The controversy of Hamza Yusuf being appointed Human Rights Adviser to the Trump administration

In recent years, the American political sphere has been rife with controversial figures. Incontestably, the Trump administration has been the most audaciously Islamophobic and volatile administration in American history.

From implementing a Muslim ban to incarcerating migrant children under the guise of national security, to coining Muslim politicians anti-semitic, the Trump administration’s paucity of ethical and moral sentiments is harrowing. Its ramifications have reverberated beyond borders and oceans and have manifested when the massacre of fifty worshipping Muslims in New Zealand was candidly inspired by the convictions of President Trump.

Unsurprisingly when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a new panel tasked with the role of reviewing “the role of human rights in American Public Policy”, the public met it with ambivalence. Allegedly the panel dubbed the Commission on Unalienable Rights is comprised of human rights experts of varying backgrounds to ensure a bipartisan review.

Trump’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights doesn’t come without controversy

It will be managed by a conservative Harvard Law professor, Mary Ann Gledon. Gledon is well known for her anti-abortion stance, and her position as head of the “bipartisan” panel has incited an upheaval. It has been claimed that the Trump administration formed this panel to politicize human rights issues to further their extremist religious incentives.

Joanne Lin, the National Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at Amnesty International USA, said:

If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments.”

Whilst the revelation of the panel has incited disquiet amongst activists of varying issues, it has precipitated considerable strife within the Muslim community after discovering that a prominent Muslim scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, will be serving on the panel.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is arguably one of the most renowned Muslim scholars in the west. He is the founder of Zaytuna College, America’s first accredited Muslim college. He has served as an advisor to many organizations, leaders, and heads of state, including the Bush administration. He is also a vehement critic of American foreign policy.

Yusuf is often considered one of the leading proponents of classical learning in Islam and an innovator for modern Islamic education. His accomplishments include authoring several eminent articles, research papers, and books. His name evokes either reverence for his passionate spiritual lessons and notable contributions to the western Muslim community, or dubiety towards his polemic political positions and roles in the past.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s decision to partake in this panel has pulled the threads of the Muslim community and left a tawdry wrinkle of discordant views in its wake. Some stand by the Shaykh in devout brotherhood, hopeful he will be a catalyst for tangible reform. Some argue we should feel gratitude for the representation and others feel even if the panel bears no fruit, futility trumps inaction.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf during the funeral of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

Many feel it is an unacceptable lapse in judgment for “the most influential Muslim scholar in the world” to associate himself, in any aspect, with this administration, whilst referencing a myriad of contentious judgements made by Yusuf in the past.

The committee was set up by “never Trumper” Catholics who although are conservative and view Muslims through the lens of humanity. They formed the commission after capitulating to the reality of the current presidency and envisage the panel as an avenue to cultivate some good. Thus it is claimed Yusuf was appointed to be a voice for Muslims. According to his supporters, his extensive vessel of rich knowledge and eloquent speech may be utilized to allay human rights abuses against Muslims. They refer to Islamic political history where scholars would significantly apprise rulers.

Many who stand in formidable support for the Shaykh believe that those who oppose his role on the panel are playing a game of identity politics instead of practicing practicality. His supporters assert that repudiation of working alongside the administration will forestall any prospect of justice during Trump’s reign. To have a representative who might uphold our concerns, values and basic rights amid ignorance is a seemingly reassuring notion for prevailing anxieties. However, on the other end of the spectrum, many Muslims are rejecting Yusuf’s involvement, believing the administration is beyond redemption and the panel to be forlorn.

Imam Shadee Elmasry, on Twitter, wrote:

Whatever (people) think of Hamza Yusuf joining Trump’s Human Rights panel, the real point is to remember that these councils are a waste of time. (A)re these panels effective and haven’t we passed the point of no return with this administration? A point where we wouldn’t come near them. Most have said we passed that a long time ago.”

For the public, such panels are viewed with aversion, seen as an embellished facade detracting from genuine issues. They do little to assuage the hearts of the public. Moreover, for the past two years, the Muslim community has worked diligently to protest institutionalized racism to no avail. Trump’s hatred and bigotry have become an intrinsic part of him and remain unremitting. To attempt to advise him and penetrate his intolerant shell seems not only insurmountable but wasted labor. Indisputably, the panel was designed to be anti-black, anti-women, and xenophobic, so how can there be cause for anyone, a Muslim no less, to associate themselves with it?

The Shaykh is swiftly being charged with duplicity as this only enumerates the precarious instances in which he made headlines. His friendship with Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah of the United Arab of Emirates is enough for many to denounce him. Shaykh Yusuf serves as the vice president of the UAE’s Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. It is well documented that he has praised the UAE coining it a “ministry of tolerance”, overlooking its intolerance for dissent, it’s complicity in the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen, and perpetual human rights abuses.

Hamza Yusuf in the United Arab Emirates

In addition to this, his participation on a human rights panel exudes a certain irony since when the administration was promoting its Muslim Ban, the shaykh was deafeningly silent. He continued to dissuade Muslims from protesting Trump’s election and to assent to his presidency. He remains allied with certain Jewish leaders who accommodate Zionist organizations, omitting the Palestinian plight. He has been known to castigate the Black lives matter movement, citing the racist trope of black on black crime. He also has a longstanding relationship with the right. After the September 11th attacks, before the US campaign against Iraq, he advised President George Bush Jr to change the name of the Military Operation from “Operation Infinite Justice,” acutely concerned about its potential blasphemy, to “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

The question remains, do we find respite in representation, surmising atonement from the Trump administration, or do we say not enough? Is an administration that considers marginalized communities a debasement on their ivory suffused chimera capable of acknowledging, and working amicably and sincerely with a Muslim scholar? The Shaykh’s appointment to the panel transcends mere political discourse. We must ask, when is an appropriate time to hold one another accountable? As of late, we are left as community scraping up the remnants of humanity to protect and uphold justice. Regardless of which side of the dichotomy you profess yourself to be, most of us can concede that we all dream of the placidity felt in the wake of divine thunder.