In defense of Sheikh Yasir Qadhi
by Sheila Musaji
In 2001, Sheikh Yasir Qadhi gave a speech in which he made anti-Semitic statements, and statements doubting the extent of the Holocaust, and even recommended a book The Hoax of the Holocaust. Those comments in that speech were reprehensible.
However, that speech was a catalyst for Yasir Qadhi to re-examine his beliefs, and it does a great disservice to the man to allow the story to end there.
In a 2008 article on Muslim Matters, GPU ’08 with Yasir Qadhi: When Islamophobia Meets Perceived Anti-Semitism, Yasir Qadhi himself wrote about that speech. He admitted he had made the statements, and that they were incorrect, and he said that he no longer held such views:
... But what exactly was the basis of this nefarious charge against me? Quite simply, it was the result of a remark that was made in a lecture, in passing, almost a decade ago. The first time that I had ever been invited to England, I gave a series of lectures on the tafsir of Surah Yusuf. The Surah, of course, deals with the story of the Prophet Joseph, and its main theme is about patience and sincerity to Allāh. After delivering a series of lectures over a period of five or six days, in the last lecture, while trying to explain when and how the Jews finally returned to the ‘Promised Land’, I made some unfortunate comments that led to this charge. The comments were made in the context of the creation of the modern state of Israel. I claimed that Jews used the guilt of the Holocaust to extract from the UN the promise of a Jewish state, even though the Arabs from whom land was being taken had not been complicit in the crimes of the Nazis. I also said that Hitler never actually intended to massacre the Jews, he actually wanted to expel them to neighboring lands. I claimed that most European Jews (known as ‘Ashkenazi’) were in fact descendants of a non-Jewish race known as the Khazars. And, lastly, I claimed that Muslims need to study such topics, just like others study us – as an example, I said that a large percentage of ‘Orientalists’ were Jews, whereas no Judaic Studies professors were Muslims. All of this was done (believe it or not!) in the span of a few minutes.
Where did I get all of this information from? In the summer of 1999, someone had forwarded me a website of a group that called itself the ‘Institute for Historical Review’. At the time, I found the articles on it quite fascinating; the pseudo-scientific style in which they wrote gave the impression that they were a serious academic research body. It was only later, after more research, that I realized that they were a front for a group of actual anti-Semites, and were the leading Holocaust-denial organization in the world. Remember that this was a pre-Google and Wikipedia era, and I was sitting on the internet in my apartment in Saudi Arabia, far away from academic institutes where I could have verified the real agenda of this group. So, unfortunately, my mind abuzz with articles from this site, and believing there was legitimate scholarly difference of opinion over such issues, I digressed to a topic that I had not actually intended to talk about and made some serious historical blunders.
I was a young, budding, twenty-something undergraduate at Madīnah when I gave that talk, during my very first cross-Atlantic da‘wah trip (I must have done over thirty by now). Its been almost a decade since that one-time mistake; I admit it was an error and an incorrect ‘fact’ was propagated. But even in that talk, I did not deny the actual occurrence of the Holocaust, or express any support or admiration for Hitler, or claim that all Jews were worthy of being despised or hated.
Just to clarify: I firmly believe that the Holocaust was one of the worst crimes against humanity that the 20th century has witnessed. Such a crime did not happen overnight, either. Rather, the systematic dehumanization of the Jews in the public eye of the Germans was a necessary precursor to this event. (As a side point, all of this is food for thought, especially in the times that we live in, where some elements are trying to dehumanize all Muslims as well.) And while I as a Muslim believe that, on a theological level, the Jews are mistaken for having rejected the prophethood of Jesus and Muḥammad (as are Christians for rejecting the latter), I most certainly do not call others to despise them, support massacring them, or otherwise discriminating against them! In fact – and my students can attest to this – I have stated many times, and firmly believe, that Muslims in the West have a lot to learn from the experiences of Judaism. Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, are the closest religious group to Muslims in terms of practice and legal code. There’s a lot to be gained from how they coped and survived in the Western environment.
