Controversial American cleric Hamza Yusuf declines to step down from prestigious position at organization supporting the Abraham Accords.
Rabat – Hamza Yusuf, a controversial American cleric, is embroiled in a scandal over his implicit support of the UAE’s agreement with Israel. The Islamic scholar is vice president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies (FPPMS). The group released a statement on August 20 endorsing the UAE deal and praising Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
The now-deleted statement said the UAE-Israel agreement “stopped Israel from extending its sovereignty over Palestinian lands” and could “promote peace and stability across the world,” according to Middle East Eye.
Hamza Yusuf joined Abdullah bin Bayyah, his teacher and the organization’s president, in signing the statement. The move caused great consternation among supporters of Palestinian rights. His fellow board member Aisha al-Adawiya resigned from the organization on Sunday in response to the statement.
Yusuf took no such action. Instead, he blamed the media in an August 24 statement on Facebook. Hamza Yusuf called reports on the statement that contained his signature “fabricated and erroneous.” His statement aimed to express his support for Palestine, complemented by various passages from the Quran. But Yusuf refused to follow the example set by Aisha al-Adawiya and resign from his position.
Hamza Yusuf’s abdication of responsibility over his organization’s statement will come as no surprise to people familiar with his work. As an American Muslim he has repeatedly sided with the powerful and expressed implicit disdain for the powerless. Even while the American Muslim community is under increasing threat of US xenophobia and hate, he has categorically refused to support fellow vulnerable communities.
In 2014, Hamza Yusuf refused the students of Zaytuna College their rights to free speech when he barred them from participating in Black Lives Matter protests. As president of the Islamic college, he stated that “we must deny permission for students to even go near these protests.”
As the local Black community protested the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, he took the side of the local police and political establishment. A student at the college told Al Jazeera “there was a convenient convergence of the ideology of respectability politics and being good, law-abiding American Muslims.” The student said Yusuf’s decision implied that ”the institution itself was more important than Black lives.”
Currently Yusuf is a member of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights.” This committee was established in 2019 to protect the right to discriminate based on “religious freedom.” He joined a group of right-wing Christian and Jewish members and still provides Islamic credibility to the panel’s continuous attack on the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
The fact that Yusuf chose to work with Mike Pompeo should be enough evidence of his tendency to side with the powerful. Pompeo has suggested that “the threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer.” Pompeo has been a driving force in Israel’s annexation ambitions and states that “Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”
Hamza Yusuf claims to support Palestine, but instead continues to work for an organization that endorses the problematic UAE deal. Yusuf stresses he does not “engage in or endorse geopolitical strategies or treaties” while continuing to work with Pompeo, who Benjamin Netanyahu on August 24 called “our wonderful friend.”