Zaytuna College Blog

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali is a full-time faculty member specializing in Islamic Law, Theology, and Hadith Science at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, CA. He is a lifelong student of the Islamic tradition. He attended Temple University for two years (1995-1997) prior to pursuing studies that culminated in a four-year collegiate license (ijaza ‘ulya) from the prestigious Al-Qarawiyin University of Fes, Morocco (1997-2001). He holds a BA from the Al-Karaouine/Al-Qarawiyin University’s Faculty of Islamic Law (Shariah) and an MA in Ethics & Social Theory from The Graduate Theological Union (2009-2012) of Berkeley, CA. He is also pursuing his PhD in Cultural & Historical Studies at GTU, as one of the institution’s Presidential Scholars.
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Recent Posts

A Conversation: Shaykh Abdullah Ali and Baraka Blue

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 10, 2016 4:05:03 PM

Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and renowned Poet Baraka Blue sat down for a wide-ranging and engaging conversation on topics that are capturing the attention of Muslims and Non-Muslims worldwide. Topics including ISIS, Muslims in the West, Race, Racism, and more…

Listen to the podcast here:

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Topics: Islam

Only Human: Can We Follow a Fatwa From the Heart?

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 9, 2016 9:48:58 PM

One of the many perks that come with the discovery by locals in Muslim territories that you are a Western Muslim is that they often desire to help you explore and appreciate their culture. On one particular occasion, as I sat enjoying the company of a number of my Moroccan brethren in the courtyard of the American Language Institute of Fez, a peer invited me to attend a session of prophetic invocation and mention of the divine name at one of the local Sufi lodges he frequented. Before I could accept the invitation another Moroccan interjected, “Abdullah! Ask him if he performs his daily prayers!” Somewhat embarrassed for the man, I responded to the questioner, “It’s not my place to probe his faith and practice.” To this, my gracious host retorted, “That’s right! All that matters is a person’s intention.” I, suddenly feeling obligated to offer my religious understanding on the matter, replied, “No! Acts and good works do matter to Allah!”

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Topics: Islamic Jurisprudence, Muslim, Islam

Building Stronger Muslim Families

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 9, 2016 9:45:59 PM

The word ‘family’ according to its Latin root, familia, means a household or servants. A similar meaning is implied by the Arabic word, ahl (family; house; household, people belonging to a community or locality). There are actually three Arabic words commonly used to express the meaning of family: ahl, ‘a’ila, and usra. The first word (ahl) underscores the fact that the members of a given family share a domicile. The second word (‘a’ila) highlights the fact that members of the family act in the service of one another fulfilling one another’s needs. What deepens the notion of servicing one another’s needs is the fact that a cognate of ‘a’ila is ‘ayla (need, poverty) and another is‘iyal (dependents). As for the third word (usra), it originally was applied to male agnate relatives who were responsible for protecting the family. They were the glue which held the family together in tight solidarity with one another. A cognate of usra is the word asir, captive. It is as if no matter how much one may develop disdain for or be angered by a family member, one is unable to cut ties with them. It is as if a family member is held captive to his/her relatives.

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Topics: Muslim Community, Muslim, Islam

The Ideology of Police Brutality

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 9, 2016 9:20:39 PM

The Islamic tradition offers no support for anarchy or vigilantism. While one of Islam’s goals is to foster a society whose members willfully respect the boundaries of others, the working assumption from the earliest times has been that only a minority generally succeed in the mastery of the appetite and ego. This means that for the majority, unfortunately, extrinsic factors are necessary to regulate their behavior. For this reason, we find slogans like, “The sultan is God’s shade in the earth.” Similarly, it has been related that the caliph ‘Uthman said, “Verily, God inhibits through the sultan what He does not inhibit through the Qur’an.”

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Topics: Islam, Race, Justice

Violence and Defection From the Faith

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 9, 2016 9:17:10 PM

According to one proverb, “Anything imposed by force cannot endure without it.” That is, without the real presence or threat of force in any given society, lawlessness becomes the norm. It is this principle which guides and defines the actions of law enforcement everywhere. No law is deemed effective unless its disregard results in some form of fine, imprisonment, or other form of punishment.

Islam endorses this principle with relation to crime committed against the members of society. It, however, favors a different approach with regard to crimes committed against God―at least, according to the Qur’anic teachings and the prophetic example. Even though for centuries Muslim jurists have upheld the view that an individual Muslim’s decision to convert from Islam to another religion is punishable by death, this is largely the result of an interpretation of the sound hadith, “Kill anyone who changes his din.”

The word, din, in this hadith is typically translated as “religion.” It is a word whose meaning was exploited by European colonialists as a justification for the forced conversion of a number of aboriginal peoples to Christianity. If those people did not have what European Christians considered “religion”, compelling the natives to convert was tolerable, since they didn’t know what was best for their selves anyway. In time they would hopefully come to understand the great blessing they had been given to them by their Christian benefactors. Karen Armstrong, in emphasizing the problem with translating a number of words as “religion” had the following to say her essay entitled, “The Myth of Religious Violence,”

The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period. (

If it is true that din is much more than the private pursuit that we call “religion,” it is important to remember the geo-political state of affairs during the prophetic era when the directive was made to, “Kill anyone who changes his din.” During this time, populations lived under the presumption of war, not peace, unless neighboring peoples initiated an accord or strategic alliance. Din included not only a commitment to the groups understanding of God and worldview. It also entailed a commitment to the preservation of the social solidarity and collective security of the tribe or clan. To leave the group, often times meant to defect to the group’s enemies. At other times, it entailed a degree of neutrality.

