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Hamza Yusuf (born Mark Hanson; 1958) is an American Islamic neo-traditionalist,  Islamic scholar, and co-founder of Zaytuna College. He is a proponent of classical learning in Islam and has promoted Islamic sciences and classical teaching methodologies throughout the world.

He is an advisor to both the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and the Islamic Studies programme at Stanford University. In addition, he serves as vice-president for the Global Center for Guidance and Renewal, which was founded and is currently presided over by Abdallah bin Bayyah. He also serves as vice-president of the UAE-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, where Abdallah bin Bayyah also serves as president.[16] The Forum has attracted huge controversy for its close ties to the UAE dictatorship as well as Hamza Yusuf’s personal support for authoritarian leaders since the Arab Spring.

The Guardian has referred to Yusuf as “arguably the West’s most influential Islamic scholar”. The New Yorker magazine also called him “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world”, and journalist Graeme Wood has called him “one the two most prominent Muslim scholars in the United States today”. He has been listed in the top 50 of The 500 Most Influential Muslims. His detractors, however, have widely criticised him for his stance on race, politics, the Syrian revolution, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Yusuf was born as Mark Hanson in Walla Walla, Washington to two academics working at Whitman College and he was raised in northern California. He grew up as a practicing Irish Catholic Christian and attended prep schools on both the East and West coasts. In 1977, after a near-death experience in a car accident and reading the Qur’an, he converted to Islam. Yusuf has Irish, Scottish and Greek ancestry.

After being impressed by a young couple from Saudi Arabia who were followers of Abdalqadir as-Sufi—a Scottish convert to Islam and leader of the Darqawa Sufi order and the Murabitun World Movement—Yusuf moved to Norwich, England to study directly under as-Sufi. In 1979, Yusuf moved to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates where he spent the next four years studying Sharia sciences at the Islamic Studies Institute of the United Arab Emirates University, more often on a one-on-one basis with Islamic scholars. Yusuf became fluent in the Arabic language and also learned Qur’anic recitation (tajwid), rhetoric, poetry, law (fiqha) and theology (aqidah) among other classical Islamic disciplines.

In 1984, Yusuf formally disassociated himself from as-Sufi’s teachings and moved in a different intellectual direction having been influenced by a number of Mauritanian scholars residing in the Emirates. He moved to North Africa in 1984 studying in Algeria and Morocco, as well as Spain and Mauritania. In Mauritania he developed his most lasting and powerful relationship with Islamic scholar Sidi Muhammad Ould Fahfu al-Massumi, known as Murabit al-Hajj.

In 2020, Yusuf completed his Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union. His dissertation was titled, “The Normative Islamic Tradition in North and West Africa: A Case Study of Transmission of Authority and Distillation of Knowledge in Ibn Ashir’s Al-Murshid al-Mu’in (The Helpful Guide).” Yusuf previously earned an associate degree in nursing from Imperial Valley College and a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from San José State University.


He and other colleagues founded the Zaytuna Institute in Berkeley, California, United States, in 1996, dedicated to the revival of traditional study methods and the sciences of Islam. He was joined by Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian in establishing what was then Zaytuna Institute.

In the fall of 2010 it opened its doors as Zaytuna College, a four-year Muslim liberal arts college, the first of its kind in the United States. It incorporates Yusuf’s vision of combining the classical liberal arts—based in the trivium and quadrivium—with rigorous training in traditional Islamic disciplines. It aims to “educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders”.

Zaytuna College became the first accredited Muslim campus in the United States after it received approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Yusuf stated that “We hope, God willing, that there will be more such Muslim colleges and universities to come”.