Channel: Hamza Yusuf
First of all, thank you very much. Thank you for the introduction, I would like to put a little caveat on what you mentioned about Mauritanian taxi driver, some of my previous fans happen to be taxi drivers
in San Francisco, and we were walking across the street and his taxi, stopped in the middle of the road and rolled out the window.
And then drove off. And my father said, Do you know that person.
But I will say why he said that I was beloved of God. And
the village that he happens to be from, they're all convinced that they're all beloved of God. And they figured that anybody that gets there has to be.
So I just wanted to correct.
Anyway, this is a wonderful thing. It's extraordinary to see so many
people, the we're just talking about
earlier, when he spoke at the
Tom Paine award, he was given back in 1963. He said, it was very depressing to see so many people in the audience. And that he really felt that the world's problems had a lot to do with the fact that bald headed people were largely drawn into the world. And he thought people who are hair should run the world. So I do agree with that basic philosophy, I think young people need to have a coup d'etat. And really get rid of a lot of the old people that have been around for too long, and have become far too cynical. And that's one of the major problems with being around too long. I used to be convinced that as you got older, that mortality became more present in your life. But what I
discovered is actually, as people get older, in mortality becomes more oppressive, because they've been there so long, often, you have your tea and your coffee and your and your tears, and it's Groundhog Day, and nothing seems to change. And if you remember the groundhog day, and he just kept trying to kill himself, trying to get out of this thing. So I think, you know, a lot of people, young people, I think, are often much more aware of their mortality. And that's certainly what happened to me when I became a Muslim. I was,
what precipitated was a car accident when I was 17, I should convert when I was 18.
But mortality was just so present in my life. And I think in many ways,
my own life is a testimony to both problems, what's wrong with religion, and what's right with religion, because of my own religious evolution was one that I've been through many different stages in my religious experience. And it's enabled me to understand a lot of different religious phenomena out there. Because when I see people at different stages, I see myself
and I'm hoping that some of the extraordinary saints that I've been fortunate to meet in my life, I hope that maybe that's the future, to be in that state of tranquility and peace piece that is supposed to bring people but religion isn't evolution, one of the things that I wanted to talk about and I really came down extremely short. Notice, so I was in St. Louis and the people that I was working with or finagling to come here to Washington, DC one morning. And but what I would like to say is that there are probably, I think, many dangerous things in the world. And the world in many ways is a dangerous place. It's a precarious place to be certainly and life and death is one
heartbeat, one breath separates the two phenomenon.
Of all the things that are dangerous in the world, I really have come to compete, that religion probably is at the top of the list. It is an extraordinarily dangerous human phenomenon. I would put up at the top of the list with religion, political certitude and under political certitude, I would say that
inclusive of that is nationalism
and also utopian political philosophies in which people believe
That the only way to organize human societies is my way. Whether it's radical Marxism, or free market capitalism, or whatever type of social organization people are absolutely certain is the end of history. There's nothing beyond that we've arrived. And so And the third thing that I put at the top of that list is cynicism.
And cynicism is a wonderful word, sort of a Greek word, which means dog like
cynic is, is a human phenomenon. I think one of the great challenges of life is that you will either become a cynic saint, that's what the world will do to you. And you see people I see people all the time. And I really want to ask them a question What in the world has the world done to you? Because the world can really rip people apart, it can tear them up. It can destroy human hearts. It can take people that have a goodness and turn them into such cynics that they no longer believe in goodness, they can't trust the people that are in front of them. One of my favorite films is in fact, it is
a character Savas red beard. And that film is about a Japanese doctor who works in a free clinic for people in 16th century Japan. And a very arrogant doctor who wanted to be the shoguns, the author ends up being appointed to work with this doctor in the street clinic. As I say, all the people in the clinic are poor people. And he's very contemptuous refuses to wear the clinic uniform, because that if he walks out in public with it, or people are allowed to come up and ask for help from him, and but what happens, there's a wonderful scene, it's about his transformation into a human being. But there's a wonderful scene in there where red beard says to him, you know, we don't really treat
people here, because there's only two diseases in the world, ignorance and poverty. And that is what we have to treat. Here, we're only dealing with the symptoms.
And I think that is at the essence of what we're dealing with out there. And I would add to poverty, extreme wealth. And I think that's probably a third
problem with the world. But and I'm talking about real uronic type of wealth that's out there, and increasingly, so.
I would say that religion is dangerous, because religion is about absolutes, often, and religious people tend to be incapable of materializing. fallibilism, the fact that I can actually be wrong. One of the things that is a great second century scholar,
one of the things that he said, somebody asked him
how he achieved such good character. And he said, whenever I would hear my critics, I always took their criticism seriously.