In light of this old world order, it was quite reasonable for Hanafi jurists to divide the world into “hostile” territories (dar al-harb) and “friendly” territories (dar al-salam). It is such an order we need to consider in order to contextualize Qur’anic references to “unbelievers” (kuffar/kafirun) and “those who reject faith” (alladhina kafaru) as referring to “hostiles” as opposed to “friendlies.” If a given population lacked a treaty with another in the premodern world, this fundamentally implied that the wealth and lives of one’s neighbors were threatened with usurpation at any given moment. Since religion was separate neither from culture nor the social-political order, apostasy was seen as a sign of defection and a threat to the safety and stability of a given population. With this understanding, it follows logically that the true concern of the pioneer Muslim community was not necessarily an individual’s decision to cast off the strictures of Islamic law or creed. It was actually upholding standards which promoted communal trust and safety. This is why as reported in one incident after Anas b. Malik, deputized by ‘Umar b. al-Khattab to track down a defector, returned with the news that a number of apostates he was sent after had been killed in battle on the side of the enemy at Tustar, ‘Umar said to him, “If I had encountered them, I would have presented them the option of returning to Islam. If they refused, I would have merely imprisoned them.” ‘Umar’s reasoning shows that the decision to execute apostates was not a binding injunction to be applied in all cases, and that the reason for the punishment was not simply because of their apostasy. It was also because of defecting to the enemy’s army. In light of these considerations, Muslim scholars would serve the religion better by re-characterizing what was classically referred to as “apostasy” as its true meaning, which is “defection.”

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Topics: Muslim, Islam, apostasy, defection, muslilm scholars

“White” and “Black” Are Not the Only Options for Social Integration

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Aug 9, 2016 4:15:12 PM

Prior to the tragic events of 9/11, with a few exceptions, a common concern among Muslim mosque-goers in the US was the question of whether or not it was lawful to live in America. For many, the questions of whether or not it was permissible to call oneself ‘American’ and/or participate in elections and run for office were viewed as treasonous to the Islamic teachings. Two views were common. One contingent felt that since America was not a Muslim country and its military was actively involved in incursions into the Muslim world, these facts made being Muslim and American two irreconcilable issues. The second contingent felt that since blacks were not included in the “We” of “We the People” or the “men” of “All men are created equal” when America first formed, in addition to historical social alienation suffered at the hands of whites and the American government, there was no way to reconcile Muslimness with American identity. The former rationalization was popular among recent immigrants to America, while the latter view was popular among black-American converts.

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Topics: Islamic Jurisprudence, Islam, Islamophobia, Race, Justice, muslims in america, 9/11, social integration

Fasting for Self-Mastery

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Jun 24, 2016 5:51:19 PM


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Topics: Ramadan, Fasting, Self mastery and fasting, Self mastery

Lessons From The Life of Prophet Noah, عليه السلام, Parts 1 - 2

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on May 23, 2016 2:20:02 PM

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Topics: Fiqh, Islam, prophets, Lessons from prophets, Prophet Noah, Lessons from Noah, Noah

Did Prophet Muhammad ﷺ Predict the Rise of White Supremacy?

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Mar 9, 2016 1:29:51 PM

Mention of “white supremacy” or “white power” often conjure up images of the hate-filled bigoted rants and violent terroristic antics of skinheads and members of the KKK. Seldom do people imagine that an entire system could be built upon the unspoken premise that “whites” are the presumptive beneficiaries of that system, while others are to be dealt with as second and underclass citizens. This in many respects seems to be the case in the United States of America, a country whose founding fathers don’t appear to have seriously considered the possibility of blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos, Chinese, and so many other people classified as “non-white” as ever becoming full citizens. Read More

Topics: Islam, bigotry, prophet muhammad, white supermacy, racism, make america great again, prophet muhammad's predictions, prophet muhammad's knowledge

Jurisprudential Principles

Posted by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali on Dec 15, 2015 12:01:39 AM

The semester started and by the end of the first week we still had not met for the first lesson in Islamic Jurisprudential Principles.  As a student I recall the excitement involved with coming back to school, but in this case the excitement was all mine as a teacher. The reason is that it was this semester that I would decide to adopt all-Arabic instruction for at least one of my courses at Zaytuna College. The fact that my students were juniors meant to me that it was now time to test how useful nearly 4 years of the study of Arabic alongside other courses would pay off. It would be a real test, not only for me as a teacher and for my students. It would also be a big test for the College overall as a way of knowing just how effective our curriculum and pedagogy have been.

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Topics: Sharia, Islamic Jurisprudence, Arabic, jurisprudential principles in islam

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