To further clarify how my own views have changed since that talk, in that very talk I criticized the Western academic study of Islam (which I referred to by its antiquated name of ‘Orientalism’). Yet here I am, many years later, proudly obtaining my PhD from Yale in Islamic Studies and seeing with my own eyes how incorrect I was. I honestly thank God for my time in Madīnah as I thank Him now for my time at Yale: both places have much to learn from, and I truly believe that a combination of East and West will help me be a stronger academic.
People change over time. Views develop, are modified, or discarded outright. Simplistic notions, especially those held in younger years, are typically shown to be stereotypical and false. And this is exactly what happened in this case as well, and I have no qualms admitting my mistakes, even as I criticize the exaggerated response it generated.
One final point of advice to speakers out there: realize that you never know when and how something you say may be used against you. When I gave that lecture, so many years ago, I was a completely unknown nobody. I honestly had no idea that one day I would be as recognized as I am today, so much so that the Shadow Home Secretary of the UK feels compelled to dissociate himself from the likes of me! I gave that lecture in a local masjid, to a small audience, and it was only recorded on audio cassette. To hear such material – a passing comment made so many years ago – exaggerated to the level that it has been, causing such a large scandal, is really quite amazing. I wonder how such people discovered my blunder. Did someone actually compile all of the thousands of hours of my recorded material, including these audio cassettes, and sift through it with a fine-toothed comb, or was it an accidental ‘discovery’? And why did no one – and I mean no one - attempt to contact me to clarify my current stance? But all of these questions don’t change the fact that the damage has been done, to my reputation before anyone else’s. Bottom line: do your research before you speak, and be careful of what you say.
In conclusion, while deep down inside of me I would still like to hope that this charge will somehow miraculously be corrected, I realize that this is most likely just the beginning of many more false charges to come. If one chooses a life of public speaking and activism (as I have), then along with that comes public scrutiny and unwanted attention. And there will be those bigots who wish to provoke, who desire to stereotype, who need to accuse others, because it serves their own self-interests, promotes their own agendas, and inflates their own egos. Indeed, if the prophets of God themselves were charged with crimes, if their noble reputations were smeared, if their impeccable honor was attacked, then surely those who wish to follow in their footsteps and are far lesser than them must also face a portion of what they faced. So we must do what we physically can do, and then leave the rest to Allāh.
May Allāh bless us with the courage to speak the truth and correct our mistakes, regardless of the consequences. May He grant us the fortitude to overcome challenges, the patience to persevere in the face of problems, and the faith to nourish us through our difficult times. And, most important, may He be pleased with us even if all of mankind is displeased with us. Āmīn.
In July 2010, Yasir Qadhi was one of the U.S. Imams who were part of an official delegation to visit the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. The delegation which included Jews and Muslims was organized by Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Imams subsequently released the following statement condemning anti-Semitism Holocaust denial:
“O you who believe, stand up firmly for justice as witnesses to Almighty God.” (Qu’ran, al-Nisa “The Women” 4:135)
On August 7-11, 2010, we the undersigned Muslim American faith and community leaders visited Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps where we witnessed firsthand the historical injustice of the Holocaust.
We met survivors who, several decades later, vividly and bravely shared their horrific experience of discrimination, suffering, and loss. We saw the many chilling places where men, women and children were systematically and brutally murdered by the millions because of their faith, race, disability and political affiliation.
In Islam, the destruction of one innocent life is like the destruction of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity (Holy Qu’ran, al-Ma’idah"the Tablespread” 5:32). While entire communities perished by the many millions, we know that righteous Muslims from Bosnia, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Albania saved many Jews from brutal repression, torture and senseless destruction.
We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews.
We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics.
We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction.
We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.
Together, we pledge to make real the commitment of “never again” and to stand united against injustice wherever it may be found in the world today.
•Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, Islamic Society of Orange County, CA and chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America
•Imam Mihamad Magid, All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society; President Elect, Islamic Society of North America, Washington, D.C.