Because often, your critics will reveal to you things about yourself that your friends won't, because love blinds, say that people that love you are often blinded to your fault, which is why marriages are beginning to fall apart. Suddenly, the spouse notices a mold that they never noticed before, or certain aspects about their spouse that they really didn't notice, because when they were in love, those faults were available from them. So another thing that he said is that he never debated anyone except that he asked that God would reveal the truth on that person's tongue so that his ego could submit to
the danger of being right.
And intellectual arrogance is a major problem in, in academia, with people that are easily intellectual, intellectual,
and religious people who often have very rigorous trainings, if you go through a serious religious training you often studying Islamic tradition, he studied logic and rhetoric instead of grammar. And you said he conveyed a lot of part of the Islamic curriculum. And Shia scholars now the most formidable debaters in the Muslim world, because they still focus on these areas. But you can also become very arrogant and a great example of that is
who was a 11th
century theologian who could win any argument
and he became so arrogant. He was an unbearable human being. And he admits this and his his book is one of the great religious autobiographies ever written, which is called
in English is translated as guidance from error.
In that book, he says that he became an impossible human being that religion was not healing, it was actually making it worse. It became a disease for him. And he went through a period of radical skepticism where he doubted everything, something many religious people refuse to even contemplate the possibility that I could be wrong, this whole thing could be wrong. So this religious certitude and I think there's a possibility to be have a certainty about your faith, but an uncertainty about your understanding of faith, which is very important, one of the things that in Islamic classical tradition, one of the things that all scholars are taught is if they ever give a religious opinion
to endow it with and God knows better
not to assume that you are articulating the position of God, but rather you're attempting to understand scripture, scripture is in words, words are open to interpretation. And this is why there's always a hermetic tradition in any great religion. I recommend for any Christian to read St. Agustin Christian doctrine. And, and to look at how these early Catholics understood their tradition, the necessity to have the tools to enter in to a book that is believed to be from God. In the Abrahamic faiths, it's very dangerous to arrogant to oneself, the idea that I'm speaking on behalf of gun
the gun, I have a an open line to God, you know, 911, and God answers and I can call on his health emergency, the idea that God's directing the inwardly to do what I'm doing. This is an incredibly dangerous idea to put out there in the world, and increasingly so in an environment in which read narratives are seen for what they are, we're in a period of time, it's a fascinating time, because for the first time, in many ways, large numbers of people are realizing that there are other large numbers of people that have completely different worldviews than they do. They have a completely different metaphysic than they did. For centuries, Christians grew up in a world in Europe, where
Christianity was the world, there is no other alternative. And not only Christianity, but one definition of Christianity.
The Eastern Orthodox, when the Muslims first met up with the teens, what happens you get a period to solve the iconic Classic period where suddenly the Orthodox Christians go around smashing all of the icons, because the Muslim said, That's not make any graven image. That's isn't that in your book, that we will need that. And so this dialectic that occurred between the Muslims led to the Christian saying, they got a point, early Protestantism, they went and busted all the icons, they only saved icons that we have. And this occurred in the eighth century, the only icons that we have are the ones that were under Muslim protection, because the Muslims would not allow these Christians that
acts to go into the monasteries and destroy the icons. That's iconic, ironic history.
So this is what happens when people come up against other people's views of the world. It forces them to look at their own views. And there are many examples of that in history. The Muslims were introduced to Greek thought, and it shattered them. There's a period where there was a major crisis because suddenly all this Greek philosophy was translated. And these were scholars and they were reading it and this is this is pretty powerful show. And suddenly they were looking at their own text through the lens of Hellenistic thoughts. And and you see, Aristotelian presentation of knowledge is introduced into the Muslim world during this period. But what's interesting is in the
theology of Islam, it was the Buddhist influence
that eventually defeated the Hellenistic world. All of the Afghan, a Muslim
They were all Buddhists that was the center of Buddhist studies, number of human logic was studied in Afghanistan. And so when these daddies became Muslim, they brought all of these intellectual tools into, into the Iraqi environment, theology. And suddenly,
they have the idea that you can have a paradox, you can't have an attendant, you can't have something that is neither nor. And this is why the Muslim say God is neither in nor transcendent. That's not a Hellenistic idea. That's a Buddhist idea. But that's part of the song out there today, that God is connected to creation or disconnected from creation.
It's very fascinating part of the song history. My point is, is that when people are confronted with other people, the best thing that they can do is learn from them. But often we get entrenched out of fear, because it challenges us and suddenly, this person doesn't believe what I believe.
I just got a letter from a young man who studied in Walla Walla, Washington where I happen to have been born.
Because Allah Allah in Arabic means.
So their response to me is,
really, that's what that's another word thing, really.
