In Defense of Yasir Qadhi
“I listen to speeches of Sheikh Yasir Qadhi and other similar shuyukh on topics like aqeedah of tawheed, minor formsof shirk, asma wa sifaat, fiqh of various issues, etc … but ignore them on issues of politics, al wala wal bara, jihad, current affairs, societal issues, debates on integration, etc…as I realize that their positions are pressured and they can’t exactly speak openly…dumbing down of Islamic concepts…all part of an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope (or should I say more American than the President)” – Hassan Ahmed
American cleric Yasir Qadhi has been preaching Islam for almost two decades and has faced a slew of attacks regarding his transformation from a hardline mullah to a semi-conservative cum liberal cleric. In this article we attempt to explain the underpinnings of his transformation, provide some context and plausible excuses, and defend him against some of the callous attacks that question his honour and Islam.
In the hadeeth of Itban, found in Bukhari, is a portion where some Muslims cast aspersions on a fellow Muslim when one of them said:
“Where is Malik bin Al-Dukhaishin or Ibn Al-Dukhshun?” One of them replied, “He is a hypocrite and does not love Allah and His Apostle.” Hearing that, Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not say so. Haven’t you seen that he said, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah for Allah’s sake only”? He said, “Allah and His Apostle know better. We have seen him helping and advising hypocrites.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah has forbidden the (Hell) fire for those who say, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’ for Allah’s sake only.” This hadeeth then forms a bedrock principle from which we derive our assertion that Yasir is a sincere Muslim and we do not know him to be a hypocrite.
In his formative years, Yasir was heavily influenced by the salafi da’wah which called towards a puritanical and orthodox conservative version of Islam where the opinions of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and classical scholars weighed heavily in all matters regulating the affairs of Muslims. After attending study circles in his nascent stages with Jamal Zarabozo he spent a decade with scholars in Madeenah. During his summer sojourns to the States and upon his final return Yasir had started garnering a decent following of conservative Muslims with his speeches heavily sprinkled with references to verses in the Qur’an and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
9/11 occurred and heavily jolted Yasir’s soul. This was a turning point. After seeing several scholars and speakers of Islam detained, imprisoned, or assassinated Yasir’s flight or fight response was activated. His peers were dropping like flies or going underground. By then he had had his first daughter and three more children were on the way. True to the saying of the most truthful (Prophet Muhammad) who said “Children are the cause of grief, cowardice, ignorance and miserliness” Yasir decided that the prudent way would be to join ‘them’ following the age-old maxim “if you can’t beat them, join them”. In time he decided to attend Yale University to study religion. From the perspective of an analyst following Muslim affairs in America, this was an extremely interesting life decision the full reasons of which we are not cognizant. However, centuries of tradition and the presence of heavy-weight orientalists surrounding him on a daily basis were bound to impact his psyche. His transformation thus became obvious to his former conservative base. Before Yale, when Yasir said “we” he meant “Muslims” and now when he says “we” it means “Americans”. However, the decade long training in Madeenah did form a potent enough barrier to prevent his abandoning Islam unlike many Muslims who joined the ivy-league universities to study religion.
As it stands today, Yasir can be categorized in the spectrum of Islamic clerics as liberal or left of moderate. This is an immense transformation the likes of which bothered Yasir’s conservative followers and even bothered many of the uncles and friends of his father who appreciated Yasir’s prior conservatism. There is much more to be said about the transformation but for the sake of brevity, in the rest of the article we will lay out some of the common charges and misconceptions about Yasir and defend him to the best of our ability by providing context. We gathered these charges from what his critics have written or said over the years.
Charge: Yasir makes fun of Pakistanis abroad by mocking their accent for e.g. the way they utter words like “Company Limited”. He is nowhere to be found when Pakistan suffers through natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Instead he visits holocaust memorials in Europe around the same time Pakistanis suffer natural disasters.
