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Hamza Yusuf issues apology for 'hurting feelings' with Syria comments

It was announced in June that Yusuf would be joining US State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights, which drew even more flak from US Muslims
Hamza Yusuf (Screengrab)

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, one of America’s leading Muslim scholars, apologised for “any pain that I caused” over comments he made about Syrian refugees in a 2016 video that emerged on social media earlier this week.

In a 10-minute-long statement released on Friday, Yusuf said it "was odious" to think that he could ever have mocked those impacted by the violence in Syria.

"I ask for forgiveness from anybody who misconstrued that and took offence to that [my comments] because that would never be my intention," he said.

In the video, Yusuf is seen laughing before saying: "How is that revolution looking for you?"

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"Do you know ... the slogan of the Syrian revolution? 'The Syrian people will not be humiliated'. That was their slogan. They were all shouting it in the streets. Now, all these poor innocent people are begging non-Muslims to let them into their country. They are fleeing across the ocean in boats. Allah can humiliate whomever he pleases," he says in the video, said to have been made during a Sufi retreat in Turkey three years ago. 

"If you humiliate a ruler, God will humiliate you," he added, in reference to the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has left at least 400,000 dead.

On reflection, Yusuf said in his statement on Friday: "I went into an area I think that I really regret", adding that he would never mock the troubles faced by the Syrian people.

"What troubled me the most is that the clip had the title that I was mocking victims ... of one of the most unjust things we have seen in our lifetime."

Responses to his apology that seems to have been prompted by a wave of outrage to his comments on Syria have been swift. 

On social media, there were some who welcomed his statement, but others refused to accept it as an apology. 

“The issue is not about hurting people’s feelings. The issue is his systematic approach in undermining Muslims' struggle for dignity,” said Raja Abdulhaq, executive director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

“His problematic statements on Syria and Palestine were not incidental. They fall in line with his approach in dealing with issues of relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors. And this is exemplified in his very close relationship with the UAE, who are leading the counter-revolutionary forces in the Middle East,” Abdulhaq told Middle East Eye.

“His political and religious analysis of the Syrian revolution is the problem. Not just the hurting our feelings for so-called mocking refugees. Our issue is not that he is mocking refugees, our problem he is that he is giving religious cover for Bashar Al-Assad's crimes against the Syrian people.”

Yusuf has previously been under intense scrutiny by American Muslims for his close association with the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and his silence over US President Donald Trump's Muslim ban.

In June, it was announced that Yusuf would be joining the State Department's new Commission on Unalienable Rights, a move that drew even more flak from US Muslims.

In the latter part of his statement: Yusuf said "there were people out there" looking to capitalise on "any mistake that I make.

"I just hope that people again would find it in their hearts to just forgive. That is what I feel we need more than anything." 

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