Shaykh Hamza Yusuf recently appeared on the the morning edition of MSNBC. He introduced Zaytuna College and the mosque controversy in New York (mislabeled as the Ground Zero Mosque, correctly known as Park51). Read the full transcript below:
JANSING: Meanwhile, the controversy prompted Time magazine to ask, Is America – if America is Islamophobic. A time poll found that 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers. And a small college in Berkeley, California, may become the new battleground in America’s uneasy relationship with Islam. Zaytuna College in Berkeley is the first accredited Muslim college in the U.S.. The first classes were held this summer. I’m joined by Zatuna College founder Hamza Yusuf Hanson. Thanks very much for joining us, good morning.
HAMZA YUSUF HANSON [FOUNDER, ZAYTUNA COLLEGE]: Thank you, good morning.
JANSING: Yeah, classes began this summer, I think people are just starting to hear about this. Tell us a little bit about the mission of the college, why did you find it – found it?
HANSON: Well, first of all, just to clarify, it’s not actually accredited. It’s – we’re in the process of accreditation and that takes a considerable amount of time. But, I mean, basically the idea behind it is the Muslim religious community is quite extensive now in the United States and every religious community in America eventually develops institutions in order to train people and teach people and colleges, Harvard began as a seminary, Yale began as a seminary, so we tend to forget that actually many of our greatest colleges began as religious institutions.
JANSING: So, let me ask you why you think that there was a need for a Muslim university. As I understand it now, if you want to be an imam and you want to have a mosque in the United States, you have to leave the country to study, right?
HANSON: Well, that’s the problem. I mean, we have foreign imams that often come to the country and many of then are very fine, decent people but they don’t understand the nuances of the American society. They haven’t studied the traditions of our own country. And it’s important, I think, to have those two elements. You have to have people that are Muslim, but – here teaching. But also people that understand the culture that they’re living in, understand the community itself, the young people, the immigrant children that are born here, they’re Americans, they’re not from Cairo, they’re not from Rawal Pindi in Pakistan, so, it’s really important.
JANSING: And in fact, you, yourself, grew up Christian, as I understand it. Both in Walla Walla, Washington and Northern California. Do you understand the unease among many Americans, and we are seeing a lot of it come out with this mosque controversy?
HANSON: I – know you, I think there’s a lot of fear and some of it’s justifiable in that over the last ten years there has been a concerted effort by a certain segment. It’s a very small minority, but their powerful and vocal, to demonize the Muslim community. Abdul Rauf, who – Feisal Abdul Rauf, who’s the imam there, is an extremely gentle person and to frame him as an extremist means that the whole community is mad because, you know, if you take somebody like that or Daisy Kahn, I mean these are people that have spent their life in interfaith dialogue and really trying to attack the very ideology that I think people are afraid of.
JANSING: You know, you heard that poll, 46% Of Americans see Muslims as more likely than other religions to be violent against nonbelievers. I wonder what your reaction is to that poll and what can be done to turn it around?
HANSON: Right. I would look at, there’s a paper on Google called ‘Body Count,’ which shows that Islam, actually, out of the seven major religions, the only religion less violent, historically, is Hinduism. And I think people tend to forget Muslims historically have lived very well with people. You know, I think Muslims are not redefining America here. And there’s a lot of fear that they are. I think that we’re reasserting the original definition of this country, which is about religious freedom. So it’s really important.
My own great, great-grandfather, Michael O’Hanson, his greeting to America coming from Ireland was the nativist, anti-Irish, Catholic, anti-Catholic Irish riots in 1844 in Philadelphia. But those riots actually led to the consolidation of the city of Philadelphia and the Irish Catholics now are fully enfranchised. One out of every four Americans has Catholic roots in this country now, even though they were 1% of the population at the founding of the country. So, I think Muslims now are new kids on the block and every community that comes to this country, you know, they have to really find their place at the table and I think that’s what Muslims are negotiating now. America is a process of negotiations. And I think-
JANSING: And you, as you say, are part of that renegotiation process with this new university. We have to leave it at that. But Hamza Usef Hanson, thank you so much for being with us today.
HANSON: Okay, well, thank you very much.