NOTICE: We don’t support some statements in this article, but it’s main recommendation to the “white” (Euro-American) Muslims is very close to our idea.



The Larger Meaning of The Hamza Yusuf Story

White Muslims: You Should Probably Go “Home”

By Umar Lee

In 2005 I began blogging on Muslims issues in America and indeed the world.There was an active and robust blogosphere at the time. Many of the viral discussions on “Muslim Twitter” today were debated exhuastively then with the same level of vitriol. Some prominent bloggers of that era went onto become media personalities, authors, imams, prominent activists and political figures. I had one of the most popular and discussed blogs at the time. I feel that I helped to advance the football on many key issues with Muslims in America. I discussed racism within the Muslim communty at a time when that was still taboo, the treatment of women at masjids, the need NOT to apologize after terror attacks, serial marriage, fake “hijrah”, and clerical abuse. All of this made me very unpopular in many circles. Ironically, as the political winds blew, many of my biggest critics on issues like clerical-abuse went on to speak out on the issue once it didn’t harm them monetarily.

After a period of time I reached the same conclusion as my friend Tariq Nelson that I was wasting too much time on the blog and that there also existed a toxic climate within the blogging culture ( which has only gotten worse with social media). I decided to delete all of my Muslim content with the exception of my award-winning Rise and Fall of the Salafi Movement in America and transtion to St. Louis writing and activism along with fiction-writing. I don’t regret that decision in the least. The decision paid off socially, with family, and monetarily and it put me in a good position in St. Louis to both participate in and cover the Ferguson Uprising from outside of a religious fundementalist framework.

One of the issues I discussed at length was that of white Muslims. Some of it was defensive and some of it was comical such as wondering how midwestern white American converts could develop a South Asian accented English within months of conversion. Or both black and white converts claiming they had never heard of the Super Bowl or Tupac when you would’ve had to have been brain dead at the time for that to be the case.

I say all of this to say that I’ve written about many of these issues before and on a number of them my perspective has changed drastically. Let me also add I’m off the “Muslim circuit” and have no desire to be back on it. I’m perfectly content with my St. Louis based fiction and non-fiction writing, the St. Louis Speaks podcast, and other things most importantly family.

To proceed…

Leadership and the “Tarzan” and Saviour Complex

Let’s start with the obvious. Hamza Yusuf is in the position he’s in because he’s white and he is far from alone. In city after city there are white Muslims on the boards of mosques, occupying key roles within local CAIR chapters, and generally overrepresented in leadership roles. In nearly all of these instances there are better qualified Muslims of color to occupy these positions who’ve been passed over. While many people point to the (South Asian in particular) inferiority -complex in my estimation this overrepresentation is due to other factors. The first being that white Muslims, particularly those that haven’t changed their names, make for good PR props (particularly in the post-911 era where Muslims are obsessed with “reframing the narrative”). The second factor is that white Muslims also make for good props in the machiavellian schemes of Ikhwani political organizations and protests.

Hamza Yusuf converted in 1977 at a time when there were few white converts in America. I have met some from that era for sure including those handful that were in the Dar al Islam: but there’s no doubt a young Mark Hanson was a novelty. What followed was a well-funded and orchestrated rise by various benefactors who wanted to see his white face as the face of Islam in America. The shapeshifting of Yusuf from militant-Sufi conspiracy theorist to an advisor to President Donald Trump and an opponent of freedom and justice everywhere is tied to both the political trends and his changing backers. There are a number of African-American Muslims the same age of Yusuf with a better level of Islamic knowledge and who’re far better public speakers who have ministered in poverty in those same decades he rose in luxury. Many of these African-American imams have worked for free helping to create communities while holding down full-time jobs such as taxi drivers. This attitude towards black Muslims should come as no surprise to anyone given the treatment of blacks in much of the “Muslim World” both PRE and post colonialism.

Baked into the argument that Yusuf and other white Muslims are in a better position to lead Muslims in America are two false arguments. The first argument is that America is their society. Meaning non-white citizens of America are intrinsically less American than whites thus to perfectly understand and lead in America you must be white. The second fallacy is that the white Muslim convert is pure and free from cultural bagage. Instead of inheriting cultural-baggage passed off as piety from their believing grandmothers the white convert grows up in America and is magically free of any cultural influences. This is of course ludicrous. No one, no matter their faith, is free from cultural baggage and biases and there exists no “pure Islam” anywhere in the world free of such cultural influences nor has there ever.

