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

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

El Mercurio Interview on the Failed Coup in Turkey

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

[I was recently interviewed by Javier Méndez about the failed coup in Turkey for an article in Santiago’s  El Mercurio newspaper. Here are my answers to his questions.]

Q. After the military coup attemp, Erdogan government has launched an intense repression in Turkey. Has Erdogan the political power to do that?

A. In the aftermath of the failed coup Erdogan’s regime has detained or suspended over 50,000 soldiers, police officers, teachers, civil servants and judges whom he considers to be political enemies. The victims of the purge appear to be people he considers to be influenced by the preacher and former Erdogan ally Fethullah Gulen, now in self-imposed exile in the United States. Erdogan is trying to paint Gulen’s highly secretive but to date peaceful “Hizmet (service)” movement a terrorist organization. It is unclear whether Erdogan has the political capital to pull off this purge. On the one hand he has many supporters who will stand by hm against any opponents, but Gulen also has many followers and the seemingly absurd accusation of terrorism against Gulen’s followers regardless of whether or not they were involved in the coup (an accusation that has yet to be proven) may cause Erdogan’s support among Turkish liberals to erode.

Q.  According to your opinion, Is Turkey a real democracy?

A. Turkey is a democracy, albeit a flawed one. However, it is a fragile democracy increasingly threatened by Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and paranoia.

Q. Do you think that Erdogan strengthens his power?

A. Erdogan has been gradually increasing his power, but this current move may backfire.

Q. In the present situation in Asia and Europe, how important is the role of Turkey respect the war against Islamic terrorism in Syria, Iraq and the refugees problem and relationship with Europe and United States?

A. I reject the framing of the question. There is nothing Islamic about terrorism. Having said that, Turkey has an important role to play in defeating Muslim terrorists in Iraq and Syria not only because it is geographically closer to the problem than America or the rest of Europe but because as a Muslim country (and one with an important role in Muslim history) it is well-placed to demonstrate how terrorism is a violation of Islamic teachings and practice. Unfortunately, Erdogan’s recent actions detract from his credibility in any such enterprise.

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

The Orlando Nightclub Attacks

Monday, June 13th, 2016

[I have been interviewed by two journalists on Sunday’s murderous attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. Here are my responses to the questions posed.]

Questions from free-lance journalist Abdel – Rahman Youssef for Al-Jazeera

Q. What do you think the impact of of this incident on the US elections, either when it comes to voting for the Republicans in Florida or in the elections in general given that Florida is a swing state?

A. Until this event, the extremely high negative ratings for both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump (57% for each in the Post-ABC poll of May 16-19) meant that there was a strong possibility in this election that the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson would carry the balance of power between them, or even win enough states to throw the election to the House of Representatives. It is conceivable that this event will alter that that possibility, but whether and how it does depends upon too many variables (for example, precisely how the Trump, Clinton, and, for that matter, Johnson, campaigns react, and how the different segments of the electorate receive those reactions) for me to venture a prediction

Q. Some Americans on Twitter deemed the incident as another September 11. What is your take on that? And how do you think the attack is similar to/different from 9/11? Will the ramifications be the same?

A. The 9/11 attacks were inspired, if not planned, by al-Qaeda. As we do not yet know whether this was a homophobic hate crime or an attempt to copy-cat ISIL’s Paris nightclub attacks, it is premature to draw parallels to 9/11. However, the differences are stark: difference in scale (9/11 had an order of magnitude more victims), difference in mode (9/11 was a coordinated pre-planned attack while this appears to have been a lone wolf action), difference in target (9/11 was aimed at the U.S. military establishment and employees in an economic power center while this is aimed at civilians belonging to an oppressed social minority group at a recreational site).

Q. How can Muslims respond to the consequences of this attack  especially we are in Ramadan and Islamic centers are hustling with Muslims who are actively observing the ritual of fasting?

A. As is appropriate for people engaged in a ritual meant to increase their God-consciousness and spirituality, Muslims are responding with expressions of sympathy for and solidarity with the victims and calls for Muslims in the vicinity of the crime to donate blood for the victims and to provide any knowledge they may have of the perpetrator to the proper authorities.

