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


Thursday, December 17th, 2020

[On December 16, 2020, Nonviolence International held a webinar on Jonathan Kuttab’s book Beyond the Two State Solution. The following highlights are lightly edited excerpts transcribed from the YouTube recording of the entire webinar, which readers are encouraged to access here:]

David Hart, Co-Director of Nonviolence International: I am Jewish and was raised being told of a land that was taken from us in a war when the whole world was against us. And still, somehow, we prevailed. International law made clear that no nation may keep land taken in war, but we were defending ourselves and we certainly would not hold the land long. When I learned something of the reality of everyday Palestinian life and came to see it as a deep affront to those basic values Jews are taught are at the heart of our faith, I was somehow more able to accept this contradiction because it came with the story that land would be traded for peace, and the occupation would end soon. That was decades ago. Sadly actions that have reshaped facts on the ground have made the call for a two-state solution more of a cover for oppressive policies than a realistic path towards peace with justice. Jonathan’s book attempts [to implement] a fundamental principle of creative conflict resolution.  He takes seriously the basic needs of both parties. What will it take for us to extend our compassion to the Palestinian people? Maybe we could start with the recognition that they are fully human, Radical, I know, but true nonetheless. My hope is that those willing to grapple with this complex and difficult issue will read Jonathan ‘s book and help us change the conversation.

Jonathan  Kuttab, Co-founder of Nonviolence International, practicing attorney in Israel Palestine, and the United States: I think this project started when Bob Herbst and I started thinking about: What does really take? What does each side really want? Can we create a new vision that makes sense for both people? It was a painful conversation, because I was one of those who believed in a two state solution before it was [widely advocated].  I thought it was a pragmatic way to deal with these two narratives, these two ideologies, that were mutually exclusive. “The more we get the less they get.” “The more they get, the less we get.” “One additional immigrant means one fewer person for us.” “One more Palestinian birth is a demographic threat to the other side.” After a while it became clear to me that the two-state solution not only doesn’t work, because it has been thoroughly and consistently undermined, but that it has become an alibi for the status quo, an alibi for refusing to address the injustices, an alibi for dealing with the discriminatory and sometimes very racist ideologies that totally negate and demonize [the “Other.”]

This book has three parts.  The first part explains how the two-state solution was created, and how it was undermined and collapsed and is no longer workable, because I think it is important to get rid of false hopes before we create new hopes. The second part, the most important part, is to set out a vision. People ask, “Is it even possible to think of a vision that satisfies the needs of both?” I think it is possible, but it is very painful. It requires that we give up the idea of exclusivity. Rather than argue if your narrative is correct or incorrect it requires asking what is it that your narrative provides for you? What is it that you want? Zionist Israelis tell me, “We want a Jewish state.” But what is a Jewish state? What does that mean?  You can’t circumcise a state! What is the irreducible minimum that you want out of this state. And, yes, the Palestinians also. “What is it that you want out of a Palestinian state?  For a long time we were told that the goal of Palestinian nationalism was statehood, but you can give me a state that means nothing. You give me a passport, but I can’t travel. You give me a Parliament but I can’t vote for it. You give me airport, but I can’t fly out of it. So, what is it I want out of statehood.  I want something very concrete. I want freedom; I want equality; I want freedom of movement; I want self-fulfillment; I want participation in my life; I want empowerment. A state is supposed to give me that; but if you give me state without any of those contents you give ne nothing.  I make no judgements; I claim no symmetry between the two parties. I simply ask can we come up with a vision that will accommodate the other rather than negate and demonize and criminalize and delegitimize the “Other.” The third part of the book, which I think is the weakest, is a chapter that I was almost forced to add at the end, which is “How do we get from here to there.” This book is not for anyone who insists on their maximalist ideology. If I say, “Filistiin Arabia, Palestine is Arab,” that all these Zionists from all over the world should go back to wherever they came from, then this book is not for me. Similarly if you think Israel should be as Jewish as France is French, if  you aren’t willing to accept Palestinians’ right here, then this book is not for you. This conversation is for those who say, “Despite what I believe, despite what I think, despite what I have grown up with, despite my  historic/religious/national/whatever rights, I recognize that there is this other group who are living in this land today and I can’t get rid of them, an dits not right to get rid of them. I need to find a way to accommodate them [and] t incorporate them into my visions.” I am totally open to those who disagree. I am totally open to this conversation.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, faith-based activist, one of the first women to become a rabbi: I ant to begin by doing a land acknowledgement … to understand a root cause. When I am on Turtle Island I acknowledge that I am a guest on Ohlone land, and when I travel to Palestine I acknowledge that I am a guest on Palestinian lands. We can begin the healing with a vision of radical inclusion and equity.

Robert Herbst, Jewish Voice for Peace, human rights lawyer: I’m in my seventies and for decades I was uncomfortable about the oppression over there, [but] I only really expressed my concerns within the tribe until  when the Gaza operation “Protective Edge” became too much for me to bear. In 2016  I met Jonathan and we bonded very quickly over the one-state idea. A caste-based society in which Jews dominate over non-Jews is not kosher.

Azmerah Hammouri-Davis, Friends of Sabeel, Black-Palestinian poet: It was not until I was arrested an airport while leaving Israel that I realized how insensitive my teacher’s joke [about being a terrorist seven years earlier] really was. I was contained for an hour, strip searched, patted down [for the crime of having] a Palestinian grandfather whom I had never met. When I asked why I was arrested I was told, “This is Israel, what do you think?” How naïve of me. [Since then,] I have net so many Jewish colleagues who are committed to this work. There is a wave of people ready to dismantle old logic, to cultivate, to see the joy and humanity in each of us, and to say this can be different.

Rabbi Gerald Serotta: The brilliance of what Jonathan writes about is that it is not a solution but a vision. It is an attempt to bring justice and dignity [to the] forefront.

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

Geo-Political Dynamics of Arabia and the Gulf

Monday, November 30th, 2020

[This is a summary of a panel discussion chaired by Dr. Abdullah Baabood, Waseda University on the second day of the 29th National Council on US-Arab Relations Conference held on November 18, 2020. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription.]

H.E. Dr. Mohamed Al Hassan, Sultanate of Oman Ambassador to the United Nations; former Oman Ministry of Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Diplomatic Affairs; former Ambassador of Oman to Russia.

Recent normalization of relationships between certain Arab states and Israel is not a substitute for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We in Oman believe in a two-state solution that takes into account the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis. How can we get out of the currently unpromising dilemma? It requires recognition of certain facts including the importance of acting within international law, the necessity of taking into account the rights of the other side, the recognition that we hold the future in our own hands and the avoidance of blaming others, to acknowledge the tools available to resolve differences, and most importantly to heed the voices of youth. It would be wrong to exclude Iran or Iraq or Yemen from any future security or economic arrangements. Isolating Iran is a doomed policy. Peace is sustained only by giving everyone a stake in it, and not by the sound of guns. What is important is to stop the war in Yemen immediately and to give the Palestinians some light at the end of the tunnel.

Mr. Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs; former U.S. Department of State Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

If we are ever to diffuse the tensions with Iran, we must negotiate in a broader spectrum of issues than prisoner releases (as important as that is). We cannot stand by and watch the situation of the Yemeni people continue to deteriorate, but we need to see outside parties wind down their presence, including Iran. Americans must be sympathetic with the marginalization of the Houtis, but we cannot be sympathetic to the attacks on civilians nor on the burgeoning relationship with the IRGC. We are pleased at the normalization of Israel’s relationship with some Arab parties, but it cannot be on the back of the Palestinians. How is it that Arab states can more easily make peace with Israel than resolve their issues with Qatar? Gulf countries do not benefit in the long run from a rift among Arab countries, nor does the United States. Separate countries will of course have differences, but this kind of rift impedes progress on a variety of matters including Iran, COVID, and economic issues. Our advice is to maintain strong American engagement as partners. Our engagement with Saudi Arabia will have to remain strong and our relationships with other Gulf states can and should be strengthened.

Dr. John Duke Anthony, NCUSAR founding president and CEO.

Despite my focus on the region, I bring the perspective of an outsider. The region is preoccupied with two kinds of oil: turmoil and the other kind. Stability, security and peace are necessary objectives. It is noteworthy that the cease fire that ended the Iran-Iraq War, accepted immediately by Saddam Hussein, took 13 months to be approved by Iran. Oman chaired the UNSC during the time of that conflict. Omanis fought in Qatari uniforms in defense of Kuwait against Saddam’s invasion. To my knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world to have in its constitution the necessity of exporting its revolution. The US has free trade agreements with Oman and Bahrain. The dialog between the US and the GCC needs to peopled by the best diplomats on both sides. Look at what we have accomplished in the past. No one can say we cannot do it again.

Dr. Abdullah Al Shayji, Kuwait University Professor of International Relations and Post Graduate Political Science Program Director; Author, The GCC Crises: The Root Causes, The Mediation Efforts, and the Future of the GCC Alliance. 

After the collapse of the Arab Spring the GCCC was thought to be the de facto leader of the “Arab political system,” but it has been weak and ineffective. There is a “trust deficit” between the U.S. and its Arab allies at a critical time that has the Arab states wondering, “How much we can rely on the U.S. if push comes to shove?” Trump did nothing when the Iranians attacked the ARAAMCO installations. We have seen a lack of comprehensive policy. We need a functional GCCC and US leadership.

The day after Robert O’Brien called for a resolution of the Qatari issue, the UAE ambassador in Washington said this was not a priority. How can the incoming Biden administration reassure us on the engagement issue? In 2015 Obama started an annual US-GCCC summit, but this has not been held since Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017. If there is to be a JCPOA 2.0, there should be GCCC involvement.  Why has the US not classified the Houtis as a terrorist organization? The normalization of relations with Israel is splitting the GCCC. Normalization absent resolution of the Palestinian problem is capitulation to the Netanyahu. Biden will be too distracted with domestic issues (COVID, the economy, and the legitimacy of his own election) to be able to address this issue. 

Ambassador (Ret.) Susan L. Ziadeh, Georgetown University Adjunct Professor; former United States Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Peninsula Affairs; former United States Ambassador to Qatar.

We have 30-35,000 troops deployed in the region and that shall remain under the Biden administration. First and foremost there is the issue of Iran. We know that relationships with our allies have been shaken by the withdrawal from the JCPOA. We know the Iranian presidential elections are coming up.  Who will have charge of the JCPOA file? Will there be a unified view within the GCCC on a resurrected JCPOA? Will sunset clauses be on the table?  What WILL be on the table? Reuters has reported rumors of discussions between Saudi Arabia and the Houti movement that the Saudis would accept a cease fire if the Houtis agreed to a buffer zone along the border. Even if that came to pass, what would it mean for the situation within Yemen? Any drawdown or peace negotiation in Yemen would require a unified GCCC position. If the Houtis are designated as a Foreign Terorist Organization, nonprofits would be prevented from distributing humanitarian aid in Houti controlled areas, even when the locals are not supportive of the Houtis. The US relationship with Saudi Arabia will continue under a Biden administration, but the Saudis could be helpful if they would help cool tensions with Qatar. There will be concerns in Congress over UAE possession of F-35 technology and trade relations with certain countries.