Defense: Yasir has been known to make fun of what is known in the west as the “fob” accent. We have seen him on at least two occasions using this “company limited” example where he exaggerates the emphasis on the syllables to imitate the so-called Pakistani accent and he accompanies that with a slight jerking motion of his head and a smirk as if to mock it. Muslims who take offense to that have to realize that Yasir has no affiliation with Pakistan. His ancestral home is the Indian city famous for polite nawabs speaking flowery Urdu and enchanting courtesans dancing the night away in ‘mujras’. Our understanding is that his family migrated to Pakistan but Yasir spent most of his life in Saudi and the USA so we cannot expect him to have any affiliation or express any love for Pakistan. Furthermore, Yasir avoids Pakistan because the influence of mullahs there is firmly established and the western version of Islam will not gain traction there. His visit to the holocaust memorial was not meant to coincide with any natural disaster Pakistan suffered. That was pure coincidence and he cannot be blamed for it. The other reason he mocks that accent is because his audience members are mostly American born and raised and so he attempts to build rapport with them by doing what his audience does on a regular basis in their private lives.
Charge: Yasir shakes hands with non-mahram women and by extension permits it.
Defense: By whom was this charge levied? By journalist Mona el-Tahawy and published by none other than Christian Science Monitor. It was re-reported by Andrea Elliott in NY Times. We did not witness it and we do not know the veracity of it. If it occurred then there are two possible explanations. One – he made a mistake and this would be a personal foible for which he may have repented a dozen times. Two – it is possible that he holds a fiqhi position that touching non-mahram women without desire is permissible. In the first case, his daily salaah and making wudu would be enough to wash away that sin. In the second case, if he erred in his fiqhi position he would still be rewarded. Either way, he is clear. It must be said that since we did not hear this from anyone besides Mona el-Tahawy we do not believe the story.
Charge: He used to have a bushy long flowing beard but he chopped it down.
Defense: Yasir does not look “American”. With xenophobia and hate crimes on the rise in America, Yasir decided that with children depending on him he couldn’t afford to get taken out by a random red neck while he went grocery shopping. So he trimmed his beard down to prevent possible hate crimes against himself. He may also have a skin condition that necessitated it. He may also have done it as a move away from perceived ‘fundamentalism’. He may have done it to get off a ‘watch list’. There are other possible explanations any of which would clear him and in our mind as Muslims we should seek to find that excuse that exonerates him.
Charge: Yasir preaches that the way to de-radicalize young Muslims is to get them married.
Defense: Muslims have to understand that he was referring to de-radicalizing terrorists who blow up civilians or commit other types of aggression against people who did not harm them in the first place. So he was referring to the likes of the Muslim youth who committed the acts of 9/11. In practical terms we find that most Muslim men do soften upon marriage including Yasir himself.
Charge: Yasir and his lackeys promote working with homosexual and lesbian groups.
Defense: Yasir’s explanation for this is that Muslims are under such a severe attack in the United States that their very existence will be threatened soon. So as a minority group we should reach out to other minority groups who also seek freedom of expression and freedom of living lives the way they want. The blog for which Yasir serves as spiritual advisor does indeed does call for equal legal rights, benefits, and protections for all groups of people including homosexuals. Frankly, this position is an impossible one to defend and Yasir himself will have to explain how Muslims can support legal rights, benefits, and protections for homosexuals when the people of Loot were decimated by Allah for this very sin. Yasir’s interpretation of Muslims being in dire straits (thus necessitating collaboration with homosexuals) in the United States is not one that we share. We believe that even if we are in dire straits we will gain nothing from collaborating with homosexual groups.
Charge: Yasir wants PowerPoint slides and handouts to be used for Jumu’ah khutbahs.
Defense: Most Muslims are highly uncomfortable with westernizing an Islamic mandate of khutbah that has remained unchanged for over 1,433 years. We should note that Yasir has not used PowerPoint slides for khutbahs but was merely proposing it. All Muslims have eccentric ideas once in a while and he shouldn’t be dragged over coals for something which he does not even practice.
Charge: From a holocaust denier he has gone to the other extreme and effusively praises Jews and Christians including Tony Blair, orientalists, and Christian priests whereas we find even Desmond Tutu calling for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes. Because of this he has been labeled a sell-out and his answers are often called cop-outs or wishy-washy.
