Yasir Qadhi is one of the most prominent scholars of Islam in the world today. In recent times, Muslims have seen their theological scholarship shifting towards the western world. Many scholars from USA and UK have helped to put the focus back on the lost trait in Islamic studies of focusing on subtleties. It is the ability to closely examine the nuances which is getting blurry, the main cause of which is a world that is getting polarized. Among the same breed of Scholars is Yasir Qadhi, who has managed to retain the purity of religion and at the same time contextualized it for the modern mind.
What sets Yasir Qadhi apart from his fellow American scholars (Hamza Yusuf, Noman Ali Khan) is his grasp on more contemporary political issues and current affairs. While Hamza Yusuf and Noman Ali Khan tend to shy away from politics, Yasir Qadhi tackles political issues head on.
Yasir Qadhi was born in Houston Texas (1975) to Pakistani Parents who migrated to the US in 1963. He hails from a learned family. His father was an academic who did his PhD in the US and went on to teach in King Abdul Aziz university Jeddah Saudi Arabia . His grandfather was a presiding judge during the time of the British Raj, and hence the title Qazi (Urdu: meaning judge) was adopted by the family.
It was later that he himself changed his name to more original Arabic root word Qadhi (Arabic: meaning judge). Yasir Qadhi had a diverse upbringing, spending his childhood both in Houston and Jeddah. He attended a British school while in Saudi Arabia. He reflects that despite living in Saudi Arabia for many years, he never learnt Arabic because he grew up in an expat culture. However his frequent visits to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina instilled a love and reverence for his religion. Growing up in Saudi Arabia in 1980’s, he recalls, was very beautiful and stabilizing time of his life because on campus living provided him a shelter against the ills of society, like drugs.
For pursuing higher education and attending college he returned to the US. It was during his university life that he really discovered himself.
After completing his Chemical Engineering from University of Houston, the young Qadhi decided that the lures of the industrial/corporate culture were not for him. He wanted a greater purpose in life. Throughout his life he had a religious inclination most of which came from his family. However, like many idealist men of his age group, the search for identity led him to Salafi preacher Ali Al Tamimi. The preacher may not have given him the best of starts in his vision quest. The processes of adhering to a faith based group surely helped him preserve his identity and safe guard his faith.
His awakening came during his graduate studies where he began to take a deeper interest in theology. He taught himself Arabic in a very unorthodox fashion. He use to rigorously scan the translated copy of the Quran and tried to associate words with their meaning.
Yasir Qadhi’s big break came when he was accepted in Islamic University of Medina and enrolled in 1996. He later went on to do post graduate specialization on Aqeeda from the same institution. He spent a total of 10 years studying in Medina. It is well known that the university adheres to the Wahhabi school of thought. This complemented and mixed well with Qadhi youthful exuberance.
He started making a name with his sermons. During the same time he gave quite a few lectures on preservation of religion which extended to berating other factions in Muslims and in particular the Shia sect. Today a more learned and experienced Qadhi reflects on his ideas in the early days of religious education and thinks they could have been formulated better. He completed his PhD in 2010 from Yale University. Dr. Qadhi opines that it was because of this diversity in modes of education, that he didn’t get pigeon holed in just on one facet of theology.
It is not just the level of knowledge but Dr. Qadhi’s evolution which makes him even more remarkable. Post 9/11 when hostility towards Muslims increased around the world, Yasir Qadhi instead of getting more firebrand, went the other way. He chose a path of mediation. He is no pacifists. In fact he is extremely pragmatic in his approach towards Muslim community and the issues that plague them. He says that the challenge today is to preach Muslims what parts of their faith cannot be changed and what parts can be modified according to the circumstances of living. This he deems is extremely challenging and a very delicate balance. He has worked with Islam TV since its inception and writes frequently in mainstream and social media.
He is a passionate believer that Islamic scholarship in the western world should be indigenous. He wants the practice of importing imams in the western world from foreign countries to be banned. The second and third generation of Muslims in the west he says, should train themselves in religion. Preaching religion to the community should come from a member of community rather than an outsider.
Dr Qadhi says that being a professor in a western higher education institute also brings its own challenges. The main obstacle is that one can teach but one cannot preach. Giving personal opinions on matters of faith is frowned upon in a Western university. This he says is a departure from the traditional methodology of religious education. However, he concedes that this process has helped him to evolve immensely.
Dr. Qadhi is of the opinion that taboo topics should not be ignored. For instance many scholar steer clear of topics on Romance and Intimacy. And similarly homosexuality is another “no go area” among teachers of Islamic faith. Mr Qadhi says that it is this reluctance and hesitance in handling these difficult subjects that is pushing our youth towards isolation. He also points out that divorce rates have sky rocketed even among Muslims because of their unrealistic expectations. As most of these expectations are coming from Hollywood and Bollywood, Dr Qadhi firmly believes in recreating a thought paradigm based on purely Islamic values in mandatory.
Despite his popularity he still gets a tough time from both the liberal and conservative camps within the Muslim community. It is interesting to note that one group accuses him of a being closeted jihadist, while others more fundamentalist group deems him traitor and a defector. It is no surprise that his criticism of ISIS did not go down well with the Rogue state who in turn declared him an apostate (Murtad).
Yasir Qadhi is currently the Dean of academic affairs at the Al Maghrib Institute, which teaches Islamic courses in English language across the world. He is also Assistant Professor in religious studies in Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee.
He has authored/ co- authored several books which are listed below (chronologically):
1996: Riyaa: Hidden Shirk, 103 pages, Dar-al-Fatah, ISBN 8172317530
1999: An introduction to the sciences of the Qura̓an, Al-Hidaayah Pub., ISBN 1-898649-32-4
2000: An Explanation of the Four Principles of Shirk, 60 pages, with Muḥammad ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Al-Hidaayah, ISBN 1-898649-52-9
2001: Du’a : The Weapon of the Believer, Al Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution, ISBN 1-898649-51-0
2002,: 15 Ways to Increase Your Earnings from the Quran and Sunnah, Al Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution, ISBN 1-898649-56-1
2003: An explanation of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Kashf al-Shubuhat: a critical analysis of shirk, with Muḥammad ibn ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, Al-Hidaayah, ISBN 1-898649-62-6
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