Amb. Ziadeh. European alliances will be the first U.S. foreign policy priority.  Scrutiny of China (trade relations, etc.) and Russian expansion (including the ME, but also Europe). After those Yemen, Iran, and military involvement.  I do not think the Palestinian-Israeli issue will be high in the near term, but it will come up eventually.

Dr. Al Shayji. Russia, China, NATO, and when it comes to our region Iran will be at the top of the agenda, then GCCC. I think Trump is trying to box in Biden before he even comes into office, and designating Houtis as terrorists may be a tactic he uses to that end.

Dr. Anthony. Can we not move beyond this tactic of shunning people as if they possess some horrible contagious ideological disease?  You must have a communication line to the people who started or are sustaining the conflict.  The US pushed and pushed Hanoi and the Viet Cong to recognize the South Vietnamese government and they failed.  But once we began to speak with them in Paris, although it took a while, the killing came to an end. Same for the French in Algeria and the demands that the French be exempt from Algerian national government. It goes back to America’s emergence as a national entity. It was only when Britain accepted America’s national ambitions that the fighting stopped. Let us stop treating those whose ideological inclinations we find distasteful, or even dangerous, as lepers.

Dr. Mohamed Al Hassan. The U.S. and other countries including new partners like China and India have a role to play, but ultimately the future of the Gulf states lies in their own hands. Putting political groups on a terrorist list has catastrophic results.

Mr. Lenderking. The designation of the Houtis as terrorists is a raging debate.  If the Houtis would lessen ties with the Iranian regime it would be very helpful in demonstrating that they are a Yemini organization devoted to Yemenis.

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

Crony Capitalism in the Middle East

Saturday, October 24th, 2020

[On October 9, the Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted a panel of experts to launch the book Crony Capitalism in the Middle East: Business and Politics from Liberalization to the Arab Spring, eds. Ishac Diwan, Adeel Malik and Izak Atiyas. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription.]

Adeel Malik (Globe fellow, Economies of Muslim Societies, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; associate professor, Department of International Development, University of Oxford).

Across the Middle East corruption in government and corruption in business is often seen as the same. An earlier book, Networks of Privilege in the Middle East concluded that the era of economic liberalization led to networks of monopolizing cronies connected to the state. We bring specificity and details to this debate. We focus on the post-liberalization era. We determine who are these politically connected firms (PCFs). Some chapters are descriptive and some analyze causality.

In Turkey the connections may not be directly to the government, but to institutions such as the AKP. In Morocco we looked at firms connected to the Royal Family. In Egypt we looked at linkages to MPs. There is a large and growing presence of cronies, but it varies across countries and sectors. Egypt probably has the highest exposure to cronyism affecting 80% of the subsectors and has more than doubled since the late 1990s. We offer a refined understanding of mechanisms including subsidies, finance, privatization, regulatory capture, trade barriers, and land allocation. PCFs are proportionately concentrated in energy sectors. In Morocco, finance is a lynchpin in the broader network of cronyism. In Lebanon, there is political ownership of the banking sector. Privatization contributes to cronyism when ownership goes into the hands of cronies. In Tunisia those firms that went to the Ben Ali family became the most profitable. In Iran nearly half of the 331 “privatized” companies in 1988-1994 went to semi-public organizations (such as the Martyr’s Foundation and the IRG). Trade reform has preferentially benefited connected sectors. In the case of Morocco, EU-induced tariff reductions compensated politically connected sectors most (especially those connected to parliament as the royal family is not heavily invested in manufacturing).  Technical Barriers to Trade are susceptible to political abuse. Contra Abdullah Al-Dardari’s 2012 prediction that World Trade Organization rules would impede the power of rent-seeking networks, we confirm Luigi Zingales’s 2017 observation that the increasing size and complexity of regulation has made “it easier for vested interests to tilt the playing field.” In Tunisia the regulated sectors are the most profitable because they are protected by regulation.

Ishac Diwan (Chairperson, Socio-économie du Monde Arabe, Paris Sciences et Lettres).

Crony capitalism repressed rather than opened markets and entrenched the autocracy. It is especially destructive in that it affects the growth sectors of the economy and divides the informal from the formal sectors of the economy. Crony capitalism provides a disincentive to property rights protection and a misallocation of resources. Competition is limited and lobbying effectively inhibits structural change. In extreme cases market forces are eliminated altogether. In Egypt PCFs took 85% of private sector credit, derived 60% of net profits, and created only 11% of employment, even as they depress employment by unconnected firms. PCFs in Lebanon over-hire, especially just before elections, and their invasions of the market end up with a net destruction of jobs. In Tunisia they lobby for protection and monopolize whole sectors. In GCC markets are restricted to the royal families and produce few jobs for youth. In Syria and Algeria the private sector is small, but what there is is dominated by cronies. In Iraq there is a kind of competitive cronyism centered on competition for government contracts. In Turkey the experience was initially consistent with growth, but, with the consolidation of AKP power, that growth has now collapsed.

