The Stream : Preaching against poverty

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Event Name: The Stream : Preaching against poverty
Description: Original transcript, then edited
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 4/30/2019 1:10:07 PM
Transcript Version: 2

Transcript Text

Hi, I'm Lisa Fletcher, welcome to the streams online pre show today.  We're extending both our pre and post-show because we have so much to discuss with two very special guests: Islamic scholars Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir.  Welcome to the pre-show everyone.

Tthank you so much for being here

Alright thank you for having me

First start with talking a little bit about "United for change" tell us what that's all about.

"United for change" was an initiative of Imam Zaid to try to get an umbrella organization get a lot of people together on different areas of focus.  So in this one it's about poverty he's done other things and I participated as a guest really.  Imam zaid you want to jump in on this?

yes United for change was really conceived to bring a...Shaykh Hamza mentioned many different scholars representing various fields of Islamic work in this country who might not ordinarily cooperate with each other to come together to address issues that are larger than any the resources or the scope or returnees of any individual group.  So we've done four of these.  This is the fourth one the first one dealt with the issue of malaria and Africa and we were able to raise over four hundred thousand dollars for the assisting anti-malarial work in Africa the second one dealt with the family and focuses on issues that aren't usually dealt with,  such as domestic violence, Some of the problems that Muslim teenagers are facing and other issues that sometimes fly under the radar. 

The third one was last year in Washington DC we dealt with the issue of education in that context we focused on the mission and the unique effort of zaytuna College and this year we're dealing with the issue of poverty, particularly poverty as it affects our inner-city communities and what some of the Muslim communities in the inner city particularly messy, Dallas & New Haven Connecticut are doing to address that issue

Host: So how was this initiative different from your work that you had started doing with Islamic Relief on malaria.

Zaid Shakir: I think that work was focused on a single organization that's out there in the field what we were trying to do was, bringing the resources of the Muslim community to bear on that problem.  So if Islamic Relief was really on the front line we were trying to provide a stronger network of support behind the scenes to Marshall particularly the financial resources of the Muslim community to help address the issue shaykh hamza

I want to shift gears there a little bit and talk about Occupy Wall Street it's something that you've spoken out a lot about what do you think some of the issues were in terms of how that movement went wrong

Zaid/Hamza: Well, I think first of all the language of the movement was problematic for me because the whole concept of occupying anything is problematic for me and I think what it is, is it's engaging the quote-unquote enemy.  I mean here it's in a civil sense but exactly an invasive language and oppressive language I mean.  I think for me it's really more let's abandon wall of Wall Street you know let's look at different models.  I think that for me it's really about checking out of this system as much as we're possible and divesting so I'm much more interested in educating people about how they can divest from the system for instance I personally you know I I don't fly certain airlines because they get f's in terms of their overall their social responsibility their commitment.  you can get the "Better world buying guide" and actually begin to buy ethically certified products things like that, so I think people have to really stop empowering them by giving them your support I mean and that's a consciousness raising awareness that I'm much more interested in I'm much more interested in looking at strategically how we can get out of this mess that we're in because trying to occupy the mess is not going to do it for me that's any other thing I just would say also is that the one percent the United States were five percent the rest of the world's 95% so everybody in America is engaged in some sense in helping support oppression because for instance we buy chocolate in this country.  most of the chocolate is is harvested by slave labor the cocoa and that's been well documented by CNN and many other things, so I don't need chocolate unless it's fair trade certified something like that, and these are the ethical commitments of the trials and tribulations of trying to live an ethical life in a very unethical world and that's something I want to talk more about in the show this idea of sneaking up your values and with the way you live your life every day. 

Imam Zaid : I would agree to Shaykh Hamza in terms of the names and things but I think it's important for us to focus on the fact that some of the issues that the Occupy movement were raising our legitimate issues addressing income distribution and the growing gap between those who possess and those who are dispossessed some of the structural issues that need to be addressed and then the more recent effort to be in to link some of those concerns of Occupy Wall Street with Main Street and to address the foreclosure issue and others who those are valid concerns but i would agree agree with shaykh hamza you know

Host: On that note that we're gonna put it on pause guys because the pre-show is over but we're about to start this dream in 10 seconds

Host: Hi I'm Lisa Fletcher and you're in the stream today poverty politics and conflict we put it all on a table with renowned Muslim American scholars Hamza Yusuf and zaid Shakir, following protests against an anti-islam video many have focused on negative depictions of Islam.  Here at the streamwe've tried to broaden that global conversation this week by bringing you other perspectives and today we're continuing on that path with two prominent Muslim scholars Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is known as one of the world's most influential muslims in fact he's been called a theological rock star like the Elvis of Western Muslims.  Imam zaid shakir served as a chaplain at Yale University and he's co-founder along with shaykh hamza of zaytuna college which will soon be the first accredited muslim college in the US. 

