Monday, January 26, 2009

Scholar As Mere Entertainer

I attended talks by some prominent Muslim scholars recently. Hamza Yusuf is blessed with intelligence, eloquence and a memory unlike anyone I have seen among Muslims. Boy, can this brother connect the dots! Yet, I feel he has chosen a very unambitious roles for himself over the incredible possibilities that exist. Either that or nobody is perfect.

When history looks back at Hamza, will he go as anything more than one who entertained weary Muslims? Knowing fully well that my personal shortcomings far exceed that of any of the people I criticize, I still think it is necessary to take a few steps down this dangerous path. Aoodhu billah min ash shaitan ar rajeem.

Let me explain this with an analogy: There are two professionals who make the rounds at pediatric cancer facilities. The obvious one is the pediatric oncologist. These are learned physicians who use combinations of toxic chemicals and dangerous radiations in judicious quantities to kill cancerous cells while leaving good cells intact. Obviously, this requires skill and discipline that comes from years of rigorous training of a gifted and talented human being.

There is one more person you see make rounds at these facilities - very conspicuous by the way they dress. You guessed it, the clown! When children are dealing with such painful therapies, you need someone to come and cheer them up, to put smiles back on their faces.

As I left his talk, I couldn't help but wonder why Hamza, who has the talent and training to be a pediatric oncologist, ends up playing the clown in many of his speeches. O yes the ummah is hurting and we need someone to cheer the masses, but we have many clowns and far too few oncologists. I have watched him for nearly 16 years now: he chooses to be 10% oncologist, 50% clown and the other 40% of the times he's off on a stupid tangent which he later seems to regret.

Hamza brings to Muslims in America what Bollywood has brought to millions of slum-dwellers in India...a fleeting escape from the harsh realities of life. Sadly, when the movie ends, slums is all they got. In some ways, their escapism gets in the way of their doing something about their sad lots.

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