Questions from Javier Mendez of EL-Mercurio

Q. It is possible that Islamic State could attack into the USA?

A. Although the investigation is ongoing and any conclusions are premature, an anonymous US counter-terrorism official was quoted in Vice News as saying that there is “no evidence yet that this was directed” by ISIS. As of now, the following facts are especially relevant:  Mateen’s father reported that his son was infuriated by the sight of two men kissing in public, Mateen’s fomer wife has described him as a violently unstable individual, the authorities say he bought the weapons only days before the shooting, he had been investigated previously by the FBI, and at no time was he in a position to be trained by ISIS. These facts suggest that this was an act of violence perpetrated by a homophobic individual who subsequently sought to associate his deed with a larger movement, not an operation instigated by ISIS.

Q. What could be the political and security effects in USA for this serious incident?

A. As this was the worst mass shooting incident in American history, it pushes multiple socio-political hot buttons, especially Islamophobia, gay rights, and calls for gun control.

Q. In your opinion, what will happen with the war against the Islamic State?

A. Eventually the Islamic State will be crushed by the people immediately oppressed or threatened by it. Foreign military intervention to date has only delayed that by allowing the terrorists to force themselves on the locals as the alternative to Bashar Assad’s brutality in Syria and to the Iraqi regime’s hostility to the Sunnis of Western Iraq.

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

No State Institution (Including the Citadel) Has the Right to Deny the Religious Freedom of an American

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Citadel is The Military College of South Carolina, a state institution. The reaction to the school’s decision to refuse to allow a Muslim student to cover her hair with a headscarf has unveiled a woeful ignorance of the nature of America’s strong Constitutional commitment to freedom of religion. I was especially disturbed by Asra Nomani’s statement, quoted in the Washington Post, “Women and girls, of course, should have a right to wear — or not wear — the headscarf in society, if they wish, but it is truly an insult to the struggle for secularism and civil rights in this country to conflate the headscarf with the struggle for religious and civil liberties in the United States.” We fully support Asra Nomani’s right to dissent from the majority opinion on Islamic law, but her presumption that religious freedom in America applies only to religiously mandated rather than religiously motivated action is flat wrong.

The South Carolina Religious Freedom Act was designed to “restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), and to guarantee that a test of compelling state interest will be imposed on all state and local laws and ordinances in all cases in which the free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.” Those who have argued that the hijab is not mandatory for Muslim women raise a point irrelevant to the question.  The Citadel is an institution of the state and as such must respect religiously motivated acts as well as religiously mandated acts. Beards are not mandatory for men in Islam, but those who wear beards because it is encouraged by the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) have their rights respected under the standard that this law was intended to restore.  The woman who chooses to wear or not wear a headscarf, like the man who chooses to wear or not wear a beard, is alone responsible to God, the Exalted, for her actions, but no state institution (including the Citadel) has the right to deny the religious freedom of an American citizen without meeting that compelling state interest tests.

The purpose of the religious freedom act is to restore the constitutional standard of strict scrutiny, that the practice of religion may not be infringed unless the purpose of the law is shown to serve a compelling government interest and that it serves that interest in the least restrictive manner possible. Whether a religious act is religiously mandated (as, say, prayer) or religiously motivated (as, say, the skullcap for Jewish men) is irrelevant. The questions the Citadel must answer are: what is the compelling government interest here and is this the least restrictive means of meeting it. If the Citadel’s answer is that the compelling state interest is crushing any semblance of individuality, that “interest” strikes this writer as neither compelling nor desirable. Any truly compelling interest they may have would no doubt apply to the armed services themselves, and they have found less restrictive means of meeting them, with no need to force women to display their hair.

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

Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women That Are Transforming the Arab World

Monday, February 29th, 2016

[This is my perception of Katherine Zoepf’s presentation at the New America Foundation on January 21. 2016 regarding her examination of the complex lives of young women living in the Arab Muslim world. She is the author of Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women That Are Transforming the Arab World. This is not a verbatim transcript and any errors are mine alone.]

In the quest for the big event that aligns the region with American interests Katherine Zoepf felt many things were being missed. It’s difficult to get hard data in much of the Arab world. Talk about “the Arab street” is very problematic. When she asked in Lebanon whether there was any recent census data on the sizes of the different demographic groups she was “laughed out of the room” with the question “In whose interests would that be?”

