The New York Times describes him as a “leading intellectual light” and Dr. Cornel West writes “he is one of the towering principle voices not only in contemporary Islam, but in American society.” Imam Zaid Shakir, a gifted scholar, author and lecturer, is fast becoming one of the most influential voices for Islam in the West, as well as a compelling force for the improvement of race relations in America.
Through his writing, speaking and teaching, he pragmatically directs Muslim thought, literature, and practice to enrich, the societies they are part of. The Imam brings clarity of mind and engaging honesty to even the most controversial issues. Trained in both the academic and religious intellectual traditions, Imam Shakir is uniquely qualified as a commentator on the substantial issues of our time.
Born in Berkeley, California to a family descended from African, Irish and Native American roots, Imam Shakir spent his formative years in housing projects. These early experiences instilled in him a compassionate and realistic work ethic, as well as an unshakeable desire for social change and economic justice. And, as an American who came of age during the civil rights movement, he brings both sensitivity about African-American and poverty issues and scholarly discipline to his faith-based work.
It was while serving in the Air Force that he accepted Islam in 1977, He remained in the military for four years and received an accommodation medal for his dedicated service. His purposeful goal to work for the common good of all, led him to earn a BA in International Relations from the American University in Washington, DC in 1983. A summa cum laude graduate, Imam Shakir went on to receive his Masters in Political Science from Rutgers University where he was also a student leader.
After a sabbatical year in Cairo, Egypt where he studied the Arabic language, Imam Shakir accepted the position of Professor of Political Science and Middle East Studies at Southern Connecticut State University. In Connecticut, he also served as interfaith council Chaplain at Yale University and developed the Chaplaincy Sensitivity Training for physicians at Yale New Haven Hospital. Additionally, Imam Shakir continued his work as a spiritual and community leader. His many selfless projects included spearheading a community revival program and grassroots anti-drug effort, before leaving for further study in the Middle East in 1994.
For seven years in Syria and briefly in Morocco, the Imam immersed himself in the intense study of Arabic, Islamic law, Quranic studies, and spirituality with some of the top traditional Islamic scholars of our age. He was the first American to graduate from Syria’s prestigious Abu Noor University with a BA in Islamic Sciences and returned to Connecticut in 2001. In 2003, Imam Shakir served as resident scholar and lecturer at the Zaytuna Institute, in Hayward, California. In 2004, he initiated a pilot seminary program at Zaytuna Institute, which was useful in Zaytuna College’s refinement of its Islamic Studies curriculum and its educational philosophy. For four years, students in the pilot program were engaged in the study of contemporary and classical texts. And, in the fall of 2010, he and his colleagues co-founded Zaytuna College, Berkeley, CA., a four-year Muslim liberal arts college, the first of its kind in the United States. He is also chairman of the board and faculty member. He has continued his spiritual, academic and community work, speaking and writing extensively on religion, socio-political and race issues. Imam Shakir has been invited to lecture at several prominent universities including Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, and Temple University. He is the author of the groundbreaking books Heirs of the Prophets, Scattered Pictures, Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance, Where I’m Coming From, and has written for several notable publications including The New Haven Register, Washington Post, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
Imam Zaid was ranked as “one of America’s most influential Scholars” in the West; by The 500 Most Influential Muslims, edited by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, (2009). In the spirit of the great scholars of the past, the Imam embodies the rationality, spirituality and breadth of traditional knowledge, as well as cutting-edge academic intellect. Imam Shakir leaves a lasting impression; his ability to move hearts and minds enlightens all walks of life.