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Hamza Yusuf was originally named Mark Hanson, but he changed his name after adopting the religion of Islam. He grew up practicing Greek Orthodox Christian.

In 1997 after a near death experience he converted to Islam from Christianity. He also had previously read the Quran when the verses of the Quran touched his heart.

After being impressed by a young couple from Saudi Arabia who were followers of Abdalqadir as-Sufi—a Scottish convert to Islam and leader of the Darqawa Sufi order and the Murabitun World Movement—Yusuf moved to Norwich, England to study directly under as-Sufi. In 1979, Yusuf moved to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates where he spent the next four years studying Sharia sciences at the Islamic Institute, more often on a one-on-one basis with Islamic scholars.[24] Yusuf became fluent in the Arabic language and also studied Qur’anic recitation (tajwid), rhetoric, poetry, law (fiqh) and theology (aqidah) among other classical Islamic disciplines.[24]

In 1984, Yusuf formally disassociated himself from as-Sufi teachings and moved in a different intellectual direction having been influenced by a number of Mauritanian scholars residing in the Emirates. He moved to North Africa in 1984 studying in Algeria and Morocco, as well as Spain and Mauritania.[26] In Mauritania he developed his most lasting and powerful relationship with Islamic scholar Sidi Muhammad Ould Fahfu al-Massumi, known as Murabit al-Hajj.[24]

Hamza Yusuf has been listed as one of the most influential muslims in the world. He has been known for spreading his views of Islam through his numerous publication and his College.


Yusuf and some of his other colleagues founded the Zaytuna Institute in Berkeley, California in 1996 and dedicated the college to revival of traditional study methods and the sciences of Islam. He further established the Zaytuna Institute as the Zaytuna College, a four-year muslim liberal college. This college was the first of its kind in the United States. The Zaytuna Institute became the first accredited Muslim campus in the United States after it received approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.[29][30] Yusuf stated that “We hope, God willing, that there will be more such Muslim colleges and universities to come”.[29]