Defense: Yasir is more shrewd, calculated, and diplomatic than he gets credit for from the Muslims. In reality Yasir only cares for the Muslims. His adorning his speech with praises for the Jews and Christians is multi-pronged: 1) Thereby he hopes to soften their hearts towards Muslims so that they don’t commit aggression against Muslims 2) Thereby he wishes to find an ‘in’ and ‘backdoor’ to the Washington power brokers through whom he can influence American sentiments much like the AIPAC model 3) Thereby he wishes to ensure that he does not upset the apple cart of his dissertation committee who holds the keys to his doctorate (over 30% of Yale’s faculty are Jews – contrast this to Jews being only 2% of the general American population so his pro-Jewish and pro-Christian overtures are not for naught). Additionally, bear in mind that Yasir resides in the most anti-Islamic State (Tennessee) in America where the residents fear the Sharia and revile Muslims. Yasir has thus gone to great lengths and engaged in jurisprudence gymnastics to take exceptional examples like that of Abu Talib and a few others in the Makkan era to argue that Muslims can be friends with the disbelievers and that they can seek shelter with them and aid them and be aided by them. Just as Hassan noted Yasir may have over-compensated by trying to show he is more American than Americans due to the harassment he and his family faced at the Canadian border while entering the States. He went to great lengths to show that he is a friend of the United States and a true American at heart. He has also made enormous leaps and weak extrapolations from the examples of the Muslims who migrated to Abyssinia during the Prophet’s times to liken the situation of the American Muslims to the Muslim emigrants to Abyssinia. Any Muslim with an iota of intelligence can easily disprove how the two cases are far from analogous. 99% of the Muslims who listen to Yasir are not knowledgeable enough to determine when he’s nonchalantly slipping in these juxtapositions and more importantly even fewer are capable of discerning that presumably he is only doing so under duress. Yasir has been under tremendous pressure from all sides – from his father, to father’s friends, to Uncle Sam, FBI, border agents, his former conservative base, even skeptical Princeton professor Haykel who questioned Yasir’s ability to evolve rapidly unscathed. There is a slim possibility that he is doing this out of genuine love and trust in the disbelievers but that is unlikely. Muslims should be more clement and discerning when interpreting some of those seemingly pro-ahlul kitaab gestures of Yasir.
Charge: Yasir says that it is perfectly okay for Muslims to live in the west.
Defense: If one listens to his full explanation for the concept of hijrah he clearly states the conditions that must be fulfilled for a Muslim to be able to reside in the west. Unfortunately the only headline that comes out of his stance is that it is perfectly alright to live and die among the non-Muslims. Yasir himself has stated in his lectures that the United States is the place where he is most comfortable and he unequivocally calls it his home. This is an odd position but it is his personal preference albeit a dangerous one because while he may be qualified to reside in the States the vast majority of the Muslims are not (if we go by Yasir’s own fatwa). If you apply the conditions stipulated by Yasir himself in his hijrah fatwa to all the Muslims living in the west, then 80% of them would not be qualified to live in the lands of the west. Built-in to his fatwa is the order for 80% of Muslims to abandon the western lands. However, this message is implicit and Yasir has yet to come out and explicitly state it.
Charge: Yasir does not discuss jihad and trashes the efforts of the mujahideen and Yasir’s henchmen scoff derisively at Muslims who sympathize with the plight of Muslims as unemployed parent-dependent basement-dwelling keyboard jihadists.
Defense: The derisive comments are not from Yasir himself but from the snobby elitists that report to him. Yasir and his fellow instructors mutually decided that jihad is an explosive topic, no pun intended, and one that he cannot address except in very general terms. He has adopted the stance of some scholars that if one resides in the USA as a citizen then he does so by pledging allegiance to her and that a Muslim’s pledge is to be upheld and he cannot betray or prove treacherous. In this opinion, American Muslims cannot take up arms against the USA because they took an oath that they would not fight against the USA. There is credence to this opinion in that a Muslim cannot have his cake and eat it too – he cannot bite the hand that feeds him. Most American Muslims intuitively understand this opinion and embrace it. Frankly, most American Muslims are busy chasing livelihood and wealth and have no tolerance or desire for armed jihad. However what bothers American Muslims is that Yasir and his cohorts are loud and proud when it comes to railing against Muslim rulers during the Arab spring but conspicuously quiet against American leaders who waged war against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan while those wars were (are) going on. All Americans have the freedom to criticize the American rulers peacefully and in a civil manner. Despite that constitutional protection Yasir is cautious and will not criticize the American leaders directly. So he uses Chomsky, Fisk, et al as proxies whenever he wants to criticize American leaders. This is completely natural because if Yasir utters the words that Chomsky utters he would likely have a one-way ticket to prison. Yasir has stated in a comment in the blog for which he serves as a spiritual advisor that he would love to die as a martyr but he has not clarified how. From that statement we can infer that he is a silent supporter of mujahideen but as an American Muslim his lips are sealed. He has alluded to the shackles around his tongue in a NY Times article by Andrea Elliott and his plight demands at least a modicum of sympathy. In a rare show of vulnerability and insight into his mind, Yasir has called himself a ‘pacifist salafi’. Do not expect him to talk about jihad of arms except in a historical context or to forbid American Muslims from engaging in it. In short, if you’re an American Muslim then you cannot fight against the USA. If the injustice of America against Muslim countries gives you sleepless nights then renounce your citizenship and migrate to another country.
