirmed the kufr of so many people without themselves first investigating the issues involved thoroughly and through a direct analysis of the texts and statements involved. It does not appear that the Shaykh has read a single line from the works of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) or his Successors (khulafa’). This despite the fact that reading the primary texts of any subject matter should go hand in hand with the Shaykh’s vocation. Futhermore, and for those not familiar with the Shaykh, he belongs to a tradition of scholars who are anguished by the fact that literalist Muslims are quick to pass judgement on Sufi saints and neither take the time to read primary texts nor consider the hidden meanings beneath them.
[Shaykh Yusuf] For all these reasons, I request that my statements about the Lahoris be removed from the Internet, as I am not qualified to have an opinion about the matter and cannot make takfir of a group or individual on my own, as that is a judicial responsibility in Islam.
[Comment] Agreed. Nevertheless, he did state at the outset, ‘Though I clearly stated that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a false prophet and is considered outside the fold of Islam, as are his followers‘. This does not seem to stack up to the Shaykh’s above statement, ‘I am not qualified to have an opinion about the matter and cannot make takfir of a group or individual on my own‘. At least inconsistency is a consistent feature of the Shaykh’s poor initial statement and retraction.
[Shaykh Yusuf] Why Does This Matter? Many modern Muslims are probably unfamiliar with the great loss of life this particular fitna caused in the past. In 1953, Pakistan was shaken by protests aimed at removing the Qadiani minister, Zafar Allah Khan. The protests succeeded, but over ten thousand Pakistanis lost their lives in the process. I hope that the few Muslims who have seized upon my mistakes will refrain from reawakening a fitna that has had such frightful consequences in the past. A hadith says, “Fitna is asleep; may God curse the one who awakens it.” The use of fitna as a method for social disruption is increasing in our communities. Muslims must be more vigilant about those within and without us who wittingly or unwittingly cause strife and conflict, which increasingly is leading to loss of life and limb. The Internet has become the number one source and weapon for this phenomenon, which may herald the introduction of what the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, referred to as “the age of fitna.”
[Comment] Joseph Goebbels the Nazi minister of Propaganda once said that “if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”. Shaykh Yusuf’s statement that 10,000 Pakistani’s lost their lives during the 1953 Punjab Disturbances (as it became officially known) is demonstrably untrue. The facts are that in March 1953 a campaign of murder and mayhem was launched by the Majlis Ahrar a hate organisation whose sole purpose was to stir up religious hatred (Fitna) against Ahmadis. The Disturbances were primarily centered in Punjab where they received official support from the Chief Minister of Punjab (Daultana). The violence and mayhem launched by the Ahrar reached such a level that the govt was forced to impose martial law in Punjab. The military quickly restored order and arrested the ring leaders of the Ahrar. An official government judicial inquiry was launched under the auspices of Justice Muhammad Munir (a non Ahmadi), and set about to establish the causes of the Disturbances and apportion blame for the lawlessness and the subsequent imposition of martial law. This became known as the Munir Inquiry Report and in its conclusion came down heavily against the anti Ahmadi opponents of the jamaat. Abdus Sattar Niazi and Maulana Maudoodi were both handed death sentences which were subsequently commuted to life.
The Ahrar campaign led to physical attacks upon Ahmadi mosques (Ahmadiyya Noor Mosque,Rawalpindi set on fire), and countless Ahmadi houses and businesses torched and looted. Ahmadis were killed in Lahore, but at no point did any Ahmadi retaliate or instigate any violence whatsoever. The official Munir Inquiry Report stated (on the number of killed and injured) as a result of the military opening fire upon the rioters (Ahrar):
” 66 persons more must have been injured in the firing because that number of wounded persons admitted to the Lahore hospitals had gunshot wounds. The number of casualties admitted by the military to have been caused in quelling the disturbances in Lahore waseleven killed and forty-nine wounded. In some other towns also there were a number of casualties caused by firing by the police or the military.”