While the popularity of Yusuf may have now been diminished there are numerous white Muslim figures in the “community” playing a similar role. While I don’t question the sincerity of all of these leaders much of their behavior and rhetoric falls into the “Tarzan Syndrome”. For young people that may not know Tarzan he is a white man raised in Africa by tribes who then becomes a great leader, warrior and reformer helping to civilize the “savage Africans”. All white saviorism, from progressive to necon, is based on such a mentality. Not only is it right for the white to lead the white is morally-obligated to lead and “save”. In this narrative of course it is the savior, like Christ, who is the hero and star. Everyone else is just a means to confirm the greatness and correct-morality of the savior.

As the Muslim population has grown and matured in America, combined with the effects of a “woke” secularized younger generation, the popularity of white Muslims in leadership has declined. This is especially true of theologically conservative white Muslims (and African-Americans) who’ll clash with congregations. Nor should these white figures be popular. We, and I include myself, have often overstepped our boundaries critiquing things we knew very little about. It’s unreasonable to believe a converted Catholic from Michigan could advise Punjabi families better than a fellow Punjabi. Being a Muslim and studying abroad doesnt give anyone the cultural competency to lead communities outside of their culture. What we are seeing today on Muslim social media is the bitterness of some whites after being denied their “Tarzan” role.

“Game of Intersections” and “Acting Muslim”

I converted to Islam in 1992. The white converts of my generation were mostly influenced by reading about Malcolm X, conscious hip-hop, and the African-American Muslim experience. Most then transitioned to Salafi communities , suburban “immigrant masjids”, and on the West Coast sufism was popular. Nearly all who stuck around developed a strict outward Islamic fundamentalism. The generations before us tended to be even more conservative and hardcore. A deep study of Quran, tafsir, seerah, hadith, fiqh, Arabic and aqeedah followed conversion. To know other converts was to trade books to study and to borrow cassette tapes of lectures and carpool to conventions and conferences. Or, on many occasions , take road trips to cities we had never been to before just to visit masjids. Who gives a shit about the Sears Tower and Miracle Mile in Chicago when we can see MCC and the Muslim Reading Room? Who cares about the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square in New York when we can go to Masjid at-Taqwa and al-Farooq in Brooklyn? Why would any Muslim wanna see the kafir White House in DC when you can go and pray with the “noble brothers on the dawah” at Jamaat al-Qawiy or out to Dar al Hijrah in Falls Church?

Many of my generation crumbled and folded. Some, including myself, faced tremendous legal pressure post-911. Many friends of mine went to prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. Some, I hate to admit now and didn’t see then, were batshit crazy religious fanatics. Then there were those, mostly women, who went through a bad divorce or two. Others just burned out and haven’t been heard from since,

A new generation of white converts emerged in the post-911 era. Some of them pious and sincere no doubt. However, it’s clear to me the “Muslim identity” became a sexy destination for the confused, the identity seekers with “daddy issues”, the politically extreme, and those looking to pick up a quick “intersection” for use in progressive circles.

While everyone rightly laughs at Rachel Dolezal and her “transracial identity” if Muslim she could’ve began rocking a hijab or niqaab, claim membership in a mariginalized group, “acted Muslim”, and it would be un-PC to make any observations other than flattery. The hijabi is hip, cool, commercialized, Instagram barbiefied, and the most sought out for progressive selfies other than perhaps pitbulls. Seemingly gone is the nineties rhetoric for hijab “wear hijab so you don’t get raped like these kafir sluts” and in is the politicized “hijab as identity”. Oddly the beard for men hasn’t followed the same trend, perhaps because a white dude with a beard would now just look like a hipster and get no “cool points” so many of these converts faces are as smooth as a baby’s ass.

In this new era of white converts faith, study, adherence and spirituality seem to play a very minor role while the new “Muslim identity” plays the major role. Religious identity is their shtick. Their plea with society not to just be seen as another boring white person and their announcement that they are now at one with the oppressed ummah. While adherence to religion isn’t needed for this identity being a non-critical fan of Muslims is. As an outsider with a vague and culturally appropriated religious identity it is best not to rock the boat and “swing from the nuts” of Muslims at all times.