Charge: Yasir tells us to be Shariah practicing and patriotic Americans but squirms or refuses to answer difficult questions regarding this integration.
Defense: It is true that Yasir avoids difficult questions even though he outwardly states that he welcomes them. Yasir for example has pictures of himself walking outside his house but he will not tell Muslims how to purchase a house and he will not tell them how he lives in a house (by rent or lease or conventional mortgage or some Islamic mortgage company). He will observe the heated debates on his blog but will not lay down a step by step procedure for Muslims akin to “fellow Muslims, this is how I bought my house, you can do it too if you like”. People have to realize that Yasir is not an expert in finance. In fact whenever he speaks of stocks and bonds he seems hesitant and mixes up terminology. Besides stocks and bonds he is not familiar with many of the financial instruments prevalent in the market or their rulings. He is also not familiar with the intricacies of stocks and bonds themselves. This is quite alright because Yasir is not a polymath. But his followers do expect to know how he purchases or finances a house and how his followers can follow him as a role model. Similarly, he will not clearly tell Muslims that as patriotic Americans we can join the US military and serve in any country in the world and fight against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Yasir is eerily quiet on such issues and only makes indirect remarks. Here’s our defense of him: Yasir has children to support and part of his income apparently comes from preaching. He cannot afford to alienate Muslims by weighing in on subjects that may be polarizing. That is understandable but as such we see Yasir as a cleric Muslims may refer to primarily for aqeedah and fiqh of the five pillars of Islam as expressed in the quote of one of his followers in the beginning of this article. His grounding in Madeenah ensures that he will have an answer ready for the day-to-day fiqh issues and to educate the average Muslim and that is a highly valuable service.
Charge: Yasir suffers from riyaa and it was so bad that he had to write a book about it
Defense: This one’s very easy to defend. Nobody resides in Yasir’s heart except himself. Even if he suffered from riyaa then he had enough self-awareness to research the issue and look for a solution and he shared the solution with the world in the form of a book. That is highly commendable.
Charge: Yasir uses the word ‘academic’ in every other sentence and praises himself often by inserting references to how high he scored in SATs and how he has a chemical engineering degree and how he is a scholar.
Defense: Yasir is naturally proud of his accomplishments and when he addresses a new audience of Muslims he does not want to give them an idea that he is a dim-witted mullah. Therefore to ‘build credibility’ he ensures that the audience knows that he has secular accomplishments in addition to his religious knowledge. The contrast between scholarship in Madeenah and Yale is stark. The former starts off with an unquestioned core set of beliefs and builds on it emphasizing memory and training around preservation of the tenets. Yale and their like study religion from origins, history, and source books. The focus is on critical thinking and de-constructing skills. Many Christian students at Harvard Divinity lose faith in Christianity and many Muslim students lose faith in Islam. This contrast in scholarship styles between Madeenah and Yale is why if you listen to Yasir from a decade ago his lectures were filled with “Allah said this and Muhammad (SAWS) said that” whereas now his speech style is more western and he uses orientalist phrases like “academic” and “this story is problematic because…”. After a few years of education at any given institute the human mind adopts its style comprehensively. To be fair it must be said that Yasir has given a talk or two refuting orientalists and the best line of research, in our humble opinion, that Yasir can take up from now until he parts with us is the refutation and debunking of orientalist rhetoric. There are very few in Yasir’s unique shoes of having witnessed the traditional scholarship of Madeenah and the cynical scholarship of the orientalists and he best can refute them in English if he so chooses.
Charge: Yasir thinks that the aura that Saudi scholars exude is over-blown and undeserved and that they don’t know enough about the west to give fatawa so Muslims in the west should turn to him for fatawa to the exclusion of the scholars abroad.
