Shaykh Hamza Yusuf was born to two academics in Washington State and raised in Northern California. In 1977, he became Muslim and subsequently traveled to the Muslim world and studied for ten years in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well as North and West Africa.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf spent four years studying in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere in the Middle East. Later he traveled to West Africa and studied in Mauritania, Madina, Algeria, and Morocco under such scholars as Murabit al Haaj; Baya bin Salik, head of the Islamic court in Al-'Ain, United Arab Emirates; Muhammad Shaybani, Mufti of Abu Dhabi; Hamad al-Wali; and Muhammad al-Fatrati of Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. After more than a decade abroad, he returned to the United States and earned degrees in nursing from Imperial Valley College and religious studies at San José State University.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is a co-founder of Zaytuna College, located in Berkeley, California. He is an advisor to Stanford University's Program in Islamic Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union. He also serves as a member of the board of advisors of George Russell's One Nation, a national philanthropic initiative that promotes pluralism and inclusion in America. 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, one of the top jurists and masters of Islamic sciences in the world.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has promoted Islamic sciences and classical teaching methodologies throughout the world. He has also been an advocate for social justice, peace, and conviviality among peoples and places. For several years, he has argued that the "them versus us" problem is fundamentally flawed, and, in R. D. Laing’s term, a “knot” that will destroy people if they do not extricate themselves from it.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has served as an advisor to many organizations, leaders, and heads of state. He has been an innovator in modern Islamic education, founding the highly imitated Deen Intensives, and with Ibrahim Osi-Efa, he started the first Rihla program in England, which has been running for over fifteen years. Dozens of young Muslims who were influenced by his call to reviving traditional Islamic studies in the West went to the Muslim lands in the nineties and early part of the current decade to study, many of who are now teachers in their own right.
With Eissa Bougari, Hamza Yusuf initiated a media challenge to the Arab world that resulted in a highly successful cultural religious program that he hosted for three years and was one of the most watched programs in the Arab world during Ramadan. Cambridge Media Studies stated that this program had a profound influence on subsequent religious programming in the Arab world. He has also been interviewed on BBC several times and was the subject of a BBC documentary segment The Faces of Islam, ushering in the new millennium, as it aired at 11:30pm on 31 December 1999. Hamza Yusuf has been an outspoken critic of American foreign policy as well as Islamic extremist responses to those policies.
He has drawn criticism from both the extreme right in the West and Muslim extremists in the East. He told The Guardian: "Many people in the west do not realise how oppressive some Muslim states are - both for men and for women. This is a cultural issue, not an Islamic one. I would rather live as a Muslim in the west than in most of the Muslim countries, because I think the way Muslims are allowed to live in the west is closer to the Muslim way. A lot of Muslim immigrants feel the same way, which is why they are here."
He and colleagues founded the Zaytuna Institute in 1996, which has established an international reputation for presenting a classical picture of Islam in the West and which is dedicated to the revival of traditional study methods and the sciences of Islam. Hamza Yusuf currently resides in Northern California with his wife and five children.
Hamza Yusuf has also authored several encyclopedia articles and research papers. His published books include The Burda (2003), Purification of the Heart (2004), The Content of Character (2004), The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (2007), Agenda to Change our Condition (2007), and Walking on Water (2010). Forthcoming are The Prayer of the Oppressed, and The Helpful Guide.
Hamza Yusuf is the first American lecturer to teach in Morocco's prestigious and oldest university, the University of Al-Karaouine in Fes. He is married and has five children, all boys.