The Prophet Muhammad (saw)

From Hamza Yusuf’s Viewpoint: What can the West learn from Islam?

Hamza Yusuf calls attention to the prejudices of the Western world against Islam, as well as the attitude of Muslims towards the West, which is apparently biased. According to Yusuf, both the Westerners and the Muslims have to make themselves known to each other in order to eliminate the negative prejudices that accompany abstract concepts that are based on the "fallacy of personification".

What is America? What is Islam?

Hamza Yusuf claims that neither America nor the West are merely what these words connote to us. It is not possible for us to identify America or the West in a real sense, because some abstractions are included in our perception of them. At this point, Yusuf asks what is meant by America or the West. He questions whether America is a country that many Muslims wish would disappear, or is it an old teacher or even a young doctor who is opposed to the bombardments in Iraq? Which image encapsulates America?

In the same way, the author questions what Islam is and who the Muslims are. These terms cannot just be the same as the picture we have in our minds, because this picture is something that we have come up with on our own and it is clouded by our personal stereotypes, negative prejudices, and unfortunately, by our ignorance. Thus, it is our responsibility to learn more about Islam and the Muslims by taking into consideration that 30 million Muslims are living in the West and Muslims make up one-sixth of the world's population.

Learning to live in a global village

With every passing day our world is coming closer and closer to being a global village. Therefore, we have to develop a sense of responsibility to attain comprehensive knowledge of every culture and their contributions to the overall progress of humanity. Mutual recognition and respect is the first and most significant step in this learning process.

In order to eliminate ignorance, everybody must strive against it as ignorance is the underlying cause of antagonism. This is especially true for Islam. Today people in the West do not know much about Islam or Muslims, thus, they should increase their knowledge about this religion and its believers to destroy ignorance and close the door on hatred.

How to better understand Islam

Hamza Yusuf recommends that people in the West employ two ways to enhance their knowledge of Islam and Muslims. The first is to discover the great contribution Islam has made to the advancement and improvement of Western life. Not only will this cause one to hold Muslims in higher esteem, but will also lead to respect for people different ethnic groups.

The second way is to attain a comprehensive knowledge of the contributions Islam and the Muslims have made to present and future issues in the world. Throughout history, the Muslims have earned a reputation for their expertise in integrating religion with science, as is often mentioned in Qur'an.

Thus, in the case of combining religion and science, people in the West have much to learn from the Muslims.

Worth knowing: the Muslim branch of the human family

What the West can also learn Islam is how Islam handles issues of race. Islam is opposed to reducing people to classes, nations or races. In Islamic thought, people are not labeled according to their race, color, ethnicity, gender, etc; everyone is considered equal, that is, we are all humans. In this way, Islam essentially eliminates the problem of racial discrimination all over the world by declaring brotherhood between people, as everyone is a "child of Adam and Eve". For this reason, we are morally responsible for "knowing each other" in order to eliminate ignorance and to destroy stereotypes and prejudices. This will allow us to recognize the fact that we, as human beings, are nothing less than  an extended family, with the Muslims constituting one branch that deserves to be known and respected. 

Hamza Yusuf is a prominent Islamic scholar teaching at the Zaytuna Institute in California, USA. Yusuf was born in 1960 and became a Muslim at a young age. He has travelled and studied across the Muslim world. He has translated many Arabic books and poems into English and lectures around the world. He is seen as one of the most influential Muslim scholars in the world.

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