Regime change destroys connections but poses a challenge to the protection of property rights. “Messy democracies” like Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq could improve Rule of Law over time, but the Tunisian experience shows that political competition doesn’t instantly bring about the rule of law, but democratizes corruption. There is a mix of populism and state capitalism in KSA, Egypt, Algeria, and now in Turkey. In Jordan and Morocco there is a challenge to monarchical management, but there is a need for improved education and innovation.  It is an open question as to whether the AKP experience of “virtuous enterprises” can be reproduced elsewhere.

Karen Young (Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute).

She prefers the phrase “a stalled statist project” to “crony capitalism.” All capitalisms depends on networks, which is actually a strength of the capitalist system. The degree of internationalization and focus on domestic non-tradables provides productive ground.  Exclusive vs. inclusive is an important issue. Who controls what resources is different in the Gulf than outside.  Has the success of economic human and social development indicators been preferential to certain groups reflective of class or tribe? There are lots of ways of exerting political influence that are not necessarily counter to markets or public good. I think the real issue is about governance and civil society. The ability to form interest groups is restricted or absent throughout the Middle East. Diamond trade is highly networked and poised to boom. Government-related entities are getting a vastly disproportionate share of credit. SMEs receive a tiny portion of bank lending. Governments actively intervene to shore up the prices of related firms. How do we explain the Gulf states allowing connected firms to fail?  Government connected firms are not good employers. I love the cross-regional comparisons. In Latin America race played a role in concentration of ownership.  How does that compare to the Middle East? Statist development continues to overpromise and overspend but fails to deliver growth or a new generation of human resources.

Jean-François Seznec, moderator (Non-resident scholar, MEI).

I notice you did not cover the causality of cronyism.  Is there anything specific to the Arab world? It is due to a strong state, but is it due to authoritarianism or monarchy, or something else? If you are going to focus on the Gulf you must address those firms unconnected with the royal family that are successful because they are not connected to the royal family.

Adeel Malik.  Many of these counties have family based networks. In many cases firms need protection from the state. The sheer scale of exclusion (high political barriers to entry, usually blunt instruments) allow firms to grow to a certain level beyond which they need to [connect to the political establishment]. In the very oil rich countries there is less need to generate additional sources of rent, since the oil provides sufficient rents.

Ishac Diwan. Forms are political entities themselves. The question is how politics and economics influence one another. How can Sisi provide jobs for the youth without letting go of the private sector?  He will try to let the army do the job while cultivating some small companies without political power. He will make space for SMEs to revitalize the market. It is only a fortunate conjunction of economics and political success that allows an AKP to arise to address challenges of the future.

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

Explaining the Paradox in the New Muslim Poll

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Dalia Mogahedand and Azka Mahmood have released ISPU’s new annual poll on national conversations with the voices of everyday Americans (“American Muslim Poll 2019: Predicting and Preventing Islamophobia“). Their poll of Muslim attitudes includes a remarkable paradox: of all religious groups surveyed Muslims were least likely to approve of President Trump’s governance and most likely to report religious, gender, and sectarian discrimination, and yet they were the most likely to express optimism with the direction of the country.

I believe this paradox can be explained by the increasing sentiment among non-Muslim groups that Muslims are unfairly affected by policies such as the “Muslim ban.” In other words, the mere fact that non-Muslim groups are troubled by the very trends about which Muslims are concerned is good news for Muslims as regards the “trajectory” of America’s future. That Muslims are less alone in their indignation is cause for hope.

The rise in positive sentiment is the first since the studies began in 2016, but is still below 2016-2017 levels. Also the “positive sentiment about the country’s direction within the Muslim community is not uniform. Muslims are twice as likely to be satisfied than Black Muslims (20%). However, Black Americans who are Muslim report satisfaction at much higher levels than their non-Muslim counterparts in our sample (3%), as do white Americans in the general public (43% vs. 20%).”

It is particularly interesting in that “roughly 10% of all faith groups say they personally know someone who experienced unwanted sexual advancement [sic] from a faith leader in their community” but Muslims were most like to report the transgression to law enforcement.  This flies in the face of the submissive Muslim woman stereotype (see below), but is consistent with an understanding that Islamic morals tolerate neither sexual impropriety nor physical aggression. Conservative and progressive Muslims may disagree about the roles of women in Muslim society, but neither has grounds to tolerate, let alone to defend, sexual aggression against women.

“The notion that Muslim women have been socialized into expecting and accepting ‘second-class status’ crumbles under the weight of evidence that shows that they decry gender discrimination inside and outside their community. Moreover, the data show that Muslim women are four times more likely to have favorable opinions as unfavorable opinions (47% vs. 11%) of those who work for women’s empowerment.”

One thing that has not changed in the recent survey is that those who know a Muslim are more likely to be favorably disposed toward Muslims than those who do not.  Jews are among the most likely to know and be favorably disposed towards Muslims and Evangelical Christians most likely to not know them and fear them.

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

Hagia Sophia, Just War, the Inviolability of Awqaf, and the Meaning of “Prayer”

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

I received many gratifying letters of appreciation for my blog “Sincere Advice for Erdoğan on Hagia Sophia” published in July, in which I urged Mr. Erdogan to let Christians as well as Muslims pray in the Ayasofya now that it was to be reopened for prayer.  Only one person protested my suggestion. On the Sociology of Islam listserv, our dear brother Dr. Yusuf Ziya Kavakci (Emeritus Professor, Advocate, Ankara Bar Association), while expressing satisfaction with my summary of the controversy, expressed deep disappointment in my proposal, declaring it to be “unexpectedly  inconsistent” with my summary and “a reflection of a very non legal liberal way of thinking.”

