Zaytuna College was founded by three Islamists with a history of anti-American rhetoric, but you wouldn’t know that if you read the New York Times puff piece about the California school. Readers are left to believe this is a moderate Muslim institution that will “foster an American Islam” to lead the Muslim world into the 21st century.
Zaytuna College is based in Berkeley and is an unaccredited school that operates on a $4-5 million budget. According to the Times, it has only 30 students and less than 10 professors. The author states that he hears it likened to “a Muslim version of the great Catholic colleges, like Georgetown or Notre Dame.”
Keep that comparison in mind as we go through the records of its three founders: Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian.
Hamza Yusuf is the President of Zaytuna College. He was number 42 on last year's list of the world's 500 most influential Muslims. He has mourned “what happened in the 19th century with the abdication of Islamic Law and the usurpation of its place by Western legal systems.” In the same interview, he accused the U.S. of trying to “unite the world” and criticized the “dominant world order, which is a capitalistic, Western world order.” In 1996, he proudly displayed his anti-Americanism:
“[America] is a country that has little to be proud of in its past and less to be proud of in the present. I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe the false gods of this society, whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights.”
To be fair, Yusuf’s rhetoric has become more moderate since 9/11. One month after the attacks, he said Muslims are treated better in the U.S. than most Muslim countries and that he “regret[s] in the past being silent about what I have heard in Islamic discourse and being part of that with my own anger.” He later lamented having been “infected” by anti-Semitism. He had called Judaism a “most racist religion” in 1995.
Zaid Shakir is the chairman of the board and the Student Affairs Committee of Zaytuna, whose extremism has been repeatedly documented by ClarionProject.org. The New York Times, the very same outlet that carried this pro-Zaytuna article, reported in 2006 that “he said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law.”
ClarionProject.org found audio from 1992 of him preaching that the Muslim world needs a new Caliphate to wage jihad and “use…weaponry against the enemies of Islam.” He has suggested that the hijacking of aircrafts transporting U.S. soldiers is justified and he preaches to students that Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon was not an act of terrorism.
Shakir regularly depicts the U.S. military as barbaric. His immediate reaction to the Newtown school shooting was to compare it to U.S. and Israeli military operations. He published an anti-American poem in April 2012 that depicted American soldiers as murderers and rapists. In 2003, he preached that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was part of a “war on Islam” and he accused the U.S. government of systematically persecuting innocent Muslim-Americans.
Hatem Bazian is the Academic Affairs Chair of Zaytuna and chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, an Islamist group that holds conferences that are like a party for radicals. The last one had a special session on teaching children about its cause.
He is seen in The Third Jihad calling for an “intifada in this country that change[s] fundamentally the political dynamics in here,” comparing the needed intifada to the “uprising in Iraq” and the “intifada in Palestine.” He has similarly accused the U.S. government of warmongering, racism and of trying to “targeting” the Muslim leadership at home.
Though the New York Times showcases Zaytuna as a model of moderation, videotaped lectures at the school tell a different story. Shakir taught that the U.S. is run by a “small oligarchy” in January 2012. In September, the three held a joint lecture where Bazian taught that the “military-industrial complex” created an “Islamophobic production industry” to justify destructive wars. In the same lecture, Yusuf spoke in favor of restricting speech that “mocks” religion, a change that would bring the U.S. into greater compliance with Sharia Law. Shakir has expressed a similar view.
The New York Times isn’t alone in overlooking Zaytuna’s background. The article quotes Scott Korb, the author of a flattering book about Zaytuna named “Light Without Fire” as saying that “The message from the founders is clear: America is home.” The Presbyterian Church likewise published a book warning about the “rise of Islamophobia” that puts Zaytuna in a positive light.
As John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence…” They can’t be altered—but they can be hid.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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