•Imam Suhaib Webb, Muslim Community Association, Santa Clara, CA
•Ms. Laila Muhammad, daughter of the late Imam W.D. Muhammad of Chicago, IL
•Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, Dean of Academics for the Al Maghrib Institute, New Haven, CT
•Imam Syed Naqvi, Director of the Islamic Information Center in Washington, D.C.
•Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, Muslim Chaplain, Duke University
•Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, Director, Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America
Clearly, Yasir Qadhi has undergone a transformation, and has publicly corrected his original error. He has reflected, and used the original mistake as an opportunity for growth.
Nevertheless, some Islamophobic individuals ignore the whole story and continue to focus on the early mistake. Here are two egregious examples in 2013, and in fact in the past month.
The first was a falsified audio posted on many Islamophobic sites, used to claim that Yasir Qadhi had called Jews and Christians “filthy, evil, impure, dirty kufar”, and had said their life and property had no value. There was a rash of these postings in the past month (three of the most vicious by Bare Naked Islam, Robert Spencer on Jihad Watch, and Pamela Geller on Atlas Shrugs), but the earliest source I could find was on ACT for America Houston on 6/25/2012
Yasir Qadhi replied to these charges in the article Clarification and Notice and said:
A few months ago, an Islamophobic website posted an audio-clip in my voice, in which, so they claimed, I justify attacking all Christians. Based on this, they began claiming that I am a ‘jihadist’ preaching ‘radical jihad’ to Muslims in America.
Due to the preposterousness of the claim, and the xenophobic nature of those who propagated it, I felt it best to not even dignify this audio clip with a response, as anyone who has read my articles, taken my classes, or seen my videos will know this is completely untrue. However, recently, a number of other figures, including some esteemed religious pastors, have begun reiterating these same claims and spreading this audio clip. This has resulted in me receiving many queries, hate mails, and even death threats. Therefore, I feel compelled to respond to this audio-clip in order to clear up this fabrication.
This audio clip is a shoddy cut-and-paste job from a lengthy theological series (around 15 hours of audio) I gave many years ago, discussing the reality of the Islamic concept of shirk (associating partners with Allāh). The series had absolutely nothing to do with politics or jihad. Rather, some theological statements from that lecture have been taped together and made to look political. The audio recording as it stands is a complete distortion. Someone literally took sentences from different parts of that series and constructed a very menacing sounding paragraph in my voice. As such, that paragraph in the audio clip is a complete fabrication.
In one section of that theological series, I discussed some of the differences between a category of shirk called ‘major’ and another called ‘minor’. One of those differences involves the fact that the theory of an ideal Islamic government would not allow Muslims to openly practice idolatry, whereas other forms of shirk (viz., ‘minor’ shirk) would not be punishable by an Islamic State. (This would be similar to Moses prohibiting the Israelites to worship the Golden Calf). While the wording of that sentence could have been more precise, it is clear from the context of that sentence (which is not quoted in the audio clip) that I am discussing a theoretical Islamic state and attempting to clarify some of the differences between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ shirk (I also list five other differences).
In a different section of that series, I mention that believing that God has a Son, or worshipping Jesus, would be in contradiction to the Islamic concept of monotheism, and be classified as a type of shirk. This is a standard Islamic (and Jewish) doctrine.
In a third section of that series, I quote the Qurʾān directly when it describes idolatry as being ‘filthy’(similar to the Old Testament describing it as an ‘abomination’).
What this audio clip has done is to cut-and-paste these three statements (and more) in one paragraph, and thus give an impression that since Christians practice ‘shirk’, they should not be allowed to practice Christianity, and must also be ‘filthy’. Of course, this shoddy cut-and-paste job flies in the face of Islamic teachings, and cannot be attributed to Islam or to me.
Never have I claimed that Christians need to be prevented from practicing Christianity, or that they are filthy. This is truly a preposterous claim, as even the most basic exposure to Islamic law would demonstrate that non-Muslims are allowed to worship according to their doctrines in an Islamic state. Therefore (and I have made this point many times in my lectures), if this is the case in an ideal and theoretical ‘Islamic state’, how can anyone claim that Muslims want to ban Christianity in a non-Islamic land?