To my attempt to explain why my policy proposal is not in conflict with Islamic law, Prof. Yusuf replied that the conquered church had become personal property of Fatih Sultan Mehmed who then established a waqf with specific conditions. He objected to the subjecting this analysis to any just war considerations “that that may bring us to discuss the legitimacy of whole past of the world today including USA, Canada, whole South America and Europe etc.” expressing his opinion that the Ottoman contribution to the structure “is over 70/80%” and “totally owes its existence to Ottomans care and very carefully observed maintenance, for which concerned Christians must be thankful to Ottomans.” Further, he argued that there is an ambiguity in the term “prayer,” and that while “Christians and any other faiths’ followers can pray in terms of duas [supplications] and zikr [remembrance of God]” that the only formal prayer permissible in a mosque is formal Muslim prayer [salah]. He also claimed that various Christian denominations will not allow other denominations to hold formal prayers in their “consecrated halls,” let alone allow Muslims to pray salah there.

Here is my response:

I most definitely do wish to incorporate just war theory into this discussion. Just war theory is integral to Islamic law and I shall not betray the law by ignoring it.  As to the practical consequences of just war theory, that it raises questions about the legitimacy of all kinds of things including the colonization of America, well, “Let the justice be done though the heavens fall.” Having said that, I do not expect the heavens to fall since the passage of generations since the time of the theft of property does indeed affect the degree of the injustice on living generations since the maintenance of property does affect its ownership.

But to your main point: That the charter of a waqf is inviolable. Whether the property donated to the waqf was the legitimate property of the donor is a fair question of justice and must not be ignored. If the donor did not have just title to the property, then the owner cannot donate it. However, let us set that aside for the moment and for the sake of argument stipulate that Hagia Sophia was fair booty of war after the Muslims successfully defended themselves from aggression by the Byzantines, forced to the use of arms because the Byzantines would not surrender or negotiate terms of a treaty.  Let us further stipulate that the church and state in Byzantium were so intertwined that there is no merit in distinguishing state property from church property and that therefore the building did indeed become state property administered by the Sultan on behalf of the ummah. Even so, as I and others have argued that does not mean that they building cannot be shared with Christians, as was done in Cordova, Damascus, and elsewhere.

Although it is not necessary for my argument above,  I do wish to challenge the premise that the charter of a waqf cannot be changed no matter what.  The jurists do admit of cases when the waqf charter may be terminated: such as when the goods of the waqf have been altered or destroyed, or if it is used to perform acts against Islamic law, or if it comes to violate the notion of waqf.  I would argue (against the prevailing thought) that, by the same token, when the charter of a waqf becomes counter-productive or harmful, then means for amendment of the charter must be allowed. It is important to understand that at the time that the colonial powers occupied the Muslim world, many of the awqaf had become obsolete and the fuquha’s insistence that amendment of their charters was haram gave the colonists the excuse to destroy the awqaf and in some cases to dismantle the waqf system itself. To claim that a waqf charter cannot be amended when its purpose is obsolete is a legal absurdity that leaves the ummah vulnerable. It is as absurd as a system that insists on the production of buggy whips long after automobiles have rendered them obsolete. Rather than double down on this claim, the fuquha should be divining Islamically permissible means for waqf charter amendment, and any new waqf should include procedures for amendment in the charter itself. (I have set up such a waqf that provides income for the Minaret of Freedom Institute and the Islamic-American Zakat Foundation.  The charter specifies what should happen in the event that either of these institutions should become extinct.)

Let me address your objection that the word “prayer” is ambiguous and that du`a must be distinguished from salat or mass which must be distinguished from one another. Mass is as essential to formal prayer for the Orthodox Catholics as salah is to Muslims, and I cannot conceive that the Christians of Damascus would consider that the space allocated to them in the Grand Mosque is being used for prayer were it confined to supplication and exclude the mass any more than the Muslims who pray jum`a at a synagogue in northern Virginia would consider themselves to have prayed jum`a if they were restricted to du`a.

That the Christian denominations dispute among themselves is irrelevant to the question. The Christians disputed among themselves over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to the point that some sought to lock others out.  They resolved the problem by entrusting the keys to a Muslim family that to this day opens and closes the church without discrimination among them. I again echo Omar Mukhtar: “They are not our teachers.”

May Allah guide us all closer to the truth,

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

Sincere Advice for Erdoğan on Hagia Sophia

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The Vatican message marking the advent of Ramadan this year, addressing “Christians and Muslims: Protecting Together the Places of Worship,” says, “For both Christians and Muslims, churches and mosques are spaces reserved for prayer, personal and communitarian alike. They are constructed and furnished in a way that favors silence, reflection and meditation. They are spaces where one can go deep in himself/herself, so favoring for God-experience in silence. A place of worship of any religion therefore is ‘a house of prayer’.”

This is an important perspective to bear in mind as a controversy erupts over the declaration of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he intends to open the Hagia Sophia Museum to Muslim prayers in the wake of the Turkish high court decision that takes away its status as a museum, raising concerns over its status as a UNESCO world heritage site. Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Church that became a mosque after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople and then a museum under Kemal Ataturk. The fact that the Muslims had not destroyed the Christian murals allowed their restoration.

Erdoğan’s decision has sparked a lively debate on the “Sociology of Islam” listserv. Some have defended this move on the grounds that Turkey is a sovereign state and as such has the right to do whatever it pleases with state property. Others, like Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America have objected that Islamic law itself requires respect for the places of worship of other religions, especially of the “People of the Book” citing Umar-al-Khattab’s scrupulous defense of the rights of Christians to the their churches in Jerusalem.