Islam is the only avenue that can take a boring Becky or Bobby and turn them into an quasi-exotic “other”. The Christian identity is strictly not cool, being a Jew is very not cool unless you’re leading a protest against Israel , and most Americans are too dumb and full of Kardashian and NFL facts to know about any other religion. The only other option is to get a lot of piercings and tattoos and move to gentrifying neighborhoods to kick out all the black people and then put up a Black Lives Matter sign and hope no one notices.

In short converting to Islam because you believe the only alternative is an eternity in the hellfire is reasonable. If you believe that, which I do not, then conversion is mandatory on everyone, If you convert to join a secular political identity that makes you cooler at protests, raves and on Bumble this is nothing more than cultural appropriation and something obscene.

Of course not all of these converts are on the left. There is a much smaller, but vocal, group of “akh-right” converts. These are mostly dudes who are attracted to the machismo of the Muslim mujahid and the patriarchical family structure common to Muslims. When I was young men like this would try and go for jihad or constantly talk about it. They would be married to niqaabis. In this political climate they can’t discuss going to jihad so the focus is on a glorious (and fictional) Muslim past. Increasingly there are fewer niqaabis for them to marry and binge listening to Daniel Haqiqatjou is unlikely to improve the prospects and nothing is more grumpy than a politicized incel.

My sympathy is with both as is my scorn. The cultural appropriation of the first group is driven by our dysfunctional and imploding American society of not just Trump, but what created Trump. The pale hijabi with a “Free Gaza” tattoo twerking at a club that used to be a warehouse paying union wages may be comical: but she is also complex. The nerdy suburban incel adoring Khabib and on ISIS Telegram is comical as well (unless he blows himself up if he can figure out how to do it). Yet, I must confess, as a guy mentored by an Afghan mujahid and brothers who would shoot it out and bang it out who taught “fearing a man is nifaq” I look at some of these brrothers who talk like they need a night-light and bedtime story to sleep and I chuckle.

Adopting a “Muslim Political Framework”

Hamza Yusuf felt that being a Muslim gave him the agency to speak on Palestine or Syria with a degree of expertise. I was once the same way. In order to do this you must buy into the mythical concept of an “ummah”. There is more evidence that there is a tooth-fairy than there is such thing as an ummah, Today the Muslims of East Turkistan are being sent to prison camps by the Communist Party of China and suffering unimaginable horrors. The governments of Muslim-majority countries support the actions of China due to their own economic and security concerns. India annexes Kashmir then Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes on a VIP tour of multiple Muslim countries. The Rohingya face a campaign of genocide in Burma and Bangladesh meets them at the border making Trump look like George Lopez. And I could go on and on from Shia Muslims being slaughtered in Pakistan to the mistreatment of Kurds to black Muslims being traded as slaves in Libya but you get the point.

White Muslims in America are American citizens. America is what we know. American politics and activism is what we should be discussing. If we’re to discuss anything abroad it should be out of concern for the American role in such a situation or out of general curiosity.

If there is legitimately an ummah then all Muslims are free to comment on politics anywhere in the Muslim World as if it were their local school board election. Since there isn’t an ummah, white converts aren’t eligible for citizenship in any Muslim countries, and few white Muslims have more than a very superficial knowledge of these countries, and white Muslims will take no risks or benefit from any rewards of local politics, and your families aren’t living there the only real sound policy is to tread lightly. Better yet just shut the fuck up. Also, and this must be said, yearning for the return of medieval political systems that included slavery, rape, and theft based on religious-identity, as your excuse to comment on (or act as a political actor as American ISIS members and others have done) is really not helpful.

Both the culturally appropriating white convert and the conservative convert share a “Muslim framework” to their politics.

The Muslim convert that joins with progressives has put themselves in the midst of an “oppressed minority” in America. In this climate they can sip lattes with the grandchildren of feudal lords and children of doctors in white-flight suburbs near a McMasjid and discuss their shared oppression and fear of Islamophobia. Or they can smoke hookah and chat politics with the oppressed children of store owners who have gotten wealthy enough to build mansions in the West Bank by selling pork, liquor, beer, weave, fried chicken, heroin, lottery tickets and guns to poor blacks and Latinos in the hood while they live in the white suburbs.

The Muslim political framework in America often exaggerates Islamophobia while often downplaying bad behavior by Muslims. In St. Louis, as an example, that led to Muslims performatively showing support for Ferguson (as armed Muslim store owners guarded their businesses) while mostly remaining silent during the Gas Mart protests which highlighted racism against African-Americans by Arab (mostly Muslim) owned businesses in St. Louis.