A far cry from the inflated and patently false figure of “10,000 killed” in the Punjab Disturbances as quoted by Shaykh Yusuf. As far as removing Zafarullah Khan from the post of Foreign Minister (a key Ahrar demand), the government of the day stood firm and he remained in office until 1954. The Chief Minister of the Punjab (Daultana) was dismissed in disgrace and the Prime Minister (Nazimuddin), who did little to stop the Disturbances was dismissed by the Governor General of Pakistan. The Fitna as Shaykh Hamza rightly describes it came about as a direct result of the Takfir propagated by the anti Ahmadi Ahrar, who were held to be at blame by an (non Ahmadi) independent government judicial inquiry. The protests did not succeed as Shaykh Yusuf seems to suggest, but were a watershed in Pakistan’s history and marked a time when a civilian government stood firm against Takfiri elements who wished to propagate Fitna throughout the land, and ensured that the curse of sectarianism was held at bay in Pakistan for a whole generation.
[Shaykh Yusuf] In refutation to those accusing me of disbelief or questioning my faith, I would like to clarify something that is obvious to most people who know me: I am an orthodox Muslim. I follow the Maliki school of law; I believe in and accept the creeds of Imam al-Tahawi, Imam al-Ash’ari, and Imam al-Maturidi as all being valid understandings of the Divine in our faith and sources for sound dogmatic theology; and I am also a believer in the agreed-upon path of Imam al-Junaid and of those who are rightly-guided among the Sufis, such as Abu Talib al-Makki, Imam al-Qushayri, Imam al-Ghazali, Sidi Ahmad Zarruq, and countless others. I am not a Perennialist and never have been. I believe Islam abrogated previous dispensations, as asserted in the major creeds of Islam, but I do agree with Imam al-Ghazali’s position of the possibility of salvation outside of the faith of Islam and am not exclusivist in that manner. When I said, “I don’t believe in exclusivist religion” I was referring to that position and was not attributing Divine sanction after the advent of God’s final dispensation, Islam, to any other faith tradition.
[Comment] Should the Shaykh pause for a moment and consider his position, he might realise the irony that following his own affirmation of takfir over tens of millions of people, who each recite the kalima shahada, he found himself subjected to the same accusation. Not from a single Ahmadi Muslim, we might add, but from many people once considered his admirers. Anyone in doubt of this need only review the detail the Shaykh goes into when defending himself.
Above all, this particular statement saddens the heart. It represents a tragic reflection of the contemporary Muslim world and points towards why the Imam Mahdi should have arrived in this age – as we believe he (peace be upon him) did. Let us explain. Shaykh Yusuf here attempts to make clear to the reader, particularly his detractors, that he is in fact a strong and orthodox Sunni Muslim. In his attempt to achieve this he lists his spiritual and intellectual allegiances. To paraphrase, they are as follows: ‘I follow the Maliki school of law; …the creeds of Imam al-Tahawi, Imam al-Ash’ari, and Imam al-Maturidi… I am also a believer in the agreed-upon path of Imam al-Junaid and of those who are rightly-guided among the Sufis, such as Abu Talib al-Makki, Imam al-Qushayri, Imam al-Ghazali, Sidi Ahmad Zarruq, and countless others. I am not a Perennialist and never have been. I believe Islam abrogated previous dispensations…’. What saddens the heart is that we find no mention of the Qur’an and Sunna. Should they not be listed at the top of the list?
The Shaykh would have no doubt preferred to simply state the ‘Qur’an and Sunna’. He instead chose to reel out other theological credentials. Perhaps that was what the audience he was speaking to would find most important.
[Shaykh Yusuf] I sincerely thank those who defended my honor in the light of these attacks and made excuses for me, as that, according to the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, is a hallmark of the believer, whereas seeking out mistakes is a quality attributed to hypocrisy. I was asked by several people to clarify this issue due to an apparent obsession that a few people seem to have with exposing my mistakes on the Internet, as opposed to writing to me privately and edifying me that I might correct them, especially at a time when Muslims are so disunited and fragmented. Their claims to have contacted me are bewildering, as I received nothing to that effect.
