Archive for the ‘Dr. Ahmad’s blog’ Category

Barbary Wars and Barbaric Blogs

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Blog posts have been appearing that quote Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman from Tripoli in 1786, in the era of the Barbary pirates, saying that it is the “right and duty” of Muslims “to plunder and enslave” any who did not acknowledge the Prophethood of Muhammad “and that every [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.” This message proffers the quote as evidence that the attacks on American ships by the Barbary pirates were a reflection of a scriptural command for eternal war with nonbelievers and that, for that reason, Thomas Jefferson “declared war on Islam” in response. The virus, virus in more than one sense of the term, is an instructive example of how context-dropping can be used to advance a completely fallacious political position. Yes, the ambassador made a Bin-Laden-like statement, but Jefferson, who had George Sale’s translation of the Qur’an, knew his statement doesn’t represent accurately the Qur’an’s position on just war, and Jefferson’s  subsequent attacks on “the shores  of Tripoli” (as they have been memorialized in the “Marines’ Hymn”) were neither a war on Islam, nor even on all Muslim states, as basic knowledge of the history of the Barbary Wars demonstrates. Here is the context of the events, a context of which the Islamophobes appear ignorant and, in any case, prefer that the rest of us be ignorant.

In that time the practice of encouraging “privateers” to attack enemy ships was common. (The U.S. Constitution provides for it in the authorization of “letters of marque and reprisal”.) Britain was paying tribute to the Barbary states for the protection of British ships traveling in the south Mediterranean. This protection extended to ships coming from the American colonies which were under British control. Once the U.S. broke free from Britain, the British were quick to advise the Barbary states to whom they themselves were paying tribute for protection, that the former colonies were no longer under British protection and fair game for the pirates. Some, but not all, of the Barbary states took the bait.

The Sultan of Morocco Mohamed Ben Abdullah had initiated friendship with the U.S. in 1777, when no other country in the world recognized the U.S. as an independent nation, by guaranteeing safe passage through the Straits of Gibraltar where pirates plagued maritime trade in the belief that Christendom was at perpetual war with the Muslims. The sultan recognized that the nascent American nation was different from the European imperial powers, and evidently hoped to keep it that way by befriending us in our time of need. Grateful for the Sultan’s intervention on behalf of the newly declared American nation, in 1783 Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay urged the U.S. follow up by negotiating a perpetual treaty with Morocco, which was signed in 1786 and ratified by Congress in 1787, beginning a friendship that has lasted without interruption until this day. (A sign of the respect accorded the U.S. in Morocco is the presence until today of the Tangiers American Legation Society and the beautiful building in which it is housed in the old city of Tangiers, shown at left.) Clearly the Moroccan state has for over two centuries had a different understanding of Islamic law and the common values of the Muslim world and the American nation than that of the ambassador for Tripoli. Just as clearly, that Jefferson understood this is reflected in the fact that his first action was not to urge war, but a negotiation.

However, negotiations with the neighboring states proved more difficult. Tripoli and Algiers in particular allowed the pirates to operate freely. For a while Portugal, at war with Algiers, provided a blockade that allowed American ships protection, but a truce between those nations in 1793 left American ships vulnerable.  Accordingly, the U.S. initiated treaties with Algiers and Tripoli in 1795, 1796 and 1797, and with Tunis in 1797. The 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, drafted by Jefferson’s friend Joel Barlow, famously included the clause that that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen.”

The real issue for Jefferson was not over the nature of Islam, but over the advisability of paying tribute. Muslim states were not the only states that demanded tribute of client states. (Such tribute is called not Islam-geld, but Dane-geld, as in “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, You never get rid of the Dane.”) Unlike Congress, Jefferson wished to build a strong Navy so that we could protect our own ships rather than pay tribute to a protector state. Algeria’s infidelity to the treaty of 1796 was due not to religious fanaticism compared to Morocco, but to the fact that “Algiers was much more dependent than Morocco on the fruits of corsairing.” Not religious enthusiasm, but greed for the things of this material world sparked the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s. Not a religious mandate, but a state of war was behind the hostilities in the period. The war was with Tripoli and not with the the other Barbary powers, let alone with the Muslim world or Islam itself. Jefferson sought only to fight aggression and embraced the end of the war in 1805; it was his political opponents who wanted to prolong the war to effect a regime change in Tripoli by reinstalling Hamet Qaramanli as Pasha. 

Seven years of peace were ended when war broke out between Britain and the U.S. in 1812. The new Dey of Algiers saw an opportunity to increase the tribute by siding with the British, nullifying the treaty, and declaring war on the U.S. The U.S. was unable to act against Algiers as long as it was at war with Britain, but once the Treaty of Ghent has been signed, the U.S. sent a squadron to Algiers under Commodore Stephen Decatur. By then, however, there was yet a new Dey in Algiers, Omar who “wished to restore order after several years of political instability and was acutely aware that he could no longer count on British support against the Americans.” Decatur was able to negotiate treaties with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis which required no tribute. Such treaties should have been impossible according to the account of the Islamophobes, who say Muslims prefer to die and go to Paradise rather than stop their war against everyone else. Islamophobes will argue that the treaties are worthless shams, examples of “taqiyya” under which (they claim) Muslims may lie freely to the infidels. Such an argument fails to explain why those treaties, like the one with Morocco, were never broken. Pirates continued to raid French ships despite (because of?) French bombardment until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830, but no U.S. ship was captured by Barbary pirates after Decatur’s treaties.

Morocco has stood by the U.S. from the beginning. Algiers broke the Treaty of 1797 at the urging of the British. The fanatical misrepresentation of the Qur’an given by the ambassador from Tripoli to explain the behavior of the Barbary pirates is the understanding of  warmongers among Muslims and Westerners, but is not the understanding of Thomas Jefferson, Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdullah, the vast majority of Muslims, or the respected scholars of Islam.

A neutral academic summary of the Barbary Wars in context can be found at the Oxford Islamic studies website.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Told to Come Alone: Souad Mekhennet’s Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017
At New America in Washington DC on Thursday, June 22nd, Souad Mekhennet, author of I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad, shared her experiences as a journalist interviewing terrorist operatives face to face and getting to the root of why these people were joining these organizations: Recruiters are successful if they catch a person at precisely the right moment of the target’s life. 
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D. and Layla Shoufer

