Channel: Hamza Yusuf
Welcome this morning and thanks for coming. Here, the hush come across the room so I might as well get started. But on behalf of the Islamic Institute, the congressional Muslim Staff Association and Islamic magazine, allow me to formally welcome you to this special discussion entitled, Islam and the Western world and interfaith dialogue. Welcome to Capitol Hill for those of you who are guests from foreign abroad. And while we're in the appropriations committee room, we can't have food in here, porker otherwise. So we'll have lunch afterwards, right after the event that'll be served in the hall.
But again, thanks for taking the time to join us. You probably heard that the bells rang just before we sat down. And so there's a series of votes with the members right now for about 20 minutes. So congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, who's our moderator for this evening will join us just as soon as they're finished with those roll call votes.
But let me take a moment to thank JC la Williams of congressman Meeks office, movie insightful with the zaytuna Institute. Sarah Colima law of Islamic magazine and Catherine gates of Park Avenue partners for the gracious assistance in making this event a reality.
And I'd like to also recognize a few special guests that are here today, including Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, Mom, Mohammed Majid of the Adam center just joined us from Sterling, Virginia. And we have Paul Taylor from the republican Study Committee. And we'll be joined by several members who also would like to join us and even say a few words once again, those votes are complete.
In the Quran, we read, and Muslims are told in the second chapter indeed be de Muslims, Jews or Christians, those who believe in God and the last day, and who do good have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear and they will not sorrow. And again in the 29th chapter, in the 46 verse we read, do not contend with the people of the book, Jews and Christians except in the fairest way.
In Psalm 3414, we are instructed, turn away from evil and do good seek peace and pursue it.
And again, in Matthew five nine we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
All faith traditions and join followers to worship God, to do good and to strive for peace. And yet, in today's turbulent, and often troubled world, we find that religious religions often appear to be at the intersection of mistrust, strife and violence. has faith exacerbated and even caused violence? As Christopher Hitchens asserts? is one faith particularly violent? Or does the solution of the world's many conflicts rests with the truly faithful, these questions and others such as Muslim immigration, terrorism, the successes and challenges of Muslims living in the West are just some of the issues that our guests will tackle this morning. And again, while we are waiting for
congressman Ellison, to moderate this important session, let me begin by introducing our guests to begin that discussion.
My first guest is Ambassador Doug Holliday.
I've met Doug Holliday just very recently, and was taken by his sincerity and willingness to work with people of different faith traditions. And when we were beginning to organize this event, it became clear to me that Ambassador holiday was a key person in the right person to engage in this dialogue to talk about some of these important issues. Ambassador holiday is a general partner and a co founder of Park Avenue, Equity Partners with offices in New York City in Washington, DC. Previously, he was a senior officer with the international investment banking firm goldman sachs and company and held senior positions in the White House and State Department. He recently completed the
four part PBS documentary The question of God, with Harvard psychiatrist and friend Dr. Amon nikoli. He holds degrees with the University of North Carolina, Princeton and Oxford University. He serves as co chairman of the Buxton initiative, a noted noted author Gail Sheehy, in her bestseller Pathfinders described Ambassador Holliday as an influential layman who excelled in all that he touched.
And our other partner this morning for the discussion is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.
Hamza Yusuf was described in The Guardian as arguably the West's most influential Islamic scholar. After studying Islam with some of the most notable scholars in the Arab world for over a decade.
Mr. usif returned to the United States and earned degrees in health care and religious studies. He is one of the most recognized Muslims in both the Arab and Western English speaking countries and the guard
poll on influential Muslims in England, England ranked him as one of the highest and most influential Muslims in the British Muslim community. In Ed Hussein's recent book published by Penguin, about a radical Islamic journey to moderate Islam, the Islamist, why join radical Islam and Britain. What I saw inside and why I left the author states that Mr. Use of teachings were a major influence in his personal rejection of radical Islamism. He has also advised several members of various governments about Islam and is a member of the C 100 and division of the World Economic Forum, a high level group to strategize in ways which bridges could be built between the West and
the Muslim world. He was also a special adviser to the United Nations High Level committee, the Alliance of Civilizations and was a discussion leader at the UN meeting in Doha. Hamza Yusuf continues to lecture and advise leaders in several countries and it's also running a globally recognized Muslim Seminary in Northern California, there's a tuna Institute. He has written three books and is also the student and personal translator of Shaykh Abdullah bin by the former vice president of Mauritania, and one of the most knowledgeable and respected scholars in the Sunni Muslim world. Shaykh Hamza currently resides in Northern California with his wife and five children.
So we'll begin with Ambassador Holliday, who will share some of his thoughts and then go to Shaykh Hamza, and then we'll proceed with a conversation at that point, hopefully, Congressman Ellison will take over the moderator duties. Thank you, Ambassador, thank you so much. Well, it's wonderful to be here. I'm, I was trying to think of an inspirational thought. And all that came to me was a T shirt I saw recently it said, What am I doing in this room. And I kind of feel this way with Mr. Hamza, he's, he's a incredible scholar and person. He's not under the rock star status of the Dalai Lama, but he's getting there. And it's, but it's an honor to be with him. My wife also had another t
shirt, she bought one time that said, My next house will be will be normal. But that's another story. Anyway, I thought it might be helpful before we got into some of the substantive issues give you a little sense. You know, it's always good to know where someone's coming from.