Internationally this hypocrisy is taken to an entire new level and given the idealism and fanboying of white converts they become the most asinine players in this saga. Foreign affairs are almost strictly viewed through the prism of Muslim suffering. And, of course, a lot of Muslims are suffering and this is for a variety of reasons many of them emanating in America. However, a lot of non-Muslims are suffering too. Christians in Pakistan, Coptics in Egypt, Yazidis in Iraq, Christians in Indonesia, and these groups and others are all suffering in the name of Islam. The narrative that Muslims are solely a people of suffering and can never inflict suffering is an idealized fetishized version of Muslims. This is something white saviorism often requires.

In order to say your sorry about the Native American genocide you have to turn the indigenous people of the North American continent into some mythical and magic beings that knew no human flaws. To protest the war in Iraq they had to see the Iraqi solely as the passive victim and not the resistor with a Kalashnikov. In order to say Muslims are victims anywhere they have to say Muslims are victims everywhere and deem any faults of Muslims have to be traced back to some colonial or Western influence as before that Baghdad and Damascus were basically culturally just like an episode of “Girls” or grad school at Berkeley.

I have long since removed any such thinking from my mind. Yes, I have a curiosity about Muslim countries and their politics and I know more about these countries and cultures than most Americans given my background, but that doesn’t translate into expertise or the right to speak on their behalf. I’m an American and my political struggles and identity is here. In my estimation religious identity as the basis for political understanding is something that has had a negative effect globally and something I seek to refrain from.

Furthermore while I once yearned for the battlefields of Chechnya, sat in gatherings where the murder of Israeli children was celebrated, and saw friends off to fight in Bosnia and Kashmir, religion now doesn’t anchor my views on international affairs and there is no attraction to the politics of the “Muslim Revival”. Yet, I view with equal disdain any religious tradition that encourages pious quietism in the face of oppression whether that be in Ferguson or Fallujah.

Quite frankly I don’t share a worldview with most Muslims I know or white converts. I don’t see Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a “saintly reviver”. I see him as just another right-wing populist autocrat operating vaguely within the system he has a disdain for.

In America I’m not moved by and nor am I beaming with pride over Congresswoman Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib. Tlaib won due to African-American candidates splitting the black vote and her racking up the votes of those who don’t vote for black candidates. Real inspiring shit. Omar has made me think I’m smart enough to run for Congress. At least I wouldn’t be tweeting the state lines of Nicolas Maduro.

Then there is the biggest of them all. I believe Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for Jews alongside a viable and healthy Palestinian state. As an American I believe President Bill Clinton was on the right track with the peace process before Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin and well the rest is history. While I’m moved by the suffering of Palestinians I’m also moved by the two-thousand years of suffering, violence, and second-class citizenship of Jews in both Christian and Muslim lands and it is my firm conviction that the creation of Israel was an absolute historic necessity. If you think Jewish suffering began and ended with the holocaust and Muslim-Jewish relations were defined by some romanticized version of al-Andalus you were taught I encourage you to study more. Of course this makes me a sellout, a Jewish agent, part of a Zionist conspiracy, and MLI recipient (which, along with CVE, I’ve been a critic of). In an era where prayer and study is deemed as not important and Palestine is seen as the most important issue and Palestinians almost like a “chosen people” that a Muslim has to dedicate every waking hour to (fuck everyone else especially non-Arabs) this definitely puts me in the hellfire (if many Muslims these days even believe in such a concept. Maybe I’ll just be sentenced to somewhere really bad to live- but I’m already in Texas).

In the fantastical worldview of religious fanatics nation-states and powerful armies can be swept away by guys in beards yelling “Allahu Akbar”. In a world where such fantasies are removed and one isn’t caught up in performative politics you must accept the world how it is and then work from there.

The Alumni

I have made a lot of dear Muslim friends over the years who’ve really enriched my lives. Many of our bonding experiences came from moments of religious observance. Breaking fast together in Ramadan, praying taraweeh together, or itikaf at the masjid. Some of those bonding moments were attending the lectures of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman, Ali al-Timimi, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Muslimah, Abu Usamah, and others.

Yet, as the brotherhood grew, bonding grew deeper than that. We talked about life together, have cried together, mourned together, cheered sports teams together, swapped parenting advice, done business together, and more.