Minaret of Freedom Institute

Evaluating the Iran Deal

Sunday, May 28th, 2017
Evaluating the Iran Deal
[This is my summary of the panel on evaluating the Iran deal held at the Cato Institute in Washington DC on May 16. My notes are my paraphrase and not a verbatim transcript.]
Wendy Sherman, Senior Counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group (interviewed by Laura Rozen, Diplomatic Correspondent, Al-Monitor)
The bottom line is that Rex Tillerson certified Iran’s compliance to the Congress. The Iran deal was never meant to address all the problems we have with Iran. Other nations don’t want us to address their problems when they are not in the room, although they may may be the first to protest that we have not done so.
Contrary to popular opinion there is a lot of politics in Iran. It is not true that billions of dollars was made available to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRG). They have done a lot with a small amount of additional money. This is not just a deal between the United States and Iran. Republican support has increased somewhat lately because there is an increasing realization that we are safer now. All pathways for fissionable material has been cut off. We put in all the safeguards necessary to protect the interests of the United States. You begin a negotiation seeking everything you ever wanted and more, but that was never possible. We monitoring and strict limits on the stockpile and an increase of the time we have to react to any breakout to a year giving us plenty of time to react.
She would advise Tillerson to start by putting together a team. He will not have his senior team for at least 18 months. He hasn’t even named the assistant secretaries for the regional bureaus, let alone an undersecretary for management.  200 medical professionals put an end to the Ebola crisis because we were able to assist in the training. We did it not out of altruism but to protect the national interest.
The bill now in Congress jeopardizes the JCPOA but does almost nothing except say we’re tough.
CATO’s Emma Ashburn commented that going beyond the JCPOA will require more, not less, engagement with Iran, but the administration seems determined to push back more strongly, first, with sanctions. These may not violate the letter of the agreement, but, like Iran’s missile testing, violates the spirit. Second there are bellicose statements like “putting Iran on notice” and pushing against the Houtis in Yemen. These are symbolic acts that raise the temperature and invite Iran to respond in kind. These threaten the possibility of capitalizing on JCPOA more than the agreement itself.
Ariane Tabatabai, Visiting Assistant Professor of Security Studies at the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service commented that however campaigning candidates may feel about the agreement, it is here to stay. The impression that Iran will stand by the JCPOA while the Americans seek ways to get around it makes Iran look like the responsible party. Khamenei all along has said even if the agreement works out the U.S. will not uphold its part of the bargain. More and more people are going towards Khamenei’s view: the deal is holding, but what are we getting out of it?
Sherman noted that the detention of American citizens in Iran is an ongoing tactic of the intelligence services. No special envoy has been named to address this or to meet the families of the detained. She shares Tillerson’s desire to eliminate special envoy positions, but believes that this one is necessary. Businesses make decisions on the basis of risks and the nuclear issue was only one risk. If Iran meets the conditions before 2024 sanctions may be lifted earlier.
In response to an audience member’s skepticism that Iran would use a nuclear weapon even if it had one, Tabatabai noted that proliferation is an issue because of the possibility of accident, miscalculation, or terrorists getting a nuclear device or radioactive materials.
In response to another questioner’s skepticism that Iran’s program can be monitored, Sherman responded that the IAEA is on the ground and if they suspect there is a previously unknown site of concern there is a mechanism for forcing Iran to grant access. Even if they somehow managed to open a new secret centrifuge center uranium accountancy makes it impossible to get the uranium to it.  During the Clinton administration a deal with North Korea prevented development of nuclear weapons but Republicans didn’t like the agreement and under Bush that changed. She believes it did not endure because North Korea expected it would lead to normalization, but that we learned from the mistakes of that agreement.
In response to a suggestion that we should be limiting Iran’s missile program, Tabatabai noted that the IRGC has control of the mission program which makes it difficult for the US to negotiate over it. The missile program is viewed as a deterrent and impeding it would be a difficult sell.
Regarding Israeli attempts to sabotage the agreement, Sherman claimed that we kept Israeli well informed about the deal and that the professional technical experts believe it has enhanced their security at least for the next ten years, but that Netanyahu disagreed.
It is my conclusion that until the experts admit that there are greater state sponsors of terrorism than Iran there will remain the wisdom of prioritizing nonproliferation over terrorism will go unappreciated. The Saudi involvement in Syria and Yemen got only a single mention and Israeli terrorism got none.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Islam: The Religion of Libertarianism?

Monday, March 13th, 2017

[An interview with Minaret of Freedom Institute President Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad reprinted from]

Islam: The Religion of Libertarianism?

Posted by Old Man With Candy | Mar 13, 2017 | Interviews, Religion, Society | 116 |

Dr. Dean Ahmad, President and Director, Minaret of Freedom

In which a Palestinian Arab Muslim and a secular Zionist Jew find much accord.

Many take it as a given that Islam and any notion of liberty are diametrically opposed. People are quick to point out the number of Islamic dictatorships and repressive theocracies, and generalize that (for example) to Muslims in America. Dr. Imad Ad-Dean Ahmad, a scholar of Islam and history, would disagree. His organization, Minaret of Freedom, is dedicated to spreading a different narrative, that of a religion which values economic and social freedom, despite its use as a tool of repression by autocrats and theocrats in the Middle East and South Asia.

OMWC: Your background was originally in science. What sort of work were you doing?

Ahmad: My dissertation at the University of Arizona was on “Heavy Element Radio Recombination Lines from the Orion Complex.” (Robert Williams, then an Associate Professor at the astronomy program there, told me years later when he was the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute that mine was the only dissertation from which he could still remember the opening sentence: “From the belt of Orion hangs a sword.”) I focused on radio astronomy and on the conditions in the proto-stellar nebulae in which stars are formed. Comparing observations that I made with the National Radio Observatory’s 140-foot antenna with theoretical calculations I made with the Kitt Peak Observatory’s (at the time) state-of-the-art CDC 6400 computer, I was able to resolve an apparent contradiction in the astronomical literature as to the precise location from which the radiation was emitted.

I worked in astrophysics for another fifteen years after getting my doctorate, publishing models for the solar atmosphere and stellar winds, using mainly X-ray and ultra-violet data.

OMWC: What prompted your career change from science to social and religious activism?

Ahmad: By the late 1980s, I had become increasingly concerned about the inefficiency, immorality, and counter-productivity of American policy in the Middle East. I became painfully aware that of the role that ignorance and political agendas played in formation of bad policy. The so-called experts on the Muslim world had not seen the Iranian revolution coming and their retrospective attempts to account for it were incoherent. Having been a practicing Muslim and a libertarian all my adult life, I realized that the research discipline I had learned as a scientist was much more badly needed in the realm of Islamic studies.

I made the transition by writing a book on the role Islamic Civilization played in the development of modern science (Signs in the Heavens: A Muslim Astronomer’s Perspective on Religion and Science). After I gave a talk on the book for the Honors program at the University of Maryland (College Park) the head of the program invited me to offer a course there on Islamic Civilization. At the same time, the great libertarian historian Leonard Liggio introduced me to the good people at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, who helped me to start the Minaret of Freedom Institute, the Islamic libertarian think tank I have headed for 23 years ( The Muslim community also came to appreciate my work, initially because of my knowledge on issues related to the Islamic calendar, but gradually on an increasingly wide range of matters from Islamic civilization to Islamic law and chaplaincy.

OMWC: What was the thing or things which led you to libertarian thought in the first place? Were you raised with this or was it reading or experiences that took you in that direction?

Ahmad: My father (a businessman) was politically conservative and my mother (a teacher and media personality) was politically liberal, so my upbringing provided me a choice. The main sources that influenced how I managed to navigate between their very different views were, in order of encounter (and I think in order of importance) the Qur’an, Henry David Thoreau and Ayn Rand. From the Qur’an I learned the non-aggression principle (“Let there be no compulsion in religion” 2:256) and of the individual’s direct responsibility to the Creator (“There is none worthy of worship but God” 37:35) and the corollary of the idolatry inherent in arbitrary human authority over other humans (“Do not fear them but fear Me” 3:175). From Thoreau I learned of the value of individualism (Walden) and of the power that a righteous individual has over a corrupt state (“Civil Disobedience”). From Ayn Rand I first learned the how markets work and why state intervention is both morally evil and consequentially destructive.

OMWC: In some of your writing, you state that (in essence) you regard the Quran as axiomatic. Does your view of libertarianism derive from those axioms?