The mere fact that secular international law allows us to convert a museum into a mosque doesn’t mean we should do it. I am not the only one whom this controversy reminds of the incident in the Libyan teacher-turned freedom fighter Umar Mukhtar’s fight against the Italian fascists. When some of his troops wanted to kill the prisoners of war they had captured, Umar insisted there would be no killing of prisoners. When his men protested that Mussolini’s troops would surely have killed them had the battle gone the other way, Umar firmly responded, “They are not our teachers.” (And, no, I am not comparing exclusion of Christian worshipers from a mosque to murder of prisoners. I am saying that in freedom of religion no less than in the rules of war, the worshipers of the nation state are not our teachers.)

Hagia Sophia has been a church, a mosque, and a museum in its long history. We do not wish to see Turkey follow in the steps of Spain where at the Great Mosque at Cordoba, which has been originally been a church, one now sees a sign warning “Roman Catholic prayers only.” Rather than dwell on fine legal points (whether from secular law of the nation state or Muslim fiqh), let us seek a resolution facilitated by good will, magnanimity, and a common devotion to the Lord God Almighty.

Some have defended Erdoğan’s actions on the grounds that Hagia Sophia was the subject of a waqf established by Muhammad Fatih Sultan and that therefore Ataturk’s conversion of the site into a museum is a violation of the terms of the religious endowment. That Ataturk violated the terms of the waqf is beyond doubt, but the implication that restoring the right of Muslims to pray in this mosque prevents respectful tourists from visiting or Christians from praying within is flatly wrong and misrepresents Islam to the world.

President Erdoğan himself can turn this public relations disaster into a teaching moment about Islam. All he need do is unambiguously declare that his intention is to allow both Muslims and Christians to be allowed to pray in the museum (as both Muslims and Christians prayed in the Church of St. Vincent in Spain under Muslim rule and Muslims and Christians do to this day at the Great Mosque in Damascus). This would make it functionally both a church and a mosque even as it also remains a museum open to secular tourists that still want to admire a beautiful architectural achievement that is also a testimony to the faith of adherents of two great religions. It is surely a building such as those mentioned in the Qur’an of which Allah (swt) says, “Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure.” Let His name be commemorated there in abundant measure once again.

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

N.B: While I have attempted to reflect some of the points raised in the discussion of this issue on the Sociology of Islam listserv, I speak only for myself and am responsible for any shortcomings herein.

Black Liberty Matters

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

With the murder of George Floyd, the demand for respect for the lives of black Americans has exploded into the streets. Yet, after two decades of imprisonment of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (f/k/a H. Rap Brown), the demand for the respect of the LIBERTY of black Americans remains shockingly mute. Is it that Americans value liberty less than life (Patrick Henry is turning over in his grave) or is it that a century and a half after passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery Americans are still loath to admit that liberty, no less than life, is right for black people as well as whites?

On July 1, 2020, the Islamic Circle of North America live-streamed a conversation between Imam Khalid Griggs and Imam Jamil’s son Kairi Al-Amin, Esq. on the story of Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s struggle and updating his situation. Kairi explained that his father has seen more clearly than most the necessity of a bridge between the youth and the elders of a community. Imam Khalid noted that Imam Jamil is an excellent example of the hadith that the Prophet (pbuh) said that the best before Islam will be the best in Islam once they understand the din. Jamil “was who he was before Islam, and just became a better version after he embraced Islam.”

Imam Khalid asked Kairi in his professional opinion as a lawyer if there is any precedent for someone having a lifetime gag order imposed after his conviction so he can never discuss the falsehood of his conviction. Kairi responded that there is no official gag order, but, rather, that any request for an interview has been routinely denied for twenty years. Even Mumia Abu-Jamal has a radio show. But knowing “the power of [Imam Jamil]’s words to move people” (when “they put the leader of the Aryan Nation in a cell next to him he took shahadah“) so after that they used solitary confinement and federal custody to prevent his words from reaching a public kept in darkness. It’s never been about the murder (of which a video of the actual murderer confessing now has definitively shown Imam Jamil to be innocent), Kairi says, but “about his influence.” If he has the power to convince the leader of the Aryan Nation to embrace Islam, what impact might his words have on a sleeping nation that had to wait for a video of a man being strangulated before they realized that black lives matter?

In 2002 Imam Jamil was convicted of killing a police officer two years earlier. Deemed too high profile to be held by state authorities, he was transferred to a federal “supermax” detention in 2007. In 2014 he was transferred to a federal medical center due to his deteriorating health under incarceration, and since 2018 he has been incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in Arizona. He should be released completely, not on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds of his innocence.

Kairi reviewed all the evidence that demonstrates his father’s innocence. The strongest piece of evidence is that even before the trial ended another man confessed to the crime and continues to profess his guilt to this day. There are now 48,000 signatures on a petition for his release or for at least a new trial in which evidence in his defense would be admitted. You can contact the Fulton County district attorney’s office directly.

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

Getting Real About Israeli Annexation Plans

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

The diversity of reactions to Netanyahu’s planned formal annexation all West Bank settlements have been fascinating. While disinterested parties, such as the EU, have generally been opposed to the proposal, not all Zionists favor it and not all Palestinians think it means a whole lot.