A little bit about my spiritual journey. I grew up in a family, where my father was a very aggressive atheist. And so religious kind of exercises were not really that practice in our household. And in part of it, he was reacting, we're all product of what we've embraced by our parents and reacted to various things. But he grew up in the south, where the Bible Belt kind of he took it as something that just was uncomfortable for him wasn't a lot of thinking going on him just embracing a kind of certain approach that he wasn't comfortable with.
So I came to faith really on my own through some mentors, and a grandmother who really I saw it in her life. And it really was really, really powerful for me. Now, if I had been grown up grown up in Morocco, or some other place, would I have followed different course I'm not sure. But all that I knew is for me, as a teenager, I saw lives that were really attractive, and they seemed to be followers of Christ and in the world that I was in that was very, very important to me.
This began to animate pretty much everything in my life. And I, I had these grandiose plans to change the world. And then I moved down to North America, then to my state in the city. And then I finally got to the point of saying my, my greatest focus for change spiritually needs to be myself. And I think of that great, you know, the literary critic, Gk Chesterton in London, one time, I think, was in the 30s 100 leading people were asked the question, what's wrong with the world interesting enough to hear all these people comment on that? And he wrote back on a postcard, just a few words, he said, What's wrong with the world? I am. And increasingly, I see that my biggest
challenge is conforming my own life, to the dictates of my faith. And I, I haven't used Christianity because I feel like Christianity has so much pejorative baggage, it's just all kinds of things. I choose to use almost biblical, biblical language which strikes me you don't find the term Christian but once that's when non believers were describing what was going on with with believers, I choose to say that I'm a follower of Christ and want to conform my life to his dictates. So So how did I get into this whole dialogue matter? as a as a reformed investment banker, and a private equity guy?
You know, I've never never been really qualified for anything I've ever done. So why stop now?
But after 911, I met a remarkable man, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, some of you know, a former high commissioner from Pakistan, to the UK, and he's, he's a scholar at American University, a friend of mine said, you should meet him. And so I went over to, you know, the National Press Club, he was he was holding forth that day. And I really was taken with him. And we went back to my office, and we spent about an hour and a half just talking. And I, I have just a lot of questions and kind of like having the privilege of, you know, interacting with you, you kind of say, I need a human being to talk with about these things. Because I there's so much I just don't understand. So we began this interesting
journey that didn't start out as
to start an organization or Institute of any sort. In fact, I think this city has too many of them are China, kind of like rabbits, every place you turn, there's a new Institute and new organization, I guess we're, we're doing the same thing. But. But what we did was we started to meet he and I regularly, and then we expanded the circle, you know, he brought a few of his friends, I brought a few of mine. And then one day, we had a very important conversation. at the Department of Treasury, I brought some friends together, who happened to be very senior in the CIA, that they ran these things, FBI and all this, and I said, you just gotta hear what this man has to say. You might not
like it, but you should hear this. And I said, the ground rules are you won't shoot the messenger here. And he would say things and they'd get crazy and say, but we're Americans, we're the Marshall Plan, people. Okay, timeout, everybody, let's get cool. Everybody relax, we're just trying to learn. So it was a very, it was a remarkable time. So then we started
this kind of conversation, where we expanded it so that every month we'd have at the Egyptian embassy, we'd have a dinner or the cases home, we'd have a dinner. So we'd go back and forth, and a Christian Muslim, and we would just what I would call create a safe table, where people could begin to connect on a human level. And I think what's a little bit different about what we're doing with the Buxton initiative, there's a lot of places where people are debating policy, and that's important to do, but almost liken it to billiard balls, you know, that kind of a smash and each other and go their separate ways. What we decided to do was really try to get to know each other as
human beings, you know, what makes you tick your family? How do you view prayer? So we would have increasingly over time, we develop the level of comfort and trust so that we can ask the hard questions, what's going on with this Danish cartoon thing? What's going on? Things that Christians are doing, you know, what, what does all this mean? This Jerry Falwell, a spokesman for your belief in this kind of thing. So we were able to really talk very honestly. And I remember, and we had a range of people in that room all the way we, you know, and what was also distinctive. They weren't clerics. They were people in pretty key positions that had real influence it you know, ambassadors,
Senators, CEOs, different people. And I remember one time, we talked about prayer, and we had two Muslims share their perspective, in two Christians, one of the Christians he shared was ken starr, and that was interesting. So he shared his thought, but you know, what, we went away with saying, isn't this interesting? Because I've never asked a Muslim, you know, questions like, you know, when you're praying five times a day, and there's a real crisis in your family, does that help you? You know, I mean, I just kind of thought it was a ritualistic thing so so because we had the type of relationship we could really learn and talk so that I'd say that's what's been unique about what
we're doing with with Buxton, you know, trying to find a way to develop deeper, better relationships so that we can learn from one another. Now, the last point, I'd say was what we're doing the Buxton
effort that is really unique.
We're not trying to either I think there are religious groups that kind of sit around holding hands singing Kumbaya, and they kind of avoid all the uncomfortable issues. And so we've decided that we want to learn to live with our differences. I mean, there's a lot of things we're never going to come together on, you know, if you know our brothers who are trying to convert me and I'm trying to convert them, that's kind of a, you know, somebody's gonna either have a stalemate or win. But if we have a relationship of love and respect, you know, we're able to kind of see a lot more movement I can learn from them and you know, who knows what will happen.
So, I think this idea of learning to live with differences and i i really challenge a lot of my Christian