Ahmad: Axiomatic is your term, not mine. If by that you mean that I find the values articulated in the Qur’an to be the starting point of my weltanschauung, I agree: Every individual is directly responsible to God (37:35), no one bears the burdens of another (35:18); speak truth to power (28:37); stand for justice even against your own self or near of kin, rich or poor (4:135); say to those who reject your way of life, “to you your way and to me mine” (109:1-6); trade is good (4:29) and fraud (83:1-2) is bad; respond to an injury only in kind, or better yet forgive in order that you should be forgiven (42:40); defend yourself (22:39) but do not aggress (2:190).

OMWC: To clarify, I used the word “axiomatic” because of your statement “There are some things we shall take as a given. We shall not question the text of the Qur’an. While the Qur’an itself invites individuals to ascertain for themselves its authenticity by investigating its inimitability, we, as an institution, take the received Arabic text as our starting point.” So at least in my naive view, it would look like an axiom.

Ahmad: I see your point. The distinction is that an axiom is “self-evident,” whereas, the starting points for a Muslim are inherent in the definition of a Muslim. A Muslim, by definition, believes there is only one God and that Muhammad is His Messenger (i.e., that the Qur’an is His message). This is true regardless of whether the Muslim arrived at that point because he finds these things self-evident or because he had previously questioned them and found the answers convincing.

OMWC: Where in the current Muslim world do you see the possibility of libertarian approaches to social and cultural issues as having the greatest chance for a toehold? Can a Muslim country be culturally libertarian in the sense of treating all belief and disbelief equally under law?

Ahmad: I think that Tunisia is the most promising, with the Nahda Party holding fast to these principles whether their fortunes are good or bad. More secular people than I may think Dubai is the most promising since, despite its undemocratic political structure and strong religiosity of its rulers, it seems to be very tolerant socially and culturally. Until recently, Muslim countries were historically much more tolerant than the West on treating subjects of various religious belief under the law. When the Jews were evicted from Spain, they dared not move to any other Western country, but the Sultan of Turkey invited them to the Ottoman lands promising them absolute freedom to work, worship, and raise their families as they saw fit. Oppression of religious minorities in Muslim countries today is no more inherent in Islamic teachings than the oppression of Muslims (and others) in France is inherent in “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” The one area in which Muslim tradition is a serious obstacle is in the question of equal citizenship. I do not see this as a problem inherent in Islamic law so much as in the conflict of the Westphalian notion of the modern nation-state with the Muslim traditional system of autonomous confessional communities. I am not the only one who has pointed out that the resolution to this conflict may be found in the Prophet Muhammad’s remarkable covenant for the governance of Medina.

OMWC: Do you think that the US has a responsibility to promote liberty in other countries and in other cultures? (This begs the question, of course, of whether the US has a responsibility to promote liberty internally!)

Ahmad: The best way to promote liberty in other countries is to be “the shining city on a hill” and practice it here. The next best way is to trade freely with other countries and facilitate, not impede, cultural and social exchange. Speaking frankly to them can be a good way, if done with discretion and respect. Direct intervention into their internal affairs is generally counter-productive, and military intervention is the absolutely worst way, being immoral, ineffective, and counter-productive.

OMWC: In a related question, does the US, in your view, have a moral imperative to assist in the overthrow of despots where there isn’t a specific threat to us?

Ahmad: No. And there would be far fewer despots if we would stop propping them up.

OMWC: In Europe, Muslims have not seemed to have been integrated into their societies in the same way as Muslims have been in the US. When I hear about the Muslim “threat” here and examples from (say) France or Germany are cited, I ask, “Where are the American banlieues? Why are Naperville, Devon, Lincolnwood, or Orland Park (to choose Chicago suburbs with significant Muslim populations) not hotbeds of crime?” In the US, Muslims tend to be better educated and more economically successful than average, and media posturing aside, apparently as integrated as Jews or Hindus. To what do you attribute that difference?

Ahmad: It is true that Muslims in Europe have not integrated as well as those in the U.S., and while, statistically, Muslims in the U.S. have above average educations and material success, those factors alone cannot account for the more successful integration, since even those American Muslims who are undereducated and in poverty are better integrated than European Muslims. I think the most important single factor accounting for the better integration of Muslims (and other minority religion members) in America than in Europe is the unique American notion of secularity that incorporates both the disestablishment of state from religion and complete freedom of religion. Allowing Muslims the ability to freely interpret and practice their religion with neither interference nor support from the state threatens neither Muslims (and other religious minorities) nor the majority. Under French secularism, the suppression of religion from public life such as the ban on headscarves (and yarmulkes) alienates Muslims (and Jews), and even “neutral” Switzerland bans minarets as a threat to national identity. In England, the state gives preference to Anglicans over other (especially non-Christian) religions, which is a driver of discontent. In Germany the state supports all religions, which provokes resentment in the Christian majority.

OMWC: A rather open-ended question: What would you consider, in general, to be a rational US immigration policy?

Ahmad: Anyone who comes here for a peaceful and positive purpose, including to work or study, should be allowed to do so with a path for citizenship if they want it. Those who demonstrably seek to engage in crime or violence should be denied. The government welfare system should be reformed (or abolished) so that it does not attract freeloaders, and lets private and religious social service agencies carry the load of resettlement.

OMWC: What do you think is the greatest misunderstanding among American libertarians about Islam in a cultural (rather than theological) sense? If a libertarian wanted to understand more about Islamic culture beyond the usual prejudices, what should he or she be reading as an introduction and overview to gain a clearer and more accurate understanding?

Ahmad: The greatest cultural misunderstanding about Islam is the belief that it is culturally monolithic. Islamic culture spans an enormous range of nationalities, ethnic groups, cuisines, literature, arts, architecture, and political systems. If I had to recommend a single book it would be The Cultural Atlas of Islam by Ismail and Lois Faruqi. When you’ve finished reading that book head over to your local mosque and chat with the people there. (Just make sure to talk to more than one person!) Better yet, visit a few different mosques. Muslims are your neighbors and most of them would be delighted to chat with you.

OMWC: And my final question: Given an audience of libertarians with a rather wide range of views on Islam and how it relates to American culture, which question do you wish I had asked? And what over-arching message would you want to convey?

Ahmad: Given that the apprehension about Muslim immigrants is found even among some professing libertarians, I would have welcomed a question along these lines: You note the wide diversity of political views among Muslims. Since you clearly see the Qur’an as a document with some strong libertarian content, why are overt libertarians such a small minority among Muslims? I would have replied that I also see the U.S. Constitution as with a document with some strong libertarian content, and I wonder why are overt libertarians are such a small minority among Americans? In both cases I believe that ignorance of the Quran and the Constitution respectively are the problem, a problem compounded by corrupt political leaders whose interest in power motivates them to keep their respective constituencies in a state of ignorance.

OMWC: I really appreciate the time you’ve taken and the information you’ve given us. My own feeling is that ignorance is the root cause of fear, and your mission to dispel ignorance is far more valuable and effective than the moral preening and name-calling that passes for political discussion these days.

Tasnim News Agency Interview with Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

[This is the substance of Reza Saiedi’s interview with me for Tasnim New Agency on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.]

Q. It has been 38 years since  the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and during this time, we have witnessed the hostile acts of America against the Iranian nation, from the unjust sanctions to the 8-year war with Saddam’s regime and US support of the MKO terrorists. Every American administration has found some excuse and method to continue these hostile actions against the nation of Iran. Considering that Iran has not attacked another nation in more than 300 years, what is the reason for such animosity against Iran ?