[Comment] Again, the Shaykh is no doubt lost on the irony that in an article about his outright attack on tens of millions of people, he should state that to cover the faults of others is the hallmark of a believer, whereas to seek out the mistakes of others is a quality attributed to hypocrisy (note in our original post the crass and hurtful way the Shaykh attacks our founder’s knowledge of the Qur’an). He will perhaps notice that Ahmadi Muslims have never – to our knowledge – referred to him in a negative light, whereas he actively sought to insult them in the most grievous of ways. He should also note that even after his vilification of Ahmadis, we responded in such a way that we attempted to uphold a good opinion of him (husn al-zann). Does the ‘hallmark’ mentioned above now aptly apply to him or is it simply a selective hallmark reserved for those who attack him? Keep in mind that he simply could have remained silent on the AMJ and AAIIL and have said nothing. After all, what do either have to do with a lecture on the ‘Aqida of Imam Tahawi (rh)?
The Shaykh has also mentioned that one should write to him privately rather than to openly attack him. Note that he himself chose to attack tens of millions of people who recite the kalima shahada without first writing to their leader to air his grievances. He chose to attack Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) and did not first refer his grievances to the current head of the AMJ, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). He does not appear to have even read a page from the works of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him). The rule for himself once again appears at odds with what he expects of others.
Polite messages were in fact sent to him in the past by Ahmadi Muslims with no reply or acknowledgement of receipt. One can also observe that on the Sandala website where he wrote this very retraction, there are eighty comments and every single one of them is in praise of the Shaykh and his position. This does not reflect the reality as many Ahmadi Muslims posted polite comments asking why he had used such hurtful language in attacking someone he clearly knows nothing about and not a single comment was approved.
[Shaykh Yusuf] Our community is currently dealing with many grave matters: suicide bombings, sectarianism, civil wars, our great scholars of the past having their bodies dug up from their graves and desecrated, mentally challenged adolescent girls accused of blasphemy, embassies destroyed and ambassadors killed or under threat, … the list continues. As a result of the madness in our community, increasingly, for the first time since I became Muslim thirty-five years ago, I am hearing pleas such as, “Help my son – he has left Islam; help my daughter – she is having a crisis of faith.” I now receive letters and emails requesting that I talk to Muslim youth who no longer identify with our faith. Sadly, harsh-hearted haters among our community are driving people from the mosques and making the most beautiful teaching in the world appear ugly.
[Comment] The Shaykh is completely right here; there are far more important things to be concerned about. So why did he then make the initial statement and issue this provocative retraction? Surely helping the youth he mentions above would have been time better spent? It is perhaps for the Shaykh to ask himself whether or not his own series of contradictions and inaccuracies in this AMJ / Takfiri debate extends to other aspects of his teaching? If so, is he perhaps contributing towards the problem as young people are quick to recognise inconsistency and contradiction a mile away?
In conclusion, we neither sought, not take pleasure in, rebutting any scholar of Islam. Ahmadis are taught to respect all people – particularly those who aspire towards gaining goodly knowledge. Had the Shaykh simply delivered his class without attacking the Imam of the Age (peace be upon him) and all of his followers, and not also written his retraction, he would not have found a syllable of ours written about him. Nevertheless, the mercy of Almighty God has no limit and the Shaykh, in the privacy of his home at least, can still fill the obvious void in his knowledge of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) by studying his works in Arabic and English.
On one occasion the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) prayed:
O Lord, guide the community of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). O Lord, have mercy on the community of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). O Lord, bestow upon us the blessings of Muhammad and upon Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) be your Mercy, Blessings and Peace. (Tadhkirah, 1882)
* Mr M. Khan added the valuable paragraph regarding the 1953 riots. May Almighty Allah bless him.