In conclusion, my views on jihad can be heard in my lectures and read in my articles (a simple Google will show most of them). In addition, quite a few articles have been written about me and my work (in particular, I reference the New York Times Magazine cover article about me). My message has been consistent and clear: I am a Muslim theologian and teach (and preach) the theology of Islam, but I have never called for violence against any group or religion.
I have made mistakes in the past (and no doubt will continue to do so in the future); however, what this website, with its concocted audio-clip, is accusing me of is an all-out fabrication and sheer slander. It completely contradicts my talks, writings, public and private work, and indeed my own personal beliefs.
I hope this clarifies the misunderstandings surrounding this audio.
The second is the recycling of the charge of anti-Semitism based on the 2001 speech. Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller both engaged in recycling this story, as if the 2001 speech was current news. It is curious that two individuals whose entire life’s work revolves around nothing except commenting (negatively) about Islam and Muslims could miss so much actual information (over a decade) about Yasir Qadhi and his change of views.
I can’t help but wonder why the attacks on this particular Muslim scholar at this time? As far as Yasir Qadhi is concerned, he must be on the middle path, as he is being attacked by both Islamophobes and by Muslim extremists.
AAI Condemns Iranian President’s Holocaust Denial Gathering http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/aai_condemns_iranian_presidents_holocaust_denial_gathering/
American Muslim Delegation Visits U.S. Holocaust Museum, MPAC http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/american_muslim_delegation_visits_us_holocaust_museum/
American Muslim Leaders Visit Nazi Concentration Camps, Vanessa Gomez Brake http://illumemagazine.com/zine/articleDetail.php?American-Muslim-Leaders-Visit-Nazi-Concentration-Camps-13248
The Disgrace of Holocaust Denial, Hasan Zillur Rahim http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_disgrace_of_holocaust_denial/
Holocaust Denial Undermines Islam, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/holocaust_denial_undermines_islam/
The Lure of Radicalism and Extremism Amongst Muslim Youth, Yasir Qadhi http://muslimmatters.org/2010/10/18/yasir-qadhi-the-lure-of-radicalism-amongst-muslim-youth/
Muslims Who Fought Against the ‘Real’ Fascists, Sheila Musaji (with article collection) http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/muslims_who_fought_against_the_real_fascists/
True Muslims Must Never Deny the European Holocaust, Ibrahim Ramey http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/true_muslims_must_never_deny_the_european_holocaust/
Note: the photo above is from Illume Magazine and shows the Muslim delegates engaged in afternoon prayers in front of the main monument at Dachau Concentration Camp.
RESOURCES FOR DEALING WITH ISLAMOPHOBIA SUMMARY
The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade. They have a manifesto for spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films. They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally. They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”
Currently, the Islamophobia Industry is engaged in a full-scale, coordinated, demonization campaign against American Muslims and Arabs. In just the past few months we have seen a series of inflammatory provocations: There was the Innocence of Muslims film Titanic, a German satire magazine plans an “Islam” cover article to be published later this month. Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine published an issue with inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Newsweek published their ‘Muslim Rage’ cover. Terry Jones held a “trial of Prophet Muhammad”. SION held a “global” gathering in NYC to plan propaganda strategy. A group in Toronto publicized a “walk your dog at the mosque” day. AFDI/SIOA has run a series of anti-Muslim ads on public transportation across the country. AFDI/SIOA are planning to run 8 more anti-Muslim ads. There are three more films on Prophet Muhammad in the works by Ali Sina, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Imran Farasat. They are even bringing their hate messages into public schools.