A. Although the Iranian military has not attacked another nation in three centuries, the American critics of Iran will point to Iran’s intervention in support of the Asad dictatorship in Syria and into the internal affairs of Lebanon through its support of Hezbollah as examples of aggression. Such criticisms are hypocritical, of course, given the American interventions all over the world, including the Sisi dictatorship in Egypt and the Saudi invasion of Yemen, not to mention its direct sponsorship of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Q. It is said that one of the achievements of the Islamic revolution of Iran is Standing against American domination and hegemony in the region and the world. Would you agree with this observation? Please elaborate your opinion?

A. I honestly have mixed feelings about the Iranian challenge to American hegemony in the region. On the one hand, Iran certainly has a more reasonable interest in its own region and its stand against American intervention can be compared to the “Monroe Doctrine” in which the American president warned the European powers that it would not tolerate colonization of the Americas or establishing puppet dictators therein. On the other hand, there are dangers of Iran becoming a regional hegemon, as the U.S. did in Latin America with the establishment of banana republics and support of dictators from Hernandez in El Salvador to Noriega in Panama.

Q. Although US officials claim that their battle is with the Iranian regime, their cruel sanctions have actually targeted the Iranian people.  Under the  pretext of support for human rights and democracy , the US has even prevented the Iranian nation from obtaining medicines and medical equipment and innocent people die every year as a result. These sanctions were undertaken during the so-called peaceful Obama administration and Donald Trump gives every indication that he intends to keep the pressure on. Do you think that the American public will come to see this trend of injustice towards Iran, especially as they begin to witness extreme measures taken by Donald Trump?

A.  The excesses of the Trump administration have already prompted a rethinking of American policies in other areas, and I hope it will provoke a more clear-headed examination of American policy on Iran. I am concerned, however, that the extremely vitriolic polarization of the public may drag the level of the debate down to one of name-calling and personal attacks, precluding any sober discussion of what is in the best interests of the American and Iranian people, not to mention in accord with justice and righteousness.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

The Attack on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

[These are my answers to questions by Javier Méndez of El Mercurio newspaper on the Attack on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.]

Q. Who could be the perpetrators of this attack against the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo and for what purpose they did?

A. Although ISIS supporters have celebrated the attack on social media, no group has yet taken credit for the attack. It is generally understood that the motive is anger by opponents of the military coup that overthrew elected President Mohamed Morsi over the Copts’ support for the Al Sissi regime, but the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant Hasm and Liwaa’ al-Thawra groups have all condemned the bombing.

Q. What could be the political effects in Egypt?

A. The Copts are already showing splits in their support of Al-Sissi as he has failed to protect them from increasing attacks against them. A witness to this attack was quoted by Reuters as saying, “Where was the security? There were five or six security cars stationed outside so where were they when 12 kg of TNT was carried inside? They keep telling us national unity, the crescent with the cross … This time we will not shut up.”

Q. Is the Islamic State (ISIS) a real danger for the regime of Al Sissi?

A. I don’t think ISIS can establish itself in Egypt in the same way it has in Syria and Iraq, but it can be an additional factor in the destabilization of the country.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Alternative Responses to Violent Extremism: Islamic Approaches to Peacebuilding

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

[This is a summary of the 16th Annual Tachmindji Event for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding held on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at American University. It is not a transcript, but my paraphrase of Sr. Mohammed Abu-Nimr’s presentation.]

“Alternative Responses to Violent Extremism: Islamic Approaches to Peacebuilding”

Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer shared experiences of the past few years. A Palestinian who grew up in Israel, he brought many Israelis and Palestinians together in the 80s when it was fashionable, but he burned out, and in the First Intifada left the land of honey for the land of education. He finds the narratives of counter violence and counter extremism to be a poor approach.

There is a defensive and an offensive discourse of war and peace in Islam. The main objective has been to interrupt the radicalization and recruitment. They will introduce projects intended to stop recruitment but without improving the life if the community breeding suspicion and resentment. How shall we do prevention? It took twelve years to arrive at the conclusion that law enforcement alone is insufficient. The EU adopted a different language in 2005.

Dr. Abu-Nimer said it takes him years to convince local leaders that he is not there to gather intelligence for the US government. How can one do Islamic approaches to peace building without employing Qur’an or Hadith? We are afraid of religious identity. Occasionally you will find a Muslim leader highlighted by an American politician and that does not help the community because the objective is not to develop the Muslim community but to securitize the religion. If you are serious about engaging a religious leader you do do before and after the agreement. We have seen manipulation of religious identity for violence at far back as Cain and Able, or perhaps Adam and Eve. Those who have a war to launch ask the clergy to bless their war. It happens today and here; it is not an Islamic issue. We still don’t know how effective the CVE (“Countering Violent Extremism”) is. It has become an essential item on a Washington resume even for a clerical job in a hotel yet we have no evidence of its effectiveness.

We know violent Muslim extremist groups exist, but they have a constituency of 150,000 out of 1.5 billion Muslims. There are other Muslim establishments, reformers and minorities and sects. We refuse to work with the Muslim Brotherhood although in some areas they have 20-30% support.

There are three theological theories of wars: offensive war, just war, and nonviolence. The basic principles of Islamic peacemaking are:

  • Pursuit of Justice
  • Doing Good
  • Universality and Human Dignity
  • Equality
  • Sacredness of Human Life
  • Quest for Peace
  • Peacemaking
  • Forgiveness
  • Deeds, Actions, and Individual Responsibility
  • Patience

Arab societies often engage in reconciliation without forgiveness. The challenge is to show that forgiveness is an important element of Islam. Christians do not have exclusive ownership of mercy. Your sin is not greater than God’s mercy. The Islamic Sources of Forgiveness are:

  • afw – Pardon or amnesty
  • ghafara – covering up, erasing sin, absolution
  • samah  ease, generosity, allowing others to act
  • tasamuh – tolerance, forgiving attitude

In the Qur’an afw appears 35 times, safhu eight times, and ghafara 234 times. The Prophet Muhammad (pnuh) forgave his enemies in Ta’if despite their ving set their children out t stine him; he freed eighty people in Hudybiyya who ha been taken captive while attacking him;  and issued a general amnesty to his enemies in Mecca upon taking the city.

We did 600 surveys of teachers in Iraq Egypt Jordan Syria Lebanon and Palestine asking, “When do you forgive?” The Jordanians were least willing ti forgive, especially as regards family honor, principally due to tribal traditions.

We asked for role models for reconciliation. Many were mentioned (among them Nelson Mandala, St Frances, and Muhammad) on the historical level and examples from their family and local community, but they could not find a single example from the national and sub-national levels. We adopted 70 stories of forgiveness into our manual but must overcome the challenge of getting them incorporated into the curriculum.

In the Qur’anic schools we visited, they were pleased to teach about peace and conflict resolution, and asked only for desks and a roof in return. They already knew how to teach forgiveness, but none had received any training in pedagogy. Donor insistence that we must include gay issues in the curriculum miss the fact that this is not a priority for these people. There was no teaching of violence or killing. Major findings:

  • Religion was identified as important or very important for 92% of the Arbs surveyed
  • The role of faith in justifying forgiveness and reconciliation was central to 85% of the teachers interviewed
  • 89% of teachers acknowledge that they need skills and knowledge on how to teach forgiveness and reconciliation;
  • Responses on forgiveness in different situations differs according to faith with Christians

You have to engage the religious leaders, non-obstructively and not to instrumentalize them (demanding a fatwa to serve your own purposes). The religious leaders are only one of nine or ten sectors of society. Most often not they but the political leaders are the source of the problem. We put a great burden on the religious peacemakers but offer them no security or protection. The secular policy makers lack a basic literacy of religion yet seek to tell the mufti what to do.