When he was studying in college, and he told me, he came, he grew up in, in Saudi Arabia, he had studied in the Saudi worldview, and suddenly taking courses reading Nietzsche reading, whew, reading
the Western Civ course, and he said, it created an incredible amount of turmoil in his heart, he said, he was weeping, we forget that there's people out there having these human experiences in dormitories all over this country all over the world, you know, being confronted with with ideas that they've never thought of or heard before. And this is this is the power of ideas that they cause this inner turmoil, like the sand in the oyster shell that can eventually become a pearl.
If we understand what the purpose of that education is, when he was writing, telling me that he was having major crises in his life, and he said, in the end, it was this incredibly liberating experience, because he was able to go back to his tradition with all these new ways of looking at it.
And this is why it's very important for us to be open to the other,
to not be afraid of the other, to embrace the other to experience the other because the Arabic word for difference of opinion, is feedback. And it comes from a word powerful, what you leave behind and the words, which means your background,
the idea that everybody who comes into a conversation comes with a different background. And differences often come about because of our different backgrounds. They are not necessarily wrong. They're actually really enhancing and enriching our human experience. And this is why it's so absolutely essential for us to recognize the immense danger in the certitude of religion. I really believe that this is an incredible danger in the modern world. And if we don't have religious communities, and I'm talking about the religious people, if we do not address this fundamental problem,
in a very deep way, we will continue to have the type of religious madness that is not just occurring in the Muslim world, that would be nice. If it was only the Muslims that were crazy.
Wouldn't that be wonderful? Well, the problem is the most of the content is only the Christians and the Jews are crazy. I was in Saudi Arabia, I got into a taxi. And this this Saudi Bedouin veteran taxi driver that recognized you can either television program,
Why do they hate us?
And I said, well, partly because 15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabia. He said he didn't know anything about fate.
And I said, Well, some people, he said, if they understand fate, it helps them to deal with crises and not becoming hateful.
That was his this was a taxi driver. You know, if they understand that bad things happen in the world, that they can actually deal with those
ways that you don't become hateful towards other people. And I just thought that was such an amazing, wonderful way of looking at it from this very simple veteran taxi driver. And and I can assure you in my travels around the Muslim world, Ed Bradley, asked me, Why do they hate us? And he had told me right before that he was just in Egypt, and I said, we were just in Egypt.
So maybe they don't hate you. I mean, they're begging the question. There's an assumption, underlying that we're not asking that fundamental question, do they hate us?
There's just an assumption that they hate us. I don't believe that my experience in the world, as long as I've been here, my experience is generally human beings treat you with dignity if you treat them with dignity. This has been my experience. I read about horrible things that happen. So I know theoretically, that very bad things happen to people. I'm talking about my anecdotal experience of the world. My anecdotal experience of the world is generally people are actually quite good. And the lesson that teaches this doctor, is what most people need is human kindness.
human kindness, human kindness transcends religion. This is another major danger with religious people is that they're absolutely convinced that morality and religion are the same thing. And so they're unable to recognize that there are moral people outside of religious frameworks. This is one of the biggest problems in the Muslim world. I really believe this, that the Arabs before Islam came were extremely moral people. They have many faults, but they were deeply moral people and
morality, I think, to clarify, and for me, this is the role of religion is to put certain things in focus. But essential morality is a human thing. It's something that transcends it's something inherent to our nature. But that emerges when we raise children with kindness and love. If children are raised in environments of kindness and love. This is the type of attitude that they will go into the world with Erickson trust versus mistrust, the first essential crisis, are we able to trust the world? Or is our caregiver neglectful? So we come to mistrust the world, and how many young people out there mistrust the world because of the way that they were treated? So there there are many
things that are wrong with our religion. And in Dawkins book, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, which is worth reading, it's actually quite extraordinary. Well, I agree with a lot of his attempts at understanding what a beautiful metaphor where he talked about, because he has an evolutionary biologist, where does religion come from? And his argument, I thought it was really understood in a very different way that he understood it. What he said was that in evolution, oftentimes you have side effects of something that is beneficial, and gives the law. He says that the law has a guiding mechanism that uses light. So that's yours, like the moon, the stars, and so at nighttime, in order
to get back home, it uses the light to know where it started, and how to get home. But he said when it comes across a big life,
it commits suicide.
And he says, This is religion, there's some benefit, but religion is is where it went wrong. Now, I really think that that is a valid religious metaphor for multiple religions that we are blinded by the light of God instead of being guided by the light of God. And so I think it is about, I think that in many ways, religion has gone wrong.
