Who would imagine that a convert to Islam calling himself Hamza Yusuf Hanson, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and in his late '40s, would be listed as number 38 among the "Top 50 Muslims in the World" by a leading government body in Jordan? Or that the same Hanson would have announced recently, in grandiose terms, the prospective launch of an American Islamic institution of higher education to be called Zaytuna College, and aimed at becoming a "Muslim Georgetown" in academic prestige?
"Shaykh Hamza," as he prefers to be known, achieved so high a rank among the "Top 50 Muslims" thanks to an inventory produced by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, in cooperation with Georgetown University's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). The full, illustrated catalogue is titled, "The Muslim 500" and may be perused online by clicking here. It was edited by two Georgetown faculty members: the notoriously Saudophilic Islamic studies professor and ACMCU Founding Director John L. Esposito, and Islamic studies professor Ibrahim Kalin. Kalin was recently described in Today's Zaman, organ of the Islamist Fethullah Gülen movement, as the "chief foreign policy adviser" to Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the "soft fundamentalist" Justice and Development party, or AKP.
Esposito and Kalin's opulent presentation of "The Muslim 500" names Saudi King Abdullah as number one in the "Top 50." Osama bin Laden is relegated to the remaining 450, as is Zaid Shakir, an African-American convert and Hamza Yusuf's caliph, or deputy, in the Zaytuna enterprise.
Who, then, is Hamza Yusuf Hanson? And what is Zaytuna College?