Religious leaders are generally older men. When you go to community leaders the majority of workers are women. When we asked for examples of forgiveness motivated by faith we found more women.

The tools to teach forgiveness are: Critical thinking, emotional intelligence, skills in the process of dialog.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad,Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

The Middle East and the Next Administration: Challenges, Opportunities and Recommendations

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

[These are selected highlights excerpted from Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr.’s address to the Middle East Policy Council’s 86th Capitol Hill Conference. The complete video and transcript of the entire conference are available at:]

The Middle East and the Next Administration: challenges, opportunities and recommendations [Excerpts selected by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D., Minaret of Freedom Institute]

CHAS W. FREEMAN, JR. (Chairman, Projects International Inc.; Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense; Former President, Middle East Policy Council)

I think Osama bin Laden must have died happy. He devoted the last third of his life to creating animosity between the West and Islam and to driving a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Today, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are all estranged from our country. And as an unexpected bonus, so is Israel….

America is less secure, we are less prosperous as Americans, and we are less free than we were as this century began. In life Osama was transformative. In death he continues to shape the world he left behind. Can a new administration change this? Will it…?

I do not believe that we are about to elect a president able to govern effectively and to end dysfunction in Washington. Whoever we choose as our president seems certain to be regarded as illegitimate and opposed by supporters of her or his rival…. [A]t heart, the two candidates faithfully reflect the narratives, prejudices and conventional policy approaches of the nation they propose to lead…. This gives them so much in common that I think it’s more efficient to discuss them together rather than separately. So I will refer to Candidates Clinton and Trump as one gender-fluid person, “Candidate Clump.” (Laughter.) Candidate Clump is on the payroll of the Israel lobby’s major donors, wants to isolate Iran, and loves sanctions and other forms of economic warfare more than trade and investment. Clump was for the invasion of Iraq before “hesh” was against it. (Laughter.) Hesh is more interested in poking at the Middle East than in understanding it….

When elected, President Clump will give Israel whatever it must have to fend off its political tantrums … [and] is very unlikely to lead an intelligent interagency or national discussion about what must be done to dig ourselves out of the very large and deep sinkhole in the Middle East that we’ve fallen into….

What situations will our president, Congress and Supreme Court inherit in the Middle East…? [T]here are at least 12 distinct but overlapping wars going on in Syria, maybe more. Saudi Arabia is at war with Iran; foreign-backed insurgents with the Assad government; Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and Iran with the insurgents; Islamists with secularists; foreign-backed forces with Daesh, the Islamic State; Shiites with Sunnis; Kurds with Arabs; Kurds with Kurds; Turks with Kurds; and the United States separately with the Assad government, with Daesh and with Russia.

The United States is indirectly or directly involved in about half of these Syrian wars, aligned with and against Assad and with and against the insurgent forces, sometimes with Turkey and sometimes against Turkey, sometimes with the Kurds but always against Russia. Oh, and Israel continues to bomb Syrians whenever it feels like it….

Assad remains in power. The Gulf Arabs feel let down. Sectarian strife swells. Foreign interventions wax and wane. Iran retains their preeminent political role in the Levant. Turkey turns this way and that. Kurdish self-determination looms and recedes. Turkey and Europe drown in refugees. The U.S. and Russia are ever closer to war. All sides, including the United States, remorselessly violate both international law and the basic canons of human decency. And Daesh revels in its martyrdom. And the slaughter continues….

We accept no responsibility for the 450,000 or more dead Syrians or the 11 million displaced from their homes. Our politicians and public oppose taking in the refugees from the anarchy we have helped to foster. This is craven, dishonorable, and a reproach to our moral standing and prestige. But let’s leave such quibbles aside. This is, after all, Washington, where both common sense and moral accountability come to die….

Part of our reason for joining Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE in attempting to overthrow the Assad government was to show solidarity with them – complicity instead, I should say…. [T]here is no silver lining to be seen in the dark cloud of Syria’s agony

Parallel contradictions are at work in Iraq, which our 2003 invasion and occupation also thrust into anarchy…. As in Syria, our policies appear to align every which way….

Occasionally, presidential candidates hint that they have a plan that diagrams how Americans can end our misadventures in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but the last box on their plan seems to read “a miracle happens here.” It’s the Middle East, so where miracles are said to have happened in the past so I suppose you can’t rule that out, but it’s hard to consider this much of a plausible probability….

[W]ith the cult of the warrior ascendant in our culture and few Americans dying, the Washington playbook is likely to prevail. We will continue on autopilot but deploy more firepower. Anti-American terrorism with global reach will therefore continue to grow…. Whether homegrown or foreign, our attackers see themselves as humiliated, persecuted, bullied or otherwise victimized. They’re looking for a cause larger than themselves in which to cloak their criminality…. We mistake their terrorist doctrine for their motivation. But they are psychotic, not pious. They are gangbangers, not theologians.

Bombing the so-called Islamic State and snuffing Muslims from the air with drones don’t help cure anti-American terrorism with global reach. They feed the very paranoid delusions on which it thrives. Eliminating the Islamic State’s control of parts of Syria and Iraq will not eliminate the causes of terrorism directed at the West.

It’s time for a different approach. The place to start, I think, is Syria … [where reliant on external support, combatants] have not needed to court popular support by avoiding atrocities against civilians. Cutting off overt and covert aid to combatants would help restore their incentive to do so, meaning to take account of the feelings of the people they are victimizing in Syria.

[All parties] would all be better off if we and all other external parties agreed to mutual restraint and an end to the supply of weapons and training and fighters to Syria … [and] would also bring the world back into conformity with the principle that one should do no harm and mark a return to respect for international law….

As part of a search for a regional détente, the United States needs to have a serious discussion with the Saudis about a war termination strategy for Yemen … [which could] help detoxify the U.S.-Saudi relationship. It’s become politically poisonous in both countries, as illustrated by the blossoming of American Islamophobia, Saudi vituperation against America, and the recent override of President Obama’s veto of JASTA, the cynically named Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. This is actually the “shyster’s relief act” of 2016.

Despite decades of efforts by the United States to broker peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab and Muslim worlds, the so-called peace process is now dead and buried. It cannot be exhumed and it will not be resurrected … [meaning that] the United States will have no political cover internationally at all for its continuing subsidies to the Israeli settlement enterprise or for its protection of Israel from international condemnation and punishment for its gross violations of the rights of its captive Arab populations, illegal territorial expansion, and intermittent military assaults on neighbors….

Israel has become one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. It dominates its region militarily yet U.S. taxpayers will pay, or more likely borrow, $3.8 billion each year for the next 10 to subsidize it – this despite the fact that Israel contemptuously opposes most U.S. policies in its region. It goes out of its way to demonstrate its defiance of U.S. and international opinion of its policies and seems to many to be hell-bent on doing itself in. Unconditional support for Israel does grave harm to Israel by enabling it to behave in ways and take risks with its future that it otherwise would not….

