Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's Seminal Speech at the Oxford Union

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American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has given a speech about Islam at the world-famous debating forum, the Oxford Union.

London, UK American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has given a seminal speech about Islam at the world-famous debating forum, the Oxford Union.

On February 15 2006, Shaykh Hamza spoke to members of generation who may follow in the footsteps of Oxford alumni such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in assuming positions in the higher echelons of power. Billed as one of the Islamic world's most erudite and charismatic scholars, Yusuf advised his audience that they should dream as that is what affects change.

"Dreams are what make us humans and I really want to stress this idea of dreaming" said Yusuf on his trip the United Kingdom to teach Islam in the UK after the July 7 bombings. "The moral imagination, the ability to envisage things different to the way they are."

For those intellectually disposed to wonder if Samuel Huntingdon's thesis of a Clash of Civilisations may be realised in a generation, attendance at the Oxford Union was deemed one of the speaking highlights of the year. But against the timely backdrop of the Hamas election victory in Palestine, the referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, the global furore over the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in cartoons, and the release of further images of abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the event has gained seminal relevance.

Speaking in eloquent English and quoting in impeccable Arabic, Yusuf, born Mark Hanson, could clearly be distinguished to the audience as an American convert to Islam who had enjoyed a privileged Western education and trained in the traditional Islamic sciences. But it was Yusuf's erudition, and its sheer versatility, which impressed. The scholar naturally explained and quoted verses from the Holy Qur'an and Prophetic sayings, but also included citations from John Locke as well as references to current political farce such as a recent shooting incident involving the current U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The main topics the Shaykh covered, with consistent Islamic references, were contemporary racism, global economic injustice, failed states in the Islamic world, the importance of issues of global concern, of knowing who the Prophet Muhammad was and what he stood for, of learning about Islam for one's own personal edification and the need for dialogue and genuine civil society. He also called on students at the famous university to study the works of former Oxford alumni like Edward Pococke who studied the Islamic world with passion and respect.

The event itself was highly exclusive and guest-listed, even for a private member's club such as the Oxford Union. The Oxford Union office said it had never been so plagued with telephone calls from non-members asking if they could attend the event. More astonishingly, many non-members at Oxford University joined the private members' club on the day just so they could attend the event - something unheard of at the 183-year old institution.

The event was organised by the Oxford Union, the Zaytuna Institute which is Shaykh Hamza's seminary, Q-News, Britain's leading Muslim magazine. The inception and daily planning of the event was conducted by the Oxford University Justice Society, founded in 2002 with the aim of promoting issues of global concern amongst the University community. It was also filmed by CNN, Reuters and Mahabba Unlimited, with Shaykh Hamza conducting an interview on the Abu Ghraib scandal with CNN before the event and with BBC Newsnight in Oxford immediately afterwards. Ihsanic Intelligence, acclaimed for publishing 'The Hijacked Caravan', a landmark study into suicide bombing in Islam, was responsible for organising the invitation-only guest list. Official endorsements included Oxford & Cambridge Islamic Societies and the Oxford University Arab Society.

Dignitaries were also prominent at the event, including royalty, diplomats, socialites, NGO staff and influential academics and policy makers.

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