They're here to help us examine some tough issues facing the world today and we want to start by looking at poverty how does it take root even in wealthy countries like the  United States is government failing or our individuals overly focused on consumerism of course a new che hossain is here grabbing all your live feedback and members of our community are also with us on Google+ so let's jump right in shaykh hamza you and imam zaid are doing this initiative focusing on poverty why right now?

Humza: Well I mean we're in a globally we're in a major crises I think in the United States we're seeing economic conditions that haven't been around for a very long time poverty is always presen.  Like Jesus said, it's always with us but right now in particular a lot of people are suffering I know for instance the food banks are in crises and a lot of the inner cities and places where there just so many people are needing help right now and so it's it's it's an important issue for me personally though I think a lot of the the what I see is so much not as against poverty but elevating and dignifying poverty. 

I've lived in many countries, I've lived in one of the poorest countries in the world in West Africa and and the people there are materially impoverished but they're actually spiritually and and in terms of their community they're actually very rich and so I think even our wealthy people in this country are often very impoverished in terms of their community their their lives people are very stressed out and you can see it on the road you can see it just look at the faces of the people out there they don't look happy you know.  We're called prozac nation so I think poverty limiting poverty to an income distribution problem for me it's a much broader issue.  I would consider intellectual and spiritual impoverishment one of the major ones not to mention food because poor people in a lot of countries eat much better than the wealthy people in the united states.  They eat healthier food, better food I mean, the average Indian his Daal is much more healthy than all this fast food that's causing all these health problems here in the United States.  That's where that's now spreading around the globe

Host: Right go ahead. I hope to pick up on the theme of wealth that you just mentioned I'm going to go to our online community here for a second I have a tweet from Maggie Carter.  She says a lot of Muslims don't really want to have to educate people about themselves or Islam but must work with community to counter disinformation. 

I also have a tweet here from Muslim IQ, he says the fact that the GOP has officially adopted an anti-islam platform that is horrifying as much as it is stupefying

I want to also quickly go over to our google hangout Logan you have a question about it for us about redistributing wealth and since it's election season there's been a lot of discussion in America about wealth redistribution in the safety net of welfare especially we've been seeing this brand of conservatism that is hyper individualism and hyper capitalism so I'm just curious what shaykh hamza and imam Zaid, how you'd have to say about it.

Humza/Zaid: About redistributing wealth to those who are wealthy to those who are poor and it is actually being carried out in Muslim communities or in muslim-majority countries among the yah I would first of all say that the Quran is very clear on this issue in the sense that is trying to strike a balance between private ownership and respecting private ownership and personal initiative and honoring that and on the other hand trying to prevent extreme differentials in terms of income distribution that renders some people impoverished and there a basic standard of dignified living being met even if those people might be considered poor so it is very clear in the Quran that <> that the wealth should not just circulate amongst the wealthy and a society the wealthy have a right to their wealth but if there are people in need and those people have been structurally prevented from earning a decent living then it's a responsibility of the entire society to address that issue and I think in that regards there has to be a a consciousness a public moral consciousness that facilitates bringing those resources to bear and the Islam emphasizes cultivating that consciousness so if the questioner mentioned and mentions this are in a sense rabbit individualism that builds on the philosophy of the likes of iron rent the Koran is saying we want to create a consciousness of public moral consciousness that endorses selflessness and and honey will you clear une you see rune I'll enthusiam well oh canopy mahesana they give preference to others even though themselves they themselves have dire needs so we need to cultivate a public moral consciousness that is amenable to sharing our wealth and also amenable to respecting the rights of those who have earned the wealth so that we can have a more balanced view and a more balanced Society.  That's what Islam is aiming for a balance between extremes of extreme selfishness that would leave the poor even when they're structurally render poor in other words there's no fault of their own that. 