In the absence of hard data we must make anecdote serve by asking many people as you can about their own opinions and those of their cousins. She asked Saudi friends about how accurate the film Wajda was about Saudi life. People would say it was not common for a ten year old to marry, yet most knew of at least one such case. Yet the Saudi National Dialog Center claimed it had virtually disappeared.

Lawyers who want to reform the system are satisfied to do so working within the system. Things that to an outsider seem explosive or transformative are barely noticed by people there. Consider Anthony Shadid’s reporting on the events in Egypt: there were people nearby who were barely aware of them. Resistance to the proposal that Saudi lingerie shops institute all female staffing of such shops was surprising as it was intended to get more women into the workplace not as a human  rights issue but as an upholding of Saudi values. The change of the laws to allow women to ride bicycles under limited conditions seems dramatic but she met no women who rode bicycles or would consider riding a bicycle.

There was outcry about a fire on which many girls died because security guards would not unlock the doors until they could be assured all the girls were properly covered that lead to a breaking of the power of the religious police. This was misread as King Abdullah at last listening to the demands of his oppressed people, but it was his desire for reform that made him unpopular and the reversal of policy is the source of his successors popularity.

Now there is a focus on entrepreneurship about which the activists are very skeptical, seeing it as a diversion of protest away from other issues. They would joke that as they were unable to get jobs, they now should start cupcake bakeries. The social media is deep yet Zoepf would not call it vibrant because the public debate that briefly flared during the Arab Spring is no longer there. It is used mainly to sell things. A shop may have website but somehow will sell things on Instagram. State Department personnel concede that technology and entrepreneurship ends the conversation over reform.

Islamic reformers recruit women who are wives of leaders or who were outstanding students in schools. Many women said that if you knew the Qur’an better than your husband or father you would never be bullied in the name of Islam. It was very important for women to know their rights in Islam and be able to defend them. The Qubaisi Sisterhood in Syria (Qubaisiat) are a development of which it is hard to get information. In 2011 Zoepf heard that they were in support of the early demonstrations by praying indoors for the revolution. They were not persecuted. The title came from the way girls would compete as to which better exemplified values prized by their families in a way you do not see in the West. They deserve attention but one must avoid thinking they are more representative than they are.

The tendency to write about women in the Arab world as if they are monolithically oppressed or not invested in their societies is also a mistake. In Saudi Arabia she found herself baffled by the prevalent notion that women were not bothered by the notion that a woman is one half of a man.

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

State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

[On December 3, 2015, I  attended a KARAMAH-sponsored event focusing on the current state of international religious freedom in the United States and Europe The following summary is a report only of my subjective impressions of the panel and is not intended as an exact transcript. Any errors are mine alone.]

State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

Aisha Rahman, Esq. (KARAMAH). the US constitution guarantees free exercise of religion use and prohibits both religious establishment  by government and religious tests for public office, but outside the law Americans are subjecting Muslims to collective blame. Now many are calling for internment of Muslims like the internment of Japanese during WWII. In the most recent year the percentage of Religious Use and Incarcerated Persons Act actions regarding mosques has skyrocketed compared to the nine years previous. Most of the increase is due to hostility to Muslims. Objectors to most instances of religious land use back down once they understand the law. Only in cases of mosques must land use cases resort to lawsuits to make objectors back down.

Engy Abdelkader, Esq. To say that the violence and discrimination against Muslims is a consequence of backlash against Muslims is to excuse it as the consequence of aggression or discrimination by their coreligionists. But before the Paris attacks a study on hate crimes against Muslims in Britain focused especially on hate crimes against women and found a reluctance by the public to intervene or defend these Muslims. For example, a threatened woman appealed to a bus driver who said he could do nothing. This lead to a $10,000 lawsuit that has changed the behavior of bus drivers. Tell Momma (a British support group for Muslim victims of hate violence) says over 60% of attacks on Muslims whether online or physical are aimed at women. A pre-Charlie Hebdo study in France came to a similar conclusion. An online posting of a woman in a burka identified as a “slut” highlights the specifically gender-slanted nature of the attacks. A schoolteacher in France called for grilling all Muslims on hot coals to fight terrorism. Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West began “as a Facebook page managed by a chef and convicted cocaine dealer“. In France several mayors have ended the practice of substitute meals for pork in schools with large Muslim populations, schools on which packed lunches from home are prohibited. Muslims vary widely in their degree of religious observance, except on the issue of pork consumption. In one French town the mayor said he would prohibit the opening of any more kabob restaurants because they go against Judeo-Christian values. Over a hundred Muslim female students who had already been forced to remove their headscarves were now commanded to stop wearing long skirts, demonstrating that any limitations on religious garb is s slippery slope. This is effectively an attack on access to education. The discrimination is not limited to women, and in France Muslim men are four times less likely to receive a job offer than Catholic men.