Christian Zionists love it for the same reasons some pragmatic Zionists hate it: because it will bring closer a horrible war that the Christian fundamentalists think is the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy of an Armageddon in which non-converting Jews are killed. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky are concerned that the Netanyahu’s rashness will alienate the Arab states undoing “recent seismic shift that has taken place in Arab attitudes about Israel. Many of the region’s leaders now believe that, if the United States retreats from the Mideast, Israel is not only a necessary bulwark against the threats Arab states face but also a potentially useful ally. Unfortunately, the willingness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push annexation for his near-term political benefit could damage the emerging alignment between Israel and the Arab states. Arab leaders certainly won’t want to look as though they are even indirectly helping Israel take what they consider to be Palestinian territory.”

Naturally, anti-Zionist Jews such as Jewish Voice for Peace are alarmed that Israel’s de facto annexation is now to be practiced as in-your-face de jure Jewish supremacy. Not only are signs being raised that certain areas are off limits to Palestinians, but signs signifying areas under the Palestinian authority are coming down.

Also skeptical are pro-peace Zionists like J-Street (which bills itself as “the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans”). For them, annexation “would fundamentally betray the vision and democratic principles of Israel’s founders, severely imperil the US-Israel relationship and make it nearly impossible to maintain broad support for Israel in the US.”

The pragmatists and the peace-lovers are joined by even such a self-described “ardent Zionist” as Robert Satloff, for whom annexation “abandons a relatively secure and surprisingly durable status quo for no real reason. If the U.S. and Israeli governments can’t convince even me of the logic here, there is no hope they will convince others that annexation is anything but a domestic political maneuver fueled by the growing electoral power of Israel’s ideologically motivated settlement movement, devoid of strategic rationale.”

The Palestinians too are divided in the same ways. For some it crosses a red line and for others it is just Israel’s admission to the world that yes, all the accusations of brutality, apartheid, and colonization are true. For the latter group annexation is a step in the right direction that brings the insidious infection into the sunlight where international opinion shall finally have an opportunity to resolve to treat it.

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

U.S. Policy on Human Rights in the Middle East

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

[On November 21, 2019, the National Interest Foundation held program on “U.S. Policy on Human Rights in the Middle East.” These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription.]

Opening Remarks by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D – Virginia), House Committee on Foreign Affairs

No American, no resident of America should feel threatened. Despite its contradictions, America was meant to be a place where one must feel free. Human rights abuses in Syria and Egypt are routine. We still don’t have justice for his constituent Jamal Kashoggi, whose criticisms of the Saudi government were moderate. The Saudis have lied at every step since his murder. The fifteen assassins were flown in on planes owned by the crown prince, and Saudi denials ring hollow.

Panel I: “Human Rights in the Middle East” Moderator: Kelley Beaucar Vlahos (The American Conservative)

Areej Al Sadhan (Human Rights Activist) is a Saudi/American dual citizen whose brother, a humanitarian aide worker for Red Crescent, had been held for twenty months by the secret police, brutally tortured, and denied any contact with his family for social media postings on human rights issues.

Matthew Hedges (Durham University, UK) spoke as a victim of a false charge and of forced medication at the hands of the UAE. Although the UAE was founded by Shaikh Zaid bin Sultan Al Nahyan in alignment with the West, his successors have turned authoritarian. They originally charged him with distributing secret information, but on demonstration that the information was open, they changed the charge to distributing sensitive information. His case is not unique: He met a man who had been detained without charge for two years. He has now been under detention for ten years and does not expect ever to be released. He believes that the persecutors now have new tools and are emboldened by the complete absence of an international reaction. He alleges that Abu Dhabi uses its seat on the NYU board to suppress criticism. Although the charges against him have not been made clear, the evidence was completely on his masters thesis and why it is part of an MI-6 report. People he had met had been picked up by various securities services and his family had to leave the area.

Amel Ahmed (Nala Films for HBO) was in Sana working as a journalist and she saw Yemenis take to the streets. America took no action regarding Ali Abdullāh Salih and the Saudis installed Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who attempted to split Yemen into six disproportionate regions for the benefit of the Saudis. When the Houtis rebelled the Saudis declared Yemen a battleground in the fight against Shia regional influence. Twenty million of the twenty nine million residents are now suffering what the UN calls the worlds worst humanitarian crisis. Terrorist groups have been given American weapons and victims taken to black sites. Many do not realize that Saudis participated in the Arab Spring. One imam who urged demonstrators to respond to Saudi violence only with their voices has been executed. You cannot obtain justice for Kashoggi without demanding justice for the others who have been detained or driven underground for demanding the change that President Obama advocated.

Abdullah Alaoudh (Georgetown University) says that the same individuals who murdered Kashoggi are the ones waging war in Yemen, persecuting critics, and who are behind his fathers arrest, mistreatment, and secret trial, seeking a death sentence on bogus charges including “seeking to establish a constitutional monarchy” and “possession of banned books.” There is no due process. They expected a verdict on his father later that month. He believes the people who extra-judicially killed Kashoggi are capable of anything, including judicially killing his father.

Panel II: “U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights” Moderator: Bruce Fein (Fein & DelValle PLLC) asks, “Do we have the credibility to put human rights above crass national interests?”

Former Congressman Nick Rahall (D–WV) said that in his time in Congress he saw human rights become more and more of an issue. The U.S. was good about speaking up for human rights, except for the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We know the Gazans live in sewage conditions and the human rights of Palestinians are unrecognized. There is more debate about US policy in the Israeli Knesset than in the US Congress. He doesn’t say that the US could be a panacea, only that we have no right to claim any moral superiority. In regard to Saudi Arabia and “moderate” Arab allies, we let them get away with anything. We overlook a lot in the Saudi rivalry with Iran because we want them to ally with Israel.

