Imam Hamza Yusuf &  The Compound Ignorance of White Supremacy  

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At a conference dedicated to reviving the Islamic spirit,  leading American Islamic scholar Imam Hamza Yusuf was asked about Muslim solidarity with the black lives matter movement.

In response, Imam Hamza Yusuf outright trivializes the black struggle with a litany of remarks demonstrating he is completely clueless about systemic nature of white supremacy and its role as a political system.

As an answer to a question about Muslim solidarity with black lives matter,  Imam Hamza Yusuf went on to laud America for having the best anti-discrimination laws in the world. He educated his audience on the high black on black crime, and proceeded to assert that not all police officers are racist.

To top it all off, in a clarification speech, Imam Hamza Yusuf proceeded to argue that the greatest tragedy facing African-Americans was not racism but the breakdown of the black family.

If one were unaware of the Islamic background speaker and simply listened to excerpts of the audio, one could easily believe a Fox News Host was speaking based upon the deplorable manner in which Imam Hamza Yusuf pathologizes black people. What is clear is that Imam Hamza Yusuf does not understand white supremacy and this undercuts the validity of the guidance he is able to provide the Muslim community

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Imam Hamza Yusuf’s immediate response concerning the troubling reality of racism against African-Americans is to praise the United States for its anti-discrimination laws!

The very anti-discrimination laws which often are not even vigorously enforced to have a tangible material benefit upon African-Americans, resulting in them being disproportionately bequeathed harsher prison sentences for the same crimes committed as white.

In a shocking study on the death penalty, by The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides by  Richard C. Dieter, he states that “ Race is more likely to affect death sentencing than smoking affects the likelihood of dying from heart disease. “

Thus, where are these anti-discrimination laws when it comes to preventing blacks from disproportionately being centered to harsher sentences?

This social political reality is why scholars distinguish between de facto and de Jure racism. There is no way to legislate against the larger culture attitudes in society and power structure  that reinforces forms of de facto racism.

White supremacy can exist even in absence of specific laws and the anti-discrimination law does very little to dent white supremacy as a power structure.

Discussing this further,  African-American legal scholar  Kenneth Nunn in law as a Eurocentric Enterprise writes:

“The United States law addresses itself to questions of “hate-speech,” “job discrimination,” “equal protection,” “school desegregation,” etc., without ever reaching a satisfactory solution because the real problem – cultural hegemony and racial domination – is never confronted.”

White Supremacy cannot be reduced to individual acts of discrimination. White supremacy manifests as white economic, political, social, and military dominance over black people.

Imam Hamza Yusuf lauding America for its anti-discrimination laws in a question about support for black lives matter ensures a piecemeal and alienated understanding of racism that protects white supremacy by rendering the pervasiveness of white hegemony and racial domination invisible.

Moreover, Imam Hamza Yusuf’s analysis obfuscates the manner in which the very judicial system discriminates against non-white ways of being in the world even in the manifestation of so-called anti-discrimination laws. Kenneth Nunn writes,”The very form that legal reasoning and legal analysis takes affirms white Eurocentric culture.”

Nunn argues that  the law inherently portrays subjective, arational, intuitive thought as inferior and yet these ways of knowing are inherent in African and Native American culture.  Thus, the judicial system of America is replete with Eurocentric ways of knowing which need to be addressed and combated instead of praised.

Racism and the Black Family: Yusuf’s faulty Comparison.

Imam Hamza Yusuf does a faulty comparative analysis between which is worst for black people: racism or the breakup of the black family as though racism plays no role in the destruction of the black family.

Statements such as,” The biggest tragedy of the African-American community in America is not racism, it is the breakdown of the African-American family” were made by an Islamic scholar of profound influence demonstrating a complete lack of a grasp on the role of institutional racism on the impact on the destruction of the black family.

In fact, Malcolm X whom Imam Hamza  Yusuf is fond of quoting frequently described how racism led to the breakdown of the black family:

the Black man who fathered the baby, was never permitted to have the responsibility of a father. All he did was make the baby. He couldn’t recognize it as his; it was going to be sold as soon as the master wanted to sell it. He was never permitted to develop a sense of responsibility for taking care of his own offspring.

Yusuf’s very comparison is flawed: The descendants of enslaved black Africans in America have no direct knowledge of their family’s ancestors as a direct result of slavery.

Any discussion of the destruction of the black family without the role of structural racist structures from slavery to the contemporary prison industrial complex contributes to the further pathologizing of black people as hypersexual irresponsible entities.

Police Brutality & Black on Black Crime 

As Imam Hamza Yusuf points out how not all police are racist, he begins to discuss the high black on black crime.Affirming black lives matter is not mutually exclusive with combating both police brutality and black on black crime,-especially when one considers that both stems from the same source: white supremacy.The high black on black crime is not attributed to some innate delinquency or aggression among black youth.

Blacks have been systematically disempowered and inner city communities with high black on black crime exist, not because blacks are naturally aggressive, but because of economic and social conditions that have been imposed on the community by malicious outside forces. Put bluntly, structural racism still enduring after “anti-discrimination laws” endeavoring to end racial inequality is a contributing factor to black on black crime.

As for the claim that not all police officers are racist, this is completely non-sequitur when we examine white supremacy as a structural system. Individual police officers who comprise an institution do not all have to be racist for the police as an institution to inflict massive anti-black violence.

Considering the first relationship black people in America have with the police is trough slave patrols which were sent to capture escaped black slaves, the police just like all institutions in America, cannot be separated from the larger system of structural racism in America. The fact that not all police  in America individually harbor racist sentiments is irrelevant to this reality.

Compound Ignorance of White Supremacy

For the scholar, Nelly Fller Jr, the issue of understanding race is pivotal when it comes to questions of epistemology, “if you don’t understand racism/white supremacy, what it is and how it works, everything else you think you understand will only confuse you”.

In discussing the  Concept of Epistemology in Islam,  Imam Hamza Yusuf  himself states that without a solid knowledge of epistemology, “we become victims of worldviews that engendered by others that do not share the first principles that we share.” 

 Sadly, Imam Hamza Yusuf failure to thoroughly understand white supremacy has led to him becoming a victim of this ideology. African-American Muslim, Ali had this to say about Hamza Yusuf’s remarks:

The stance of Hamza Yusuf toward Black Lives Matter is no different than racist white bigots when it comes to the plight of Blacks in America. Hamza Yusuf perception on the slaughtering of innocent black lives doesn’t derive from Islam, instead it is the continuation of hateful and deceptive rhetoric that is often deployed by white supremacists.  This dangerous rhetoric is often used to devalue Black lives, while justifying our annihilation.

The failure to understand white supremacy opens the potential for very compounded ignorance which Imam Hamza Yusuf often critiques, which can jeopardize the very epistemological foundation of the guidance ones provides in sermons and conferences to the Muslim community.

Reviving the Islamic Spirit

What is particularly said is that when Hamza Yusuf makes his anti-black statement of the greatest tragedy in the black community, not being racism but being the breakup of the black family, — the entire audience claps as though he made some type of profound point.

While Muslims  frequently cite the Hajj Letter as proof of the inherent inclusively of Islam,  ignored are the words that El-Hajj-Malik-Ell Shabazz made in the last interview of his life prior to his martyrdom, “The Muslim world has seemed to ignore the problem of the black American.”

Malcolm X’s statements holds true today. In fact, individuals such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X revived the Islamic spirit by working to combat this power structure.  The Islamic spirit cannot be revived without fighting oppression, calling out and destroying the most widespread system of shirk or idolatry on the planet: white supremacy.  What Imam Hamza Yusuf did was dangerously trivialize the struggle of black people and the widespread pervasiveness of white supremacy in the world.

About Hakeem Muhammad

Hakeem Muhammad is an African-American Muslim thinker and activist from Chicago. He has has taught African American philosophy and Critical Race Theory at Spartan Debate Institute at Michigan State University and Cal State debate and Speech Institute at UC Berkeley. As an advocate for social change, Hakeem has delivered workshops on protest rhetoric for Harvard Debate Council and has worked in the African-American Male initiative at West Georgia tutoring in political science, history, and English. He is currently a 2016 MUSLIMARC Fellow.