U.S. attempts to advocate human rights, oppose racism, promote the rule of law, empower women or support the democratization of government as insincere, hypocritical or downright duplicitous. Americans speaking out for our values in the Middle East now persuade no one there. We just remind them of our unflinching complicity in Israeli policies and practices that mock the ideals we claim to champion.

On its way out, the Obama administration has begun speaking more honestly – which means more harshly – about the extent to which Israeli statements and behavior now trouble Americans, including, by the way, the great majority of American Jews. But in the region this just comes across as: Who are you going to believe, America or your lying eyes?

… [T]he probable result of doing more of the same is more of the same. That’s really too bad, both for us and for everyone in the Middle East….


The Libertarian Presidential Ticket Splits on Aid to Israel

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The single biggest source of Middle East and Muslim resentment over American foreign policy is certainly aid to Israel, but it is a sacred cow to the major parties. As long as America gives unconditional foreign aid to the apartheid state it will never have an incentive to treat the Palestinians justly or to negotiate in good faith for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. The Libertarian Party’s blanket opposition to all foreign aid could be a source of attraction not only to the rising number of American Muslim voters but to young American Jews increasingly unhappy with Israeli policies, but when their current Presidential ticket appeared on John Stossel’s recent Libertarian Town Hall meeting, VP candidate William Weld wandered off the farm to kow-tow to the Israeli lobby.

Here is a transcript of the relevant segment:

Questioner (wearing a T-shirt saying “Don’t steal. The government hates the competition): My question is will you cut all foreign aid including aid to Israel and treat everyone equally and fairly around the world. [Light applause.]

Gary Johnson: I think that, yes, we philosophically–Why are we building roads, bridges, schools and hospitals in other parts of the world when we have those same needs here today? [Light applause]

William Weld: Having said that; you mentioned Israel. I have a long record with Israel. They are a vibrant democracy in a very politically sensitive part of the world. So it would be a cold day in July before I would totally freeze them out. [Light applause.]

John Stossel. So you guys don’t agree on this.

Johnson. No. I think that we have come to believe that foreign aid is about food and medicine when foreign aid is really–for the most part–just props up dictatorships and ends up being anything but. [Applause.]

Johnson is right. Weld is wrong. When there are real humanitarian crises Americans donate generously out of their own pockets. The government, on the other hand, spends $35 billion dollars in economic aid to subsidize the bad behavior of a long list of governments topped by Israel and Egypt.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Organ Donation in Islam

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

[These are my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought on-the-record fiqh forum on Organ Donation held in Herndon, VA on July 20, 2016. These notes are NOT a transcript, but a lightly edited presentation of  my perception of the discussion. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Organ Donation in Islam

Ms. Lori Brigham (Washington Regional Transplant Community). WRTC is one of 58 Organ Organization donation regional communities.  The Organ Procurement Transfer Network (OPTN) sets policy. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) administers the OPTN. Muslim families decline donations on religious grounds at a high rate. End stage organ failure affects many people in all groups in our society. There 120,000 people now waiting for organ transplants that could save their lives. Every day 22 of them die for lack of a donation.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi. (ISNA).  Organ donation is an ijtihadi issue because there is no clear text in Qu’an or hadith, and, therefore, the Islamic position is a consequence of the objectives of the Shariah: to save and protect life, to protect dignity, to prevent harm, and to protect from exploitation. Most jurists have already accepted the permissibility of organ donation and the questions now left deal with rules, regulations, and guidelines. Some organs may be given in life and some at death. Is this an act of charity? Can this be stated in the will? Is spousal agreement necessary? Can the organs of dead person be given absent, or even against, the deceased’s will? Are there concerns over deformation of the body? What is the defining point of death? What of taking organs from a miscarried fetus? From an aborted fetus? What of developing fetuses for this purpose? What of sale of organs: is it disliked or prohibited? If someone cannot afford treatment are they eligible for zakat for this purpose? Which organs are permissible to buy?

Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina (GMU). I am still a student of Islamic bioethics. My objective is to bring new issues of bioethics to focus by using the traditional sources. How do we encourage people to overcome cultural impediments or religious misunderstandings? Field research is more important than library work, since we need to understand the concerns of the people that make them hesitate. The new issues can be accommodated well within the religious sources. The South African government encouraged me and others to do a workshop to encourage donation. We found the imams had ideas with no basis in the maqasid (higher objectives of the law). We trained the imams for three days. For example, if I give an eye will I get it back on the Day of Judgment? A mother hesitated to donate her son’s cornea lest he be without one on the Day of Judgment. I quoted her the verse that God who created you the first time can create you a second time. In Iran there is a big trade in kidneys at $15,000, but it is hard to donate a kidney when the medical care is poor. We need to move beyond jurisprudence to bioethics. Fiqh is founded on case law deduced from revelatory sources, while traditional ethics is inherited from Greek philosophical and theological tradition.

Derivation of juridical decision (hukm or fatwa) -> a search for asl (paradigm case; universal major premise “known” for purposes of the present case) -> new case far‘ (particular minor premise specifying the present instance) -> hukm = juridical decision, also fatwa (necessary conclusion about the current case).

Derivation of ethical decision (practical reason) -> search for similar precedents to provide general warrant (asl) ↔ a present case with all its particulars providing facts about the present instance (far’) –provisional conclusion about the present case, with a precaution about it being “presumably so” -> a possibility of revision through further research information on the case.

I have seen the arguments that you cannot donate to non-Muslims, but few muftis stand by such positions, usually resorting to arguments such as: “What if I save a non-Muslim’s life and then he kills me in battle?” These views are not found among American Muslims. For fetal tissue, a distinction is made between miscarriage and abortion to provide stem cells. The Durban workshop worked very well in South Africa for the imams took the message positively.

From where do Muslims get their bioethics? We say maslaha (public interest), but it is closer to equity than to utility, with a careful analysis of risk and benefit, following the principle of “no harm, no harassment.”

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad (Minaret of Freedom Institute). Fatawa (legal opinions) are also advisory and non-binding.  I don’t think the question of ownership vs. trust suffices to make distinctions between property and body parts in Islam, because in Islam everything belongs to Allah, our wealth as well as our bodies.  Our bodies are a trust from Allah, but so is our wealth.  In both cases the question should be: What is it that Allah wishes us to do with the trust? The concern that donation of a cornea would deprive the donor of it on the Day of Judgment overlooks the fact that, donated or not, the cornea will turn to dust and have to be recreated by Allah on the Day of Judgment in any case.

Dr. Mohamad Adam El-Sheikh (Darul Hikmah Consultancy). There are only five ahkâm (legal rulings) in Islam:  fard (mandatory), mandûb (encouraged), mubâh (optional), makrûh (discouraged), and harâm (forbidden), and most actions are classified mubâh, al-hamdulillah. Organ donation is mandûb because if you do it, you will be rewarded, but if you do not you will not be punished.

Dr. Jamal Badawi (FCNA). When I ventured that donation is permissible an imam objected that if you get an organ from a sinful person it will testify against you on the Day of Judgment. Another concern is the evidence that transplanted hearts remember the preferences of the person from whom they were transplanted.

Lori Brigham. It is problematical to have this discussion at the time of sudden death. The family is in a great deal of emotional distress and this isn’t the best time to have this kind of a discussion. It is better if you can get people to sign up in advance; the family can help facilitate that gift. Wills and advance directives aren’t sitting on the nightstand and looked at later; too late to help in this conversation.

