In all the anger over Sufi Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s comments about the Black Lives Matter movement, we seem to have forgotten that he linked the Muslim Brotherhood to Daesh terrorists.
A furore has surrounded Western Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf’s comments at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention last month. As the internet maelstrom lashed the Sufi sheikh for his comments about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in Toronto, I was somewhat surprised to see how little reaction there was against his morally, intellectually and spiritually bankrupt linkage of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
After being prompted and questioned by presenter Mehdi Hasan regarding exactly who Yusuf was referring to in one of his Facebook posts where he said that “a plague was upon us”, the theologian proceeded to say that the Brotherhood were the beginning of a “chain” that eventually brought forth groups like Al-Qaeda. Being a Sufi who is obsessed with the concept of an ideological silsila, or chain, of learning and ideas passed on from a font of knowledge, Yusuf’s comments can be directly interpreted as meaning that, in some warped way, the Muslim Brotherhood actually gave birth to Al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorists.
I have waited weeks to write this article on purpose, in order to afford some time for Yusuf to backtrack on his highly politically charged statements that places innocent lives in danger not only in Egypt, but further afield. Unfortunately, the Sufi cleric has failed to clarify his comments about the Brotherhood, merely stating after the RIS controversy exploded in his face (albeit mainly due to his maligning of the BLM movement) and that he did not wish harm to come to members of the Brotherhood.
But that is exactly what will happen. Yusuf has not backtracked and said that he did not mean what he said about the Brotherhood. He has only stated that he does not wish harm on them in order to deflect from the very same criticisms that are being levelled at him here, which is understandable as humans have a propensity to try and shield themselves from fair comment and criticism.
The complicit ‘apolitical’ Sufi
I was tempted to ask, “How could he say such a thing?” but the answer to that is so readily apparent that I dispensed with my own enquiry. Yusuf represents a politicised strain of apparently apolitical Sufis, to include such characters as Habib Ali Al-Jifri, a Yemeni Sufi who resides in the United Arab Emirates under the patronage of the virulently anti-Brotherhood and anti-freedom Emirati ruling class. These preachers say that they are against political Islamic movements, and regularly reduce Islam merely to a personal quest of self-betterment or, at the very most, a “healthy” Muslim community in touch with their Lord and acting like good citizens.
Like Yusuf, however, guess who Al-Jifri criticises the most? No prizes for reaching the obvious answer which is, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems that, with the right prodding (maybe UAE petrodollars), people like Al-Jifri can be convinced to become temporarily politicised before retreating to their lavishly furnished spiritual monasteries.
Sufi preachers like this are absolutely adored by tyrannical and despotic regimes, as they advocate a weak and flaccid version of Islam that does not hold power to account. Unlike classical scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah (a man who is often maligned by people who have not even read his work, a topic for another time) who spoke up against the corrupt and the wicked, the political-apolitical Sufis err on the side of cowardice for the sake of maintaining their air of infallibility.
While garbing themselves in the aloof armour of being apolitical and distancing themselves from the impurities of the gutter politics, Sufis like Al-Jifri and Yusuf quite often make politically charged comments. By declaring that the Brotherhood are the source of groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda, Hamza Yusuf is providing additional ammunition to tyrants such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who is already responsible for a campaign of mass murder.
As someone who is called “sheikh” by many in the Muslim community and with a global presence and reach, one would have thought that Yusuf would realise the extent of the damage that his words may cause. One would also expect him to show some respect and sympathy for the thousands that the Sisi regime has killed just to ensure that freedom is annihilated in Egypt. Saying that he simply wishes no harm to come to supporters of the Brotherhood is neither here nor there, especially as there are thousands of graves filled with the corpses of those whose dead eyes would be looking accusingly at Yusuf for his dangerous and irresponsible comments if they could.
Why are they so dangerous and irresponsible? What one must ask themselves, immediately, upon hearing what was said about the Brotherhood is the following; would Al-Qaeda or Daesh ever have stood for free and fair elections as the Brotherhood did in 2012? Would Al-Qaeda or Daesh ever have peacefully demonstrated at Rabaa and other places as the Brotherhood did following Al-Sisi’s coup in 2013? Do Al-Qaeda and Daesh even believe that human beings, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, should have a say in how the state in which they live is run?
The answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “no”. So how on Earth can the likes of Yusuf, living in safety, security and freedom in the United States, defame those who died fighting for the same things he enjoys and takes for granted every day as those who spawned Daesh?
In the interests of being balanced and fair, however, it is important to stress that Yusuf is not in the same league as the likes of the Sufi chief of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, Ahmad El-Tayeb, who actively and directly cheerleads for the murder of his own people. In fact, on a grassroots level, there is much to praise about how Yusuf’s style and approach over the past couple of decades have done much for the betterment of the Muslim individual. This is even if many, including myself, would disagree with his school of thought and some of his more controversial decisions such as acting as adviser to former US President George W. Bush while he was making his plans to erase Iraq.
However, his previous service does not excuse what he said, and Yusuf needs to come out immediately and without delay and say that there is absolutely no linkage between the extremists of Daesh and the moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Any less than this makes him complicit in the violence inflicted upon those Brotherhood supporters who are being slaughtered en masse in Egypt just for saying “enough” to tyranny.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.