Daniel Pipes is encouraging publication of “A Muhammad cartoon a day”, and says “So, this is my plea to all Western editors and producers: Display the Muhammad cartoon daily, until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger.”. Pipes joins Daniel Greenfield (aka Sultan Knish) who published an appeal on David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine Is It Time for ‘Make Your Own Mohammed Movie Month’?. And, both are following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Pamela Geller, who promoted just such a plan back in 2010 with her promotion of Draw Muhammad Day, even after the cartoonist who drew the first cartoon and suggested the idea, Molly Norris apologized to Muslims and asked for the day to be called off, and American Muslims had issued a defense of free speech. None of this is surprising as one of the Islamophobes laid out their strategy as “The Muslims themselves have shown us their most vulnerable spot, which is the questionable (though unquestioned) character of the ‘Prophet’ himself. We need to satirise and ridicule baby-bonking Mo until the Muslims fly into uncontrollable tantrums, then ridicule them even more for their tantrums, and repeat the process until they froth at the mouth and steam comes out of their ears.”
The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences. The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.
The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or that nothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence, are nonsense. The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist, or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense.
These individuals and organizations consistently promote the false what everyone “knows” lies about Islam and Muslims (including distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and distorting the meaning of Islamic terms such as taqiyya, jihad, sharia, etc.).
The most commonly repeated false claims about Muslims and Islam are that:
Everyone “knows” that most or all terrorists are Muslims, and there are no Christian and no Jewish terrorists (or terrorists of any other religious stripe), and that Muslims are all militant, inherently violent, more likely to engage in violence against civilians, and more likely than other Americans to be radicalized.
Everyone “knows” that Muslims are not interested in dialogue. That Muslims don’t help Christians in need. That Muslims can’t have Christians as friends, and are anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, and intolerant of other faiths.
Everyone “knows” that Muslims don’t unequivocally denounce terrorism, that American Muslim leaders have not responded to radicalization in their community, that mosques are the source of radicalization, that 85% of mosques are run by radicals, that Muslims don’t cooperate with law enforcement.
Everyone “knows” that Muslims are not equivalent to real Americans, that they are the enemy within, and a fifth column, that good Muslims can’t be good Americans, that Muslims are not loyal to America, that they are not a part of our American heritage,
Everyone “knows” that Islam itself is the problem and makes Muslims “backward”, that Muslims have made no contribution to the West, that Islam is “of the devil”, a Crescent menace, a “green peril”, that was spread by the sword, an “evil encroaching on the United States”, and not a religion.
Everyone “knows” that this is a Christian nation, which the Muslims are trying to take over, starting with getting an Eid stamp which is the first step towards shariah law which is a threat to America, and a threat to our judicial system, by purposefully having more children than others to increase their numbers, and they will be the majority in this country in 20 years. Muslims are a threat to America
Everyone “knows” that the Muslims’ goal is world domination under a Caliphate, and the proposed Cordoba House in NYC is a demonstration of supremacism and triumphalism, and that Muslims planned to open it on the anniversary of 9/11.
Everyone “knows” that Islam is a monolith and all Muslims are the same, like the “Borg”. This means that every act committed by an individual who is a Muslim is directly attributable to Islam, and never because the individual is crazy, criminal, or perverted.
The problem is that what “everyone knows” is wrong. These self-righteous and incorrect statements are usually followed by a demand that the Muslim community do something about whatever is the false flag of the day or face the inevitable consequences.
Islamophobes falsely claim to see “JIHAD” PLOTS everywhere, particularly where they don’t exist. They, like Muslim extremists, don’t understand the true meaning of the term jihad. The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking”, non-existent Muslim jihad plots.
Islamophobes generalize specific incidents to reflect on all Muslims or all of Islam. Islamophobes consistently push demonstrably false memes such as: - we are in danger from creeping Sharia, - the Muslim population is increasing at an alarming rate, - 80% of American Mosques are radicalized, - There have been 270 million victims of “jihad” - There have been 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks since 9/11 - Muslims in government are accused of being Muslim Brotherhood plants, stealth jihadists, and creeping Sharia proponents and should be MARGINALIZED or excluded. Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or the unindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas, telling American Muslims not to talk to the FBI, of being “Jew haters”, etc.
There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic. There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”. There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle. There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism. — the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack: The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State. — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security. — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry. There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature. There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.
See Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for many more reasons that these people cannot be trusted.
Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989. Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism, and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia. Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan. Biography You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji ( https://twitter.com/SheilaMusaji )