Dr. Muzammil Sddiqi. Is not just religious but emotional. People are more emotional about the body of a loved one than about money.

Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina. Fiqh has the foundation of ethics, but the language of legality has sharp edges while the language of ethics touches the heart. We are impressed that in ninth century Baghdad al-Razi did high accuracy urinalysis in the absence of modern microscopes. But what we have done in the last sixty years is phenomenal.  We have organ banks now.  The notion of our bodies being ours is a modern notion. Muslims fear that people shall begin to treat their bodies as a commodity. We don’t want to lose touch of belonging to God. He put us in the world with a purpose and we need to discover that purpose. We don’t want to lose the distinction between the fatwa and the ethical advice. There are no texts in the classical sources of Hinduism and Buddhism on organ donation, but all religions are united in recommending the saving of life. Even atheism is very much humanistic and also recommends the saving of life.

Sr. Saisa Neel (RN, Masjid Muhammad). African Americans have been very resistant to donating organs. Is there still a problem with ethnicities? We get questions like “Are we being killed for our body parts?” There is also the controversy over Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were distributed around the world without even informing the family let alone obtaining their consent.

Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina. The Shia ayatollahs were very receptive to these ideas, and Ayatollah Sistani in particular has supported the view that a reasoned decision must be made on termination of life-support and that costly postponement of imminent death is not justified. There is no moral objection in the Middle East to organ transplants; there is only government obstacles and corruption.

Dr. Ilham Altalib (Ikram).The scholars agree that brain death is death. The Qur’an says every soul (not every body) shall taste of death. We shall be resurrected and, although it will have a physical aspect, it is not the body we had. My Creator will resurrect my identity but not the same body.

Prof. Jasser Auda (International Peace College, South Africa). I consider ethical considerations integral to fiqh although I acknowledge the fuquha (jurists) are usually more literal [legalistic?]. The fatwa is an opinion; it is not a state process or a democratic process, but a trust. Neither precedents in Islamic law nor perceptions make truths. The faqih (jurist) goes back to the original sources to answer the questions put to him. These are complex issues that require hours to treat fairly. That people do not own their bodies is a major issue from the Islamic perspective. Everyone on the street in the Arab World and Africa knows the price of kidneys and livers. And in oil-rich Arab countries 90 to 100% of the organs come from migrant workers. That is why I disagree with the vast majority of scholars who hold organ donation is permissible without taking into consideration the economic circumstances especially in poor counties ruled by corrupt dictators or in war zones like Syria.

Dr. Jamal Badawi (St. Mary’s Univ.). Even if we are to focus on the juridical aspects, I think there is no single Islamic perspective. Imam Shafi said, “My opinion is right, but it could be wrong. My opponents are wrong, but they could be right.” The main issue from any religious respective lies first in the highest authority of the faith. The only final binding sources for Muslim are the revelatory sources, in particular the Qur’an. The Prophet’s explanation of the religion is also considered revelation of a sort, although not all traditions are of equal authenticity. On some things no two Muslims should differ, e.g., the sanctity of human life. This is partly negative (the prohibition of killing innocents), but it also has a positive side (preservation of life which may be extended to include organ donation). There is no contradiction between “your money” and “Allah’s money.” The objection to autopsy on the grounds that it is identical to mutilating the body ignores the whole history of Islamic law on the greater good. The issue of brain death is not settled, and there is a debate on the role of the brain stem, etc.  Istishâb, or the issue of continuity is a presumption in Islamic law.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik (Dar al-Hijra). For many of those who migrated to the West the bâb (door) of ijthad is closed. As an activist and an imam in the community struggling with the issues of life and death, whenever I had a call about end of life issues I had a methodology (which most do not have). Mine was to call Shaikh Hanooti who would first ask, “Are there two independent diagnoses of brain death?” If so, then he would look not only at the texts but the contexts. We need a re-education of the Muslim community through broad-based educational opportunities, including full and part time Islamic schools. We talk about wills every time anyone goes to Mecca. Talk about advanced directives then too.

Ms. Lori Brigham: Neurological death requires both brain and brain stem be dead and usually requires two physicians to make the determination. Organ donation after circulatory death is a different matter and some people have made advanced directives to be executed once the heart stops beating. They are two different definitions of death.

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. The Prophet (pbuh) said those with anything worth bequeathing should not let three days pass without writing a will. Yet even an impecunious person has body parts worth donating, so should we understand this hadith to mean that we must not let three days pass without writing an advanced directive?

Dr. Essam Omeish. Once we have defined clinical death, it is sound for a doctor sitting with a Muslim counselor to give counseling to the family to pull the machines.  The advanced directive s always about what is the will of the patient. In the absence of the advanced directive, the questions put to the family concern: What would the patient’s wishes have been? Absent firm knowledge, you are the loved ones best placed to answer that question.

Dr. Ilham Altalib. The International Council of Jurisprudents declared that brain death is death. Allah takes the soul from the body and also when you sleep deeply. Why do we have to make the simple difficult?

Prof. Jasser Auda. The IJC is a Saudi-funded body with political considerations. The human body is a sanctuary not to be meddled with until the spirit departs. There is a difference between dead and definitely-eventually-dead.

Dr. Jamal Badawi. I am not comfortable with the use of the word rûh (spirit) in this context.

Dr. Khalid Khan (GU). With transplants the situation is often you get a transplant or you die.

Dr. Essam Omeish (INOVA Fairfax Hospital). We are at an advantage being in the US where there is advanced medical work and rigorous ethical thought. Using neurological verses circular death as an example, we can deliver information to the scholars to provide them with knowledge they can take to the lay person. Even the discussion over what defines death in Islam should not be left at an unsophisticated level. Consider the sophistication of the discussion of the beginning of life in Islam. At 21 weeks there is a heart that is beating and nourished by an umbilical cord, but by Islamic law human life [personhood] has not begun. The definition of neurological death is very well defined, and mechanically maintained circulation after that point may be compared to the start of life question. What of the situation where a patient is not completely neurologically dead, but still has a trickle of blood to the brain? In some states they would not be defined a dead, despite my opinion as a physician. It is difficult for me as a physician to see a person who has elected to be a donor to be overruled because of the failure of the family to understand the issues.

Prof. Sherine Hamdy (NYU). As a social scientist, my view is that we have to be open about the pros and the cons, and the complications. Almost all scholars have said it’s permissible, yet families are hesitant. It is not just selfishness. I know many people who needed a kidney transplant and refused out of a fear of the risks to which they would subject their beloved family members.  Saying the body belongs to God is a truism that says nothing about the issue in question. The context is one in which people are oppressed by states that will kidnap and torture people because of their associations and where the rich get organ transplants at the expense of the poor.  In these circumstances “our bodies belong to God” is a cry of defiance. Sh. Muh. Mutwai al-Sha`rawi said, “How can you donate something that doesn’t belong to you?” Marginalized members of the family are more likely to donate to the more prestigious members of the household. The vulnerability of poor Egyptians has only become worse under the Sisi regime. Even transplant surgeons were not convinced that this was halal (permissible). They used religious language, and they had started out motivated by saving lives, but after years and years of practice they noticed the pattern that the donors are poor men selling their kidneys to the rich. Neurological death is the exception, not the rule. It is sudden car accidents, suicide, homicide, and war that cause neurological death.  For Palestinians victimized by organ theft the context is different. Context matters much more than which school of Islamic thought you follow. With the first kidney transplant in 1954 the same issues were raised in this country. What made transition possible? Media played a role, as did the desire to make meaning of a senseless death (which doesn’t arise in the Muslim context in which death already has meaning.) Rûh (spirit) is not a subject of scientific inquiry in the US. There is an epidemic of kidney and liver disease in Egypt. Otherwise healthy young working men are dying of kidney failure for unknown reasons and of liver failure (Hepatitis C) due to a side effect of injections intended to prevent an outbreak of schistosomiasis that had been predicted to be a consequence of the Aswan High Dam. There is a view that the government made us sick. People in Egypt, however, did not object to corneal transplants. There has been a historical problem of “Egyptian blindness” from the Middle Ages. There were corneal banks. Then in the 80’s there were reports of people stealing corneas from the morgue and shipping them to the Gulf States.  In the Egyptian revolution snipers aimed at people and one famous activist who lost one eye pledge to give his other for the revolution. After the revolution people began to donate eyes liberally because they trusted the doctors. The attitude was “I want my eyes to continue the struggle.”