David Saperstein (Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom). It is not enough for a country to say it defends religious freedom, more important is what happens to people in those countries. It is not only a question of freedom of worship but the entire gamut of religious practice. There are 2,000 religious denominations and faith groups in the US. The three elements of religious freedom identified before guarantee that your legal rights will never be tied to your religious beliefs practices or identity. In Tajikistan people under 18 may not participate in public religious ceremonies. In China beards and headscarves are banned and Ramadan fasting restricted. It is women and girls who are disproportionately affected. Jews as well as Muslims were affected by the French ban on head coverings. When such bigotry comes from political leaders it gives an aura of immunity to such discrimination and a green light to extralegal discrimination.

Aisha Rahman. The teaching of Islam needs to include the time of religious freedom in Islam.

Engy Abdelkader. I would not use “jihadi” to refer to people engaged in criminal activity. In the observant Muslim’s mindset Jihad has a positive connotation.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad (Minaret of Freedom Institute). The press has a double standard. Muslim terrorists call themselves  “Islamists” and “jihadis”  because they are trying to put a positive spin on their unIslamic actions in the same way that “Ku Klux Klan” members call themselves “Christians” and “patriots” to put a positive spin on their unChristian actions. It is important to note that studies show that backlash against violence committed by Muslims spikes when there is political demagoguery. When George W. Bush went to a mosque to declare that Islam was not responsible for the attacks of 9/11 the violent spike against Muslims in the wake of 9/11 was largely quashed. Political demagogues today are fanning the flames in way they do not do with the white terrorists like the Planned Parenthood shooter.

David Saperstein.  There must be pressure both inside and outside the system. There are good people within the system who can’t act until pressure outside makes them do it.

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

MENA Capital Markets as a “Smart” Investment Opportunity

Friday, November 27th, 2015

[On October 19, 2015, I  attended the 2015 C3 US-Arab Business Summit in New York City. The following is summary of a panel on finance. The affiliations of the speakers are for identification only and they were not speaking on behalf of their respective institutions. In any case, this is a report only of my subjective impressions of the panel and is not intended as an exact transcript. Any errors are mine alone. ]

MENA Capital Markets as a “Smart” Investment Opportunity

Robert Michael (New York City Bar Association). I wrote the first Islamic loan notes by substituting the word “commission” for “interest.” Yusuf de Lorenzo calls me the godfather of Islamic finance. Three principles of Islamic investment are no interest, no unquantified risk, and no financing of prohibited activities. Seeking profit as long as it does not involve harming others (socially responsible investing) is permitted.  Sukūk are incorrectly called Islamic corporate bonds, but unlike corporate bonds they are secured.

Ken Dorph (Sag Harbor Consulting). What we think of as modern finance came from trade between Egypt and Venice. In the 1940s the Egyptian stock market was one of the largest in the world. The birth of modern Israel, the rise of socialism in the Arab world, and the US refusal to finance the Aswan dam led to the rise of nationalization of finance in the Arab world and one of the worst records of finance in the world. Islamic finance should lead to a move away from bad debt, but it hasn’t. There is reform, but it is slower than in Asia or Europe. The emergence of Islamic finance has complicated matters. Its frequency is badly underestimated. The Arab Spring has caused disasters as well as opportunities. Reform of state banks has gone nowhere. Iraq could be an opportunity especially if the IS were to be pushed back. Syrians are natural business people but now all we can do is pray for peace. Much of the business community is Palestinian. Palestine has a stock exchange but it is hard to have an independent financial sector without an independent country. The UAE has a dynamic financial sector. Things are down now because of oil prices, but I remain bullish long term. Saudi is the sector I know the best. In the 70s when the bans were nationalized in the Arab world the Saudis wisely allowed foreign banks to continue operations, and they have  benefited from it. Foreign indirect ownership is now allowed. With the emergence of ETFs etc there is hope that Saudi’s non-royal economy will continue to grow. Libya after the revolution is not as vicious as Iraq as the violence there is of the “Hatfield-McCoy” variety, but I will be optimistic once they put down their guns. In Tunisia they have mandated the state banks operate like private banks. Rather than privatize state banks we ought to commercialize them. I think Tunisia is undervalued.