In some ways, because religion, if we accept the premise that is the boundary, or sacred if you're outside of theistic tradition, that the Divine Light is always filtered through the human experience to the human mind. And in that way, it becomes refracted and often distorted. And so we have immense capacity to distort our religious understanding. And that is extremely dangerous, when we're convinced that we have 20 points of divine vision that we're seeing, as God intended for us to see and that's where that humility is so important, to be humorous of the earth, to be
a humble thing. And this is the
The essence of good religion is inculcate in US humility, and intellectual and spiritual humility. One of the most beautiful things that I ever heard from a Yemeni teacher, somebody said to him,
that he was going back to America. And he said, it can be very difficult to live in a completely
Muslim environment and very difficult to live amongst these disbelievers. And he said, Well, I'll give you something to help you do that. That's true. Sorry. He said, anyone that you see, assume that they're better than you in the eyes.
you don't know what their status with God. Nobody knows that. And so always assume they're better than you and that will help you to live amongst them.
That's classical Islamic teaching. That's not adaption. That is the way the Turks were taught them as Naui. Rumi's book them as now he was talking all the methods of Ottoman Turkey, of the Ottoman tradition. It's not something the traditional, it's not in western oriental tradition, to say that it was a it's a sect of Islam. That's not true. It was considered mainstream Islam. It was mainstream. And the essence of Sufism is humility, and a recognition that we're fallible as human beings. And being non judgmental, probably the most important thing for a religious person is to know themselves. And he said, the reason that is, and this is 1000 years ago, he said, The reason
for this is that the person that has self knowledge, we'll never see a human being do
a heinous act, except to know that they themselves have done it, or are capable of doing it, like fire is capable of coming out of
that human soul. that anything that anybody does out there as a human being you have within yourself the capacity to do that. We don't like to think that our social sciences indicate that
we really don't like to think that we would like to think that in the best of all possible worlds that we would be the same, we would we would be the Schindler, we would be the ones that that hit the Jews, not the ones that stood and watched it all happen. It didn't say anything. But nobody knows, you don't know. Because it's about human experience. It's about what people have been through, it's about their circumstances. And so educating our religious community is going to be absolutely imperative. And that's why these young people in Israel, you're so important. You're so important, because if we can teach more, and I don't underestimate our powers, because a lot of
people talk about respect and respect is good. And they diminish tolerance. There's this idea, your tolerance is too low after respect another person, but tolerance is a very beautiful word. And it comes in medical usage. When you're multiple exposed to a substance, you develop a tolerance for it,
the more you're exposed to it, the greater the tolerance, this is why an alcoholic can always drink you under the table. Because they're exposed to so often they can take a lot more alcohol. The same is true for the other. The more we need each other, the more we speak to each other. And I'll end with one example of this. I brought Rabbi Lerner to a Muslim
audience in Toronto, there were about 30, I think about 20,000 Muslims there. And his wife, who's also a rabbi was very worried and scared. And she just says he didn't say this. He didn't say that. I said he'll be safer there than it would be in New York on any given day walking on the streets. So they came. And then I brought
her and Rabbi Lerner to meet a Muslim scholar that was a brilliant man.
really brilliant man. And they sat down and I saw this woman relax more and more, as she was listening to him, explaining that we share Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These are our stories and we have so much in common. And there's so many reasons why we should be bonded and really alleviate that and she said, so important for us to meet we should meet these leaders. I don't think she ever sat with an island before I don't know but I don't think she ever did and that
is an extraordinary place. This is
The world that we have, this is it.
And so we have to make the best of it. And religion is certainly a great place to start. We have powerful tools within our traditions to bring people together to solve our problems, not to be part of the problem. But religion can also very important problem. And we recognize that and see that we have to address that, in honesty, that humility, and a recognition that all of our religions have immense shadows. Like the union shadow, we have an immense cast a net shadow, Abraham has an immense shadow, Jewish Christian, Islamic tradition is filled with things that we have to recognize are very disturbing. They're very troubling, Hinduism,
even Buddhism, best pretz they I wish the Muslims have a precedent. But trust me, secular Buddhist history, there are some pretty intolerant Buddhists and leaders as well. So when everybody gets into power, they tend to abuse its nature of power. You know, God bless this organization.
I just really, for me, very heartwarming to see all these wonderful young people. And let's get to work for all these young people. Really, this
16 year old girl last night is the daughter of a friend of mine. She wants to
be a marine biologist. She just went to the Bahamas, she cleaned up a beach, she's talking about styrofoam fish, and she said, You know, I love sushi and the fish is all going to disappear.
But she was just so filled with hope, real hope and wanting to do something. And that that purity of attention. That goodness that's in that heart, we have to encourage that. And we have to help our children navigate this world so that they don't become cynics that they're open to the possibility of becoming safe.