Chaplain Tahara Akmal (Reading Hospital). It is important that imams invited into organ donation conversations be educated on this these sensitive issues. When an imam’s child died from an unsuccessful heart transplant and wagging tongues blamed the parents for trying to get a healthy heart for their child. In contrast, there was positive PR when a Caucasian Muslim woman donated her kidney to a black Christian man in Jewish hospital. Surgery was originally scheduled for 9/11/2001, but was postponed. She was inspired by the verse that if any of you saves a life it shall be as if he saved an entire people. Some Muslims tried to dissuade her, but she was unmoved. The recipient lived until 2013.

Prof. Jasser Auda. This is not just an Egyptian problem. Throughout the third world children are stolen for their organs. We in the US must be clear about defining our terms and our context because, believe it or not, what happens here is very influential in the Muslim world, and we must be careful about anything that hints of being a fatwa.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. We must emphasize the context of anything we say.

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.  I agree. It is sad that such warnings are necessary. Muslims are unaware that fatwas are always not only advisory, but contextual, an answer to a specific real-world (not hypothetical) question in a specific context.

Prof. Sherine Hamdy. The incorporation of the mufti into the nation-state and the mass media have changed the perception of fatwa “from the mufti’s mouth to the questioners ears” into a notion of an official policy broadcast.

Dr. Ilham Altalib. Rûh (spirit) is not nafs (soul). It has nothing to do with life and death.

Dr. Hisham Altalib. When you kill a patient, how do you certify that he is dead?

Dr. David Klassen. Euthanasia in this country does not intersect with organ transplants.

Dr. Essam Omeish. I am not in the business of killing people. With cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the criteria are clear and well-defined and there is no dispute. Neurological death not only requires no brain activity, but no blood flow to the brain. If the diagnosis is not conclusive there is no declaration of death.

Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina. In the bioethics literature there is a distinction between passive and active euthanasia. “Being merciful” has become a euphemism for passive euthanasia. Religious leaders find harvesting of organs under these circumstances problematic.

Lori Brigham. If you have questions or concerns about the process of organ and tissue donation so they can make informed decisions, we would like to be a resource.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi. I would like a copy of the rules and regulations that can be a model for Islamic rules and regulations.

Prof. Jasser Auda.  We appreciate the offer for we need not only context but details. Not the devil but God is in the details.

Dr. Mohammed Adam El-Sheikh. I think the procedures need to be understood. Learning there is an autopsy involved, with a draining of fluids, is problematic.

Ms. Lori Brigham. There is no autopsy unless at the requirement of the medical examiner or the family.

Dr. Mohammed Adam El-Sheikh. We need that kind of information.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. I understand this is on the agenda of the Fiqh Council and we need to make sure an opinion comes out on it.

Dr. Essam Omeish. We need a certification and training process.

Prof. Jasser Auda. There are many questions. Not all organs are the same; for example there are distinctions made for reproductive organs.

Dr. Jamal Badawi. It is not permitted for a mufti to give a fatwa in something in which he is not fully familiar. We can’t just throw the ball to the Fiqh Council. A specialized technical committee can work with the FC.

Dr. Ilham Altalib. Do we start from scratch? I have material I have accumulated since the artificial heart transplant in South Africa that I can share with you.

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. Let’s not call it a fatwa or a series of fatwas but a summary and analysis of the fiqh (jurisprudence). Instead, provide guidance and information that can be used by muftis in making fatwas responding to specific real-world questions as well as by imams in giving khutbas to their communities to get them up to speed on these issues.

Ms. Remonia Chapman (Detroit Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program). We would like you to review the pamphlets we already have on religious views on transplants.

Prof. Jasser Auda. A general recommendation is inadequate. A number of issues have been rejected by the scholarly community.

Dr. Abu Baker Al-Shingieti (IIIT). There is an emerging consensus that needs to be known and when specific issues come up they can be dealt with at that time.

Prof. Jasser Auda.  We also should remind people of their right to autonomy: that this is an emerging consensus that is not binding on you.  In other contexts this would be a given but because of the context we need to emphasize this so that the tinge of religious authority does not erase the necessity for the individuals to make a decision based on the specifics of their own situation.

Dr. Jamal Badawi. I think we should include the dissenting voices and remind people they may follow a particular madhhab (school of jurisprudence), but need not. One famous scholar once wrote this is what I think, but if you find a better grounded opinion throw mine against the wall.

Prof. Jasser Auda. I am concerned about communal backlash when there is a general opinion.

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. I see the situation as analogous to the adoption issue.  When I was first approached about that issue by the National Council for Adoption, it was because they were forced to place Muslim refugee children pouring into the United States into non-Muslim homes because Muslims refused to adopt n the grounds that “adoption is prohibited in Islam.” They published my article “Adoption in Islam” in the 1999 edition of the Adoption Fact Book, explaining that adoption is encouraged in Islam, only differing in three ways from the Western model (that the true lineage of the child cannot be denied or hidden, that inheritance from the foster parent is not automatic nor can inheritance from the biological parent be denied, and that marriage to an adopted child’s ex is not incestuous) after which Muslims have become more open to adoption.

Dr. Jamal Badawi. After many conferences the Fiqh Council concluded you can use calculation in the calendar. Many people rejected that but having that decision has vastly improved the situation of commonly observed Eid dates. We need to be sensitive to the masses but we cannot be driven by the masses. We should respect differing opinions and say it s up to you to choose.

Ms. Lori Brigham. I appreciate your efforts to help us build donation as a culture.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi. We must see that whatever we do complies with Islamic principles, federal law, and other legal issues. I see no problems in doing that as there is an emerging consensus. Blood donation is permissible; tissue donation is permissible. On the question of organs there are some issues, but we can deal with that.

Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina. We are not a reading public. We ignore our own scholars at our own peril. Read my book Islamic Biomedical Ethics to see what Islam has left for us.

Dr. Abubaker Al-Shingieti. With your permission we shall make a summary available as a “Book in brief.”

Dr. Hisham Altalib. There is an important principle of enjoining what is good and forbidding evil. Imam Ash-Shafi in Baghadad had certain opinions which changed when he was in Yemen and then changed again in Egypt. Many young Muslims think that Muhammad deleted the customs of the jahiliyyah (the time of ignorance), but he changed only a few things. His beard and his dress were the same as those of the jahillyyah. We seek the American Islam as ash-Shafi sought the Baghadadi, Yemeni, and Egyptian Islam.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute