IZ: I think it's very important for Muslims to form a political agenda that looks at the interests of the wider Muslim community. Human Rights issues in general, the interest of the poor, oppressed and the downtrodden because those are the people that our religion urges us to be an advocate group for. If we ourselves are rich, wealthy and
well-off, it shouldn't automatically make us people who tend to vote Republican as a lot of immigrant Muslims in this country have done historically, because "we see that as protecting our (narrow) interest:" We see where that got everyone in the 2000 election and the aftermath of that election. It is very important for us to look at the historical values that Islam encourages; and to create a political agenda that reflects those values. Then support the candidate who (mostly) commits himself or herself to advancing that agenda, or punish the candidate who does not by working to make sure that they have a very short political career.
In terms of candidates actually running, I think they all leave a lot to be desired, especially those who are described as being more viable such as Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Even Ron Paul or John McCain; they all leave something to be desired but we have to look deeply at the issue. A lot of people are attracted to Obama based on what he represents and the message he would send to the world. But the fact is that Obama is only viable as an
African-American candidate, because he does not - and realizes he cannot - be an advocate for the poor and downtrodden masses of
African-American people because he realized he will be just another Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson; therefore, unelectable because he's advocating for the poor, or the downtrodden, or the increasingly disenfranchised masses of poor, urban
African-Americans. This is an indictment of the general public here; that the candidate can only be viable as an
African-American if he is seen as being acceptable to the white majority - essentially meaning that he champions issues of relevance to them, and neglects his own people. I think that's a big problem as regards to Obama, in addition to the fact that with such large contributions of corporate interest, it will be difficult for him to return to his activist groups, even if he desired to.
In terms of someone like Ron Paul, a lot of Muslims see his advocacy, for example, for eliminating the income tax as being something that appeals to them. But, that doesn't help the poor people. They don't pay the income tax, anyway. When you take away the income tax and you introduce other liberal policies that don't raise the tax in a significant way, then you just end up with a kind of crisis you have here in California, with massive budget deficits without any sources of new revenue. Some propose national gasoline taxes, or similar taxes. That will affect everyone, including the poor people who don't pay the income tax now, but then they would. The wealthy people's taxes will be substantially reduced, so it puts a disproportional burden on the poor. Without new sources of revenue through taxation or other forms of income generation for the state, you have budget crisis that leads to budget cuts. That [at the end] affects the poor again, such as [the current situation] in California, with the cutting of various welfare programs and cutting education, which primarily affects the poor, who have been benefiting from the grants that are made available.
We have to really form our own agenda and possibly look at fielding our own candidates. And, initially, that might just be to educate the general public about the issues. Dennis Kucinich does that through his candidacy, or Ralph Nader in the Green party, where there's no chance they're going to win in this
winner-take-all political system. However, at least some issues are put out there for the public to discuss, and inshaAllah, with time the public will become keen on resolving some of those issues.
IF: What do you think about the prospects of traditional Islam in the future?
IZ: It's very important for traditional Islam to be rooted in real tradition, and not in the superficial veneer of traditionalism. For example, we have proliferation of Sufi tariqas, but the deeper lessons of tasawwuf are escaping people as they become arrogant.
"My tariqa is better than your tariqa. My Shaykh is better than your Shaykh. I'm better than you because my Shaykh is better than your Shaykh." Tasawwuf is about humility; and it's about addressing defective character; it's about remembering Allah so one can get closer to Allah, not so one can lord himself or herself over other Muslims who aren't remembering Allah. All of that has nothing to do with traditionalism. It is just using some of the institutions associated with traditionalism to stay on the same ego trip that you were on before you ever got involved with [anything].
I think it's very important for us to really understand the essence of traditionalism; acknowledging the collective efforts of Muslims as human beings, to apply Islam in a real human context, and not looking at some mythical, ahistorical Islam that's not affected by history and that's not defined by the efforts of Muslims in history. That effort is an ongoing project. I think it's very important, in terms of traditionalism
- be that respecting the madhahib, respecting tasawwuf, and other human institutions that human beings understood to be an articulation of the fundamental and foundational teachings of the religion
- tjhat these things are means that can constantly be improved on. [They] are amenable to change and alterations that keep us in touch with unchangeable ends to Islam. The latter is what traditionalism is and, I think, if we can concentrate on the ends and not see the means as ends in and of themselves, we'll be able to benefit from traditionalism. Traditionalism is about benefiting from the wisdom of those who preceded us, and then continuing, as Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah likes to say, from where they stopped, and not becoming stuck and mired in some of the negative aspects of their work, which is one of the dangers.
The institutions that were prevalent at the time of the four imams--Imam ash-Shafi', Ahmad, Abu
Hanifa, Malik--were not the institutions that were prevalent at the time of Imam Ghazali. And the institutions in the form of their engagement with the world and with reality during the time of, for example, Imam Suyuti, were not the same as those that were prevalent during the times of Imam Ghazali. There was growth, there was change, there was evolution. We have to continue that process.
IF: Do you have any specific advice to American Muslim and Muslims around the world?
IZ: My advice to American Muslims would be to really think deeply on the opportunities that we have here and to take advantage of them, not to squander them with ignorance or
short-sighted thinking; to really realize that we have tremendous opportunities in that our community is very wealthy, talented and highly educated. We should take advantage of those realities to try to organize ourselves and galvanize our energy and the potential we have to do something significant for the Muslim and
non-Muslim people of the world.
In terms of advice for Muslims of the world, I would just say to look at the fullness of the religion and never lose touch with the heart of the religion, which is purification of the heart. If we have a deep relationship with Allah, it becomes very easy to keep all of the trials and tribulations of the world in perspective, and not to be overwhelmed by them.