Defense: Yasir never asked Muslims to turn to him exclusively for fatawa. He does think that Saudi scholars have an undeserved aura around them because as he himself has stated he scored much higher in his exams while at the University of Madeenah than some of his fellow Saudi students who went on to become professors at the University. From that he derived that his knowledge is superior to that of many Saudi scholars. This is a possibility and Yasir promised to one day write about this aura or halo effect of Saudi scholars and we look forward to reading it. People have to realize that most Saudis who enter the University of Madeenah do so in the college of Sharia and are doing so mostly to earn a living as a judge or some other administrative governmental post. Yasir and other foreign students go there to soak in sacred knowledge but for most Saudis it’s just school. Furthermore, Yasir studied in the elite college of Hadeeth at the University of Madeenah and you don’t attend the college of Hadeeth or college of Quranic Sciences unless you are a serious student of knowledge. So this is not far-fetched that Yasir is more knowledgeable than many Saudi graduates of University of Madeenah. Yasir also has numerous ijazahs to teach classical Islamic texts and this is truly invaluable to the American Muslim populace.
Charge: Yasir has gone soft on Sufis.
Defense: Yasir sees a greater benefit in collaborating with all groups of Muslims in the west simply due to their status as a minority. If you read some of his articles on aqeedah you will see that he is strongly against sufi practices. However as a matter of courtesy (and strategy) he addresses the sufi speakers in America with good manners.
Charge: Yasir supports polygyny.
Defense: While this is a charge to some, it sounds like adulation to us. Yasir marrying a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th is purely his business and if he has in the past or does in the future then in fact it is praise-worthy that he takes on additional ones to support from his wealth given the disparity and unusually high number of American, British, and Canadian Muslim females that are unwed in their 20s and 30s. We also have to remember that Yasir is young and travels a lot for the sake of Islam and if he had taken on (or will take on) additional ones in different lands then this is the epitome of his faith in Allah and exhibits his admirable fear of falling into adultery. Yasir has come on the Deen Show and eloquently explained that even secular non-Muslim legal scholars are now asking for legalization of polygyny as a means to alleviate societal distress.
Charge: Yasir’s own Shaykhs from Madeenah have spoken against him.
Defense: There have been shuyookh from Madeenah who have critiqued Yasir. But as we have stated earlier Yasir considers himself to be a scholar of Islam and scholars sometimes have internal squabbles amongst themselves. We believe that Yasir believes that he is smarter and more connected to the west than the Shuyookh who taught him in Madeenah. He has adopted a strategy of disengaging from the scholars of Madeenah and delivering his own religious edicts. While he may remain connected to them privately he rarely mentions any contemporary Arabian scholar by name and only mentions Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi whose opinions have provided great laxity to Muslims in the west. Yasir is thus able to leverage Dr. Yusuf’s opinions whenever necessary. Not mentioning any Saudi scholar by name has the dual purpose of creating in the minds of the western Muslims the notion that Yasir himself suffices as a bona fide go-to scholar and secondly that takes some of the heat off of him coming from Madeenah. Yasir’s reticence to mention any living scholar of Saudi by name while discussing fiqhi opinions is bizarrely discomfiting. Nevertheless since Yasir considers himself a scholar of Islam we can consider the Madeenah shuyookh attacking him as an internal disagreement and nothing more.
Charge: Yasir has called for the re-interpretation of some aspects of Islam.
Defense: This is true from one of his better known lectures on YouTube. However, the wording is so vague and Yasir is far too shrewd to leave it as anything but nebulous at this stage. We do not know of anything that Yasir has explicitly called for in the Quran or the Sunnah to be re-interpreted.
Yasir says “people go to extremes in praising or criticizing others – it is rare to meet an honest admirer or a fair critic”. We hope our defense and critique has been fair and thought-provoking. The above were the most common charges we have come across and we hope that our article clears up some misconceptions about this highly intelligent brother who has a fastidious love of the Qur’an and its recitation and has a love for American Muslims and their protection as a minority. We may not agree with his extremely liberal views on integration and assimilation but the staggering volume of speeches, articles, lessons, and books that he has produced for the sake of Islam is remarkable and requires us to find every excuse in the book to hold him in high regard.
May Allah’s peace and blessings be on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Also checkout “Welcome to American Islam”.