There is a group I refer to as “the alumni”. These are all brothers I’ve known for years. Most of them are African-American, but a couple are white. We met over Islam, but we talk now and religion doesn’t often come up. We talk about boxing, wrestling, baseball, basketball or football. Or our kids. Sometimes we hang out. Sometimes we smoke weed and then reminisce about wearing thobes and calling out “biddah”. Some of them are women and we discuss how years of religious fundamentalism warped both our family relations and our relationship to the opposite gender. They tell me about their dates and I tell them about mine (if I have any!). Yet, even the ones with the most negative views towards their Muslim experience will never eat pork, don’t drink, and prefer a Muslim girlfriend or wife at the same level they are.

All of us agree our lives are much better since we stopped running around dressing and talking like people we aren’t and out of that whole toxic environment. Everyone is also now more fun when they don’t have to pretend they’re something they aren’t and can text you music, podcasts, and their favorite Instagram models.

A Personal Note

There are many forms of enrichment. I play the numbers and don’t bet my heart. Statistically conversion to Islam for white people is brief. For those who stick around it tends to become farcical or fanatical. While there are some great white Muslim individuals and families statistically speaking most conversions will end in disaster. One would either have to be a fatalist, a narcissist, or in love with a Muslim to believe they could buck this trend. Having seen what I’ve seen I can’t tell anyone white to not convert, but I wouldn’t encourage it either. Wherever someone can find their peace and happiness is where they need to be.

A frequent complaint of white Muslims is they aren’t made to feel at home at the masjid. I feel this. When I wanted to feel at home at the masjid I didn’t. I’m not a dick-rider or ass-kisser like many white Muslims I see. If I’m disrespected I won’t pout. I’ll do something probably stupid that could get me in trouble (I say this as the veteran of several physical altercations at masjids).

My retort is this- you shouldn’t feel at home. African-American masjids are for African-American Muslims who have survived 400 years of slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, and systematic repression. You’re lucky they let your ass in the door and if you get even one friendly brother that’s a blessing. As a teacher once told me “we’ve been robbed of everything. Islam is all the black man has and we really don’t wanna see a whiteboy as imam”. How can you blame this man?

Arab and Desi masjids are made for the needs of their communities. Immigration is tough and raising second and third generation kids is tough. The last thing they need to prioritize is babysitting your white ass. Again, you shouldn’t feel at home at these masjids.

Then there is the security concern. Yes, we know these masjids are crawling with black, Desi, Arab and other informants and the most prone to flip are those with a less than solid immigration status. However, this doesn’t negate the fact there are a whole lot of white people that are vocal about their hatred of Islam and Muslims. If you show up and look to the people at the masjid just like a Trump supporter, and especially if they don’t know you, they’d be nuts to roll out the red carpet.

I’m gonna channel Ms. Cleo. You’re never gonna feel welcomed or at home at the masjid more than likely and if you do, as I did when I was young, you’re in a special place at a special time.

So, why not start white masjids? The answer to this is very simple despite the absurdities of Sherman Jackson calling for white dawah and the “redneck Muslim” documentary. First, there aren’t enough white Muslims. Second, most white Muslims are either married to non whites and/ or they’re using Islam to get away from white people and a white identity and the last thing they wanna be doing is slamming mayo sandwiches and La Croix at a white masjid for iftar.

If someone were to ask me for advice I’d say just do good and be righteous. Help those in need, be a good family member, and stand with “the least of these”. I can read a good book or novel, listen to a compelling podcast, view a powerfully-made film, binge a great TV show, or have a good conversation and it’s as good as any religious experience I’ve had. So I’d say if you need it to stay grounded then seek it, but get in where you fit in. The seerah will always be powerful to me like the martyrdom of Hussein. Yet, so are many other things from the teachings of the Ramban to the words of Phillip Roth to the sound of Rachmaninov to the wise words of Omar Little.

Life in modern America in many respects is about finding a home. Americans are signing up to websites like Ancestry and 23andMe to find out “who they are”. There is a rejection against dull and sterile suburban upbringings and a search for meaning. People are in search of spiritual, political, and sociological homes and often struggle to find them. These struggles of course mirror the effort to find actual homes in neighborhoods people feel they can develop a sense of meaning.

Find a home. Go home. This may not be your home. You’re probably just a houseguest and you may have overstayed your welcome. You definitely don’t need house keys.

Umar Lee is an activist and writer from St. Louis. You can find his books on Amazon and writings at He can be followed on Twitter at @UmarLeeIII

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *