|Zaytuna Institute is a non-profit, educational institute and school founded and run by people committed to reviving time-tested methods of educating and transforming human beings. It is our belief that Islam offers a cohesive understanding of the world and a praxis for it that is able to cut through the illusion of contemporary nihilism and materialism.
We recognize ignorance as the greatest weapon of the dark forces working in the world and believe that the light of true knowledge is the only weapon to dispel that darkness. This is our struggle, and our efforts are directed at spreading the light and wisdom of prophetic truths everywhere and to all peoples. Our aim is to teach the tools individuals need in order to live lives of guidance and adherence to sacred order and to restore broad-based pluralistic and true scholarship to its proper place as a first priority of Muslims.
We believe the problems facing this generation are those very problems mentioned in our Prophet's final sermon, upon him be prayers and peace: economic injustice, racism, the oppression of women, and the manipulation of natural order. We believe these human illnesses can only be treated through healing the hearts of humanity with spiritual truths of the impermanence of the world and the need to understand our purpose while we are here and act accordingly. This can only be done with sound and true knowledge. It is our goal to acquire and disseminate that knowledge.
The Institute was founded in 1996 by Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Hesham Alalusi and incorporated in California as a non-profit, educational institute. In 1998, a site for an academy was purchased in Hayward, California. During the last four years, the site has been fully renovated and now serves as Zaytuna Academy. Zaytuna Institute has held several conferences bringing several leading scholars from various parts of the globe to participate. Several intensive programs have been completed as well as ongoing courses in the Bay Area.
An olive tree, called shajarat zaytun in Arabic, is not a particularly striking tree. It does not have the height of a majestic redwood nor does it provide the shade of a massive oak. It is not prized for its timber like the juniper or the maple tree, and it has a withered and dry look that gives it an aged presence. The secret of the olive tree is in two things: its fruit, the olive itself, and its massive underground root system that can extend over twenty feet. The roots are so extensive and strong that in times of drought, when other trees die, the zaytuna tree is still standing because it draws from deep within the earth when the heavens withhold their life-giving water. Another aspect of these roots is that they enable the tree to produce olives for hundreds of years: even after the tree looks as if there is no life left in it, it continues to produce olives.
As for its fruit, the olive is second only to the fig in Berg's table of purifying foods. It is unique among the produce of trees in that it is treated by human hands in order for it to become palatable food. The olives are cut and then cured for a long period until they lose their extreme bitterness. This process is a metaphor for human hearts.
The pressing of mature olives to produce oil is another extraordinary aspect of the tree's fruit as this is one of the most ancient of all oils and was used by the entire Mediterranean peoples to light their lamps for millennia, treat their skin, and nourish their bodies. This tree's wood has been used traditionally to make prayer beads since it has always been considered blessed by the three great Monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and there are numerous references to the olive in their sacred texts.
Deuteronomy from the Torah has the prophet Moses, peace be upon him, describing Palestine as a "good land, a land of olives." The prophet Noah, peace be upon him, was said to have been given the branch of an olive tree from a dove as a sign of hope that land was near after the flood. According to the Psalms, a man's children are like "the slips of olive trees." The prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, also made references to the olive tree.
In the Quran, Allah ta'ala says,
the likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp; the lamp is encased in a glass. The glass is like a brilliant star. It is lit from a blessed tree, an olive tree that is neither of the East nor the West. It is as if its oil would give light even if fire had not touched it. Light upon light. And Allah guides to His light whom He pleases. [This lamp] is in houses that Allah has permitted to be erected wherein His name is oft-remembered. They glorify Him in them in the early morning and evening, men who are not distracted by commerce and trading from the remembrance of Allah. (24: 35-37)
Also, Allah, Exalted is He, swears an oath, saying, "By the Fig and the Olive, and by Mount Sinai. Surely, We created man in the best stature" (Quran, 95: 1-4). The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is reported to have said, "Anoint yourselves with olive oil because it comes from a blessed tree." In his book on the qualities of the Prophet, peace be upon him, Imam Tirmidhi mentions that it was reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, used so much olive oil that his shawl was often saturated with it.
One of the greatest universities in the history of Islam, Jami' Zaytuna in Tunis, was named after this blessed tree, and, by way of analogy, it provided intellectual and spiritual oil that illuminated Africa for over a thousand years. Ibn 'Arafa, one of the greatest scholars of Islam, Imam Maziri, the great traditionalist and jurist, and countless others all taught there, preserving the knowledge and sciences of Islam. Zaytuna Institute is meant to contribute to reviving the tradition of sound Islamic teaching institutions. Our hope is to see the Muslims of the West, in particular, working towards that same goal.