For example, the farmer can no longer farm because organic seeds have been rendered extinct due to cross pollination with GMOs and they can only buy the seeds now from a corporation and they don't have any money because they're locked out of the cash economy well not yet another aspect of this.  We were just teaching yesterday we were discussing at zaytuna College in the ethics class book five of Aristotle, where he talks about distributed distributive justice so this was a problem that the ancient Greeks were dealing with it's not something that goes away.  But one of the things that he points out in there is magnificence you know the idea of actually people giving back to society I mean that was an ideal in their society that that wealthy people and the philanthropists in this culture traditionally that's what they did a lot of America was built in fact there's a program on I think on the history channel now about the men who built america about vanderbilt and rockefeller and all these different you know philanthropist and you have people like bill gates that are obviously trying to follow in those footsteps

But this situation where you have like, Imam Zaid set you have a structural situation that does not really allow for a certain segment of the population to get out of the poverty that they're in so you have failed schools in the inner cities I mean these are issues that if they're not addressed you destabilize the entire project and so the wealthy people end up like in third world countries where they have to live in sheltered environments with armed protection and increasingly we're seeing this in the United States as people move into these it's becoming like a third-world country in that way where people begin to move into gated communities where you get private corporate police and and it's unacceptable a civil society I mean America was a very different culture 30 years

You know, I'm old enough to remember how I wanted to get at because you know imam zaid I don't think anything that he's suggesting would be  rejected by most faith-based communities however do you think that America has lost its its faith well I think America used to reflect this a lot more.  five, yeah absolutely i mean faith was a much more fundamental component i mean if you look just in modern you know housing now than they built they don't factor in churches anymore or you know this isn't factored into the community anymore so I mean we're definitely seeing America still has a lot of faith-based people undeniably but you're seeing that the faith community no longer has the type of impact that they had in the past.  I mean the Catholic Church was one of the major benefactors in the United States so a lot of this has been either privatized or moved into government so the whole entitlement project you know this idea that government has to do everything for the people i mean in some ways it's actually had a profound impact on communities that used to do these things. 

Let me give you one example.  When I was a kid we had a house burnt down in in in the neighborhood they went and collected buckets and everybody pitched in to rebuild this person's house that was fire insurance in the United States not that long ago so you know a lot of people you know we forget that insurance was actually just the community if somebody was in hard times other people would pitch in and Frank Capra made a career in Hollywood making films about that aspect of America yeah I think though yeah I think in the past though it was the case that not only the the wealthier philanthropist who you know how they gained their money might have been questioned and challenged by some answer in terms of the immorality of their economic activity but the ordinary person the middle class upper middle class taxpayers gladly paid ninety percent of their excess wealth and saw it as an investment in the future the future and that that's what built the public highway systems that's what sent a man to the moon that's what built the great public universities of this country and I think it's nothing beyond oneself yeah exactly and it's not ironic that as we move away in a sense as a society at least from a richness of faith regardless of our respective faith communities and we've been beginning to glorify atheism atheistic ideologies that we see the emergence of this individual selfishness even though there are a lot of people who don't profess a faithful a very municipal munificent generous but in general though we see a movement away from a spirit of selflessness self-sacrifice doing something for the greater glory of God in terms of public good and a movement towards more rampant and sometimes rabbit individualism

HOST: I want to bring in our online community here for a second.  I have a tweet from Michael a droid he says why is it that Western Islamic followers are more willing to allow the existence of opinion or behavior not necessarily agreed with. 

I have another tweet here from Betsy d she says agree it's always struck me as bizarre then entire economic system is based on acquiring stuff

I want to quickly head over to our google hangout, we have Sameer he has a question to us about poverty Sameer can you hear us?

Caller: yeah my question is that Muslims are so poor and so backward in many countries for example in a country like India they even lack basic needs like education and the housing and yet he see so many Muslims collect money for building new mosque every Friday I go outside the mosque i see them collect more money for building new mosque I mean there's no harm in building laws but at least use ten percent of that money for education or hospitals it will change so many lives couldn't agree with you more

Imams: yeah i mean that's you know it's no brainer yeah no comment you know

I mean yeah good point I think though the implication in that question one of the assumptions is that somehow Muslims in this country who are trying to build their mosques and schools and other projects and other infrastructure problems our projects rather are are not doing enough to assist Muslims in other countries.  Whereas there are Muslim countries that have billions of dollars in excess and I think where that money is going how that money is being used Muslims might collect a hundred thousand dollars to build a masjid in Peoria, Illinois, where as a particular Muslim country might be spending 300 million dollars to build a skyscraper that's not even going to be fully occupied so I think that question might be a little bit misdirected

Well Samir was coming to us from India I think you're taking about that's how I understood I thought I thought he was talking about the Muslim lands and I and I agree with him i think the the lack of focus on education on especially the education of the muslim community but you know importantly also is the neglect of religious education which has caused a lot of the the climate that we're in because we don't have really seriously trained Muslim intellectuals anymore that are conversant with their tradition as as well as being able to grapple with the the issues that we're dealing with now and so we've got a lot of village preachers and and people that could not get into other types of schools and so they ended up go