Paul S. Homsy (Eaton & Van Winkle). Saudi Arabia has changed its investment rules allow direct foreign investment in their stock market which is the largest exchange in the Middle East. Most of the market is banks, construction companies, and insurance companies. They have been open to foreign investors in privately owned companies for fifteen years with only a few exceptions (mineral mining and insurance), They hope Saud Arabia will be part of the MSCI index. CMA is the Saudi’s SEC. A local Saudi company (AAP) licensed by the CMA must file the application of any foreign company which puts them on a fast track, and if you have not heard within thirty days you are approved. Foreigners can’t own more than 49% of a local company. Any single QFI (Qualified Foreign Investor) is limited to 20% ownership of a particular company or 10% of market value (this is ambiguous).

John P. Desrocher  (US Dept. of State). This administration developed a new model of bilateral investment treaties in 2012. Issues that obstruct investment include local content requirements, limits on taking funds out of country, etc.  Such treaties help to level the playing field. A positive list treaty applies only to specified sectors of the economy while a negative list applies to everything except a negative list (e.g., media).

Karim Babay (Intrinsic value Investment Partners). We were founded to invest primarily in North America but after the Arab Spring we are making significant investments in the MENA region.  It’s an economy comparable in size to Italy’s but while Italy’s is declining MENA is growing. The population is growing at 2.2%. The other factor is productivity, which is very low and we anticipate a growth rate of 5%. It is a (un?)leveraged market. Debt to GDO is less that 12%. Libya is at 4%. Tunisia at close to 50% is still better than the US or Japan.  The markets are illiquid, which is bad, but an opportunity. Hedging capacity is limited at present. We have generated a return above 12% since formation. Undervalued companies tend to remain undervalued because of investment barriers. We anticipate institutionalization of the markets in the future which will increase value. We anticipate positive structural changes. Oil prices are likely to rise. Governments are likely to withstand changes in dollar value. The region is systematically sound, notwithstanding the headlines.

Robert Michael. Outside the US it is very difficult to buy on consumer credit. To the extent that laws are reformed in this region that will change.

Paul Homsey. The Saudis know they have to get people out of the public sector and into the private sector and they know small business is the way to do that.

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

Muslim Condemnations of Today’s Paris Attacks

Friday, November 13th, 2015

A Jewish college classmate of mine asked me if there are any Muslim voices willing to condemn today’s barbarous attacks in Paris. I told him that almost all Muslims condemn it. Here  are links to a couple of major Muslim organizations that have already published their condemnations:

Over the coming days virtually every Muslim organization will have condemned the attacks, but don’t expect to see that fact mentioned in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

For the record, everyone here at the Minaret of Freedom Institute condemns these attacks regardless of what the religious or political affiliations of the perpetrators proves to be.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute

El Mercurio Interview on the Russian Airliner Crash in the Sinai

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

[Here are our answers to questions by El Mercurio’s reporter Javier Méndez about the crash of a Russian civilian airliner in the Sinai]:

Q. It is possible that a Russian airplane passengers could be shot down by ISIS?

A. The plane could not have been shot down at that altitude. An on-board attack cannot be ruled out, but seems very unlikely in the light of the reports during ascent by the pilot of some sort of “technical problem” and his intention to land the plane as soon as possible. Further, reports that this particular plane had experienced problems with an engine days before the flight suggest a more likely explanation.

Q. What could be the political effects in the Middle East for this serious incident?

A. The fear expressed by a number of airlines to fly over Sinai in the wake of this tragedy puts pressure on Egypt, whose government has already lost legitimacy as demonstrated by the poor turnout in the recent elections. Alleged claims that ISIS is responsible, far-fetched as those claims may be, nonetheless portend more violence against the group in Syria and its affiliate in the Sinai.

Q. In your opinion, what will happen with the Islamic State the next year? Could ISIS be defeated by the international coalition?

A. I cannot predict what will happen to ISIS, but if it is defeated without popular support of the indigenous populations, it shall only be replaced by another undesirable, and perhaps even more vicious party.

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