Yusuf grew up a Greek Orthodox Christian and intended to become a priest in that tradition until reading the Qur’an, followed by a near-death experience at age 18, led him to convert to Islam. In the late 1970s, Yusuf studied under Abdalqadir as-Sufi in the United Kingdom, then studied Sharia sciences in the United Arab Emirates before continuing his education in Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania in the mid-1980s.
In 1996 he co-founded Zaytuna College, an institution dedicated to the revival of classical Islamic learning in Berkeley, California. His efforts as a public intellectual have included divorcing acts of violence and terrorism from any religious justification. As a result, he has been declared an apostate (Arabic: murtadd) by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Yusuf is often referred to with the honorific Imam or Shaykh.
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Image by Omar Chatriwala CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia