Let us tell you a brief introduction of one of the best, most honored and famous scholars of Islam living in the United States of America. Yes we are talking about the great Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. Looking at the story of his life and how he came to Islam and Allah (SWT) is not only fascinating but is also very inspiring.
Mark Hanson was the son of two US academics of Catholic and Greek Orthodox backgrounds in Walla Walla, Washington USA. All his life, it seemed destined for him to take up the mantle of Greek Orthodox priesthood rather than Islamic Scholarship, until a car accident that nearly proved fatal set him on the path of Islam. Finding him suddenly only a bit out of reach from the eternal embrace of death, allowed what Hamza himself describes as “someone who was introspective, perspective.” Though there are lot of factors that ultimately come into play that lead a person to convert, it was this event that finally drove him to learn about the afterlife and eventually to Islam. He converted back in 1977 right before his 18th birthday which allowed him to study various traditions regarding death and he found that Islam was the only one that provided the most comprehensive account of all.
His own values were found to be much more harmonized with Islamic teachings according to him because his father and mother where both quite active in civil rights movements that had a great impact on young mark’s life. His father was a humanities professor and his mother was Berkeley graduate.
“As a westerner, the child of civil rights and anti-war activists, I embraced Islam not in abandonment of my core values, drawn almost entirely from the progressive tradition, but as an affirmation of them.”
From a young age Hamza Yusuf was very aware of the fact that he was a product of his environment and he found the reflections of the Quran on his own perceptions of life intriguing. He was raised as a Christian by Christian parents and it was the Quran that led him to look beyond what many people took for granted. He was also intrigued by the many parables in the Quran regarding people following the religion of their forefathers without question. After he had converted he left England and embarked on a studious journey to learn about Islam from its source. It was during this time that he was learning Arabic when he met Sheikh Abdullah Ali Mahmood of Sharjah who was in England at the time. This was a pivotal meeting in the life of Hamza Yusuf and would set him on the course of further studies in the United Arab Emirates.
Spending four years in UAE, Hamza Yusuf became a Muadhin or the caller to prayer and the imam at a local mosque. It was at that time that he met with African scholars who kindled his interest in learning about traditional Islam as it is being taught to this day in West Africa. He learned greatly from these scholars before he went to study in West Africa.