Doug Bandow (Cato Institute) says human rights is a stepchild of US foreign policy even under the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances. In Egypt, thousands are yet detained under conditions far worse than they were under Mubarak. In Turkey, tens of thousands have lost jobs and/or are in detention. In Israel/Palestine, the State Department no longer views the settlements as illegal. We seem to sanction our adversaries over everything except human rights. The more insecure you make a country, the less likely they are to take risks involved in improving human rights. Of tools, the US has the bully pulpit, and the President should be able to employ high sanctimony, despite the role we have played in those problems. We have aid, military security guarantees, arms sales, and sanctions. Bandow would argue the US should disentangle itself and first do no harm. We should recognize that these countries will continue to trade with us. They will sell oil irrespective of our position on human rights. The mere statement of interest in the subject, especially by US civil society, is essential.

Mohamed Soltan (The Freedom Initiative) says that two months after he got out of prison, the US wanted a photo op to show it could engage with the other side. He met with Sec. Kerry and was baffled not only that he didn’t see the human side of things, but that recruitment in prisons leads to radicalization. Although Soltan’s presence at the program is living testimony to the Obama administration policy, the region is a hot mess from policy developed under a national security lens. On his way to a meeting with the Trump administration, he got a message about a woman from Lancaster, PA, arrested in Egypt and separated from her children because of a tweet. Understanding our leverage requires understanding how much these regimes depend on us for their legitimacy. He believes the Arab Spring is alive and will come back depending only on the US government being true to its values. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in sectarian violence that was the consequence of our intervention. It doesn’t matter that it was not intended. Much of what we think are legitimate tasks for the world’s policeman has horrible consequences.

Sarah Leah Whitson (Human Rights Watch) encourages reflection on the absence of accountability in US foreign policy. It must grapple with the violation of human right for which we are responsible. The grave crimes committed by American military and intelligence personnel in Iraq have not been reckoned with. The US is currently responsible for the violations of human rights and international law, for example, in Yemen. It is a party to the conflict. She is happy Pompeo ended refueling support, but intelligence support continues, which has been so dumb as to result in bombing of schools, hospitals, and funeral homes. The US continues to provide support and cover for the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the murder of demonstrators at the Gaza border. All who claim to be foreign policy realists abandon their realism when it comes to Israel. Their challenge is to justify assistance to an apartheid state. Put aside the myth of nonintervention in Syria; Egypt after overthrowing Egypt’s only fairly elected government uses its weapons against its own people in Sinai as well as in its interior. She does not look to the US to fix human rights problems. Pompeo weeping with Iranian demonstrators while demonstrators in Gaza are cut down just doesn’t cut it. She wants the US to realize that while it can’t fix everything, it must stop ruining so much.

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

A Question on Racism

Monday, March 30th, 2020

[A reader made the following inquiry.]

Q. Please share with me Qur’an and Hadith verses and authoritative Islamic Commentary on Race/Racism, etc. (via .pdf or otherwise) demarcative of the limit beyond which The Deity requires absolutely no thought or action greater than mere disagreement with the clearest of wrongdoing in one’s own heart.

A. From the Qur’an:

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know.” (30:22)

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)

From the hadith:

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer your deeds. So beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.” Farewell Pilgrimage Sermon

“Whosoever of you sees wrongdoing, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so [i.e., lacks the power], then [let criticize it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then he should detest it in his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

Finally, I commend this narrative:

The Prophet (saws) used to talk to his companions, joke with them, and listen to their needs. He would correct any errors he saw them doing, especially when they were racial mistakes. Abu Hurairah said:
“Two people swore at each other once, and one of them insulted the other by ridiculing his mother. This reached the Prophet (saws), and he called the man and said: ‘Did you scoff at his mother?’ and he kept repeating it. The man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (swt), ask Allah (swt) to forgive me.’ He said to him: ‘Raise your head and look about, you are not better than any individual regardless whether he is of a red or black skin color. No one is better than the other except through piety.’” (Ibn Rahawaih)

The Prophet (saws) would not stand for another to make fun of anyone else in his presence. Once, while his Companions got together in a gathering and the Prophet s had yet to come, Khalid B. Al-Walid, Abdurrahmann B. Auf, Bilal B. Abi Rabah, and Abu Dharr were among those in attendance. The only dark skinned companion present was Bilal the Abyssinian. Abu Dharr began speaking, and Bilal corrected him. Abu Dharr exclaimed out of anger, “Even you, O son of a black woman, try to correct me?”

Bilal got up, visibly upset at what was said, and said: “By Allah (swt), I will report you to the Prophet.” He went to him and informed him of what was said and the Prophet (saws) became very angry.

Abu Dharr rushed to meet the Prophet (saws) and said “Peace be upon you, O Prophet of Allah (swt).” He continued, “I am not sure if he responded to my greeting due to his extreme anger.” Then he said: “O Abu Dharr! Have you ridiculed him on account of his mother? Indeed you are a man in whom there remain traits of the pre-Islamic era!” Abu Dharr wept and said: “O Messenger of Allah (swt), ask Allah  (swt) to forgive me.” He left the Masjid weeping and when he saw Bilal, he put his head on the ground and said to Bilal, “O Bilal, I will not move from my position till you put your foot on my head. You are the honorable and I am the disgraced.” Bilal wept, and kissed the cheek of Abu Dharr and said: “A face that has prostrated to Allah  (swt) is not to be stepped on—rather, it is to be kissed.” (Bukhari)

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