The CATO Institute’s Libertarian for Sharia

Family Security Matters

“Islamic teachings are consistent w many libertarian principles, such as tolerance, property rights & individualism,” the CATO Institute’s website tweeted recently. To support this claim that was immediately derided by Pamela Geller (“Let the laughter begin“) and others, the tweet linked to a website entry by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, a Muslim “libertarian” whose radicalism has long remained unexamined.

Ahmad, a Palestinian-American Harvard graduate with an astrophysics doctorate, runs the Washington, DC-area think tank Minaret of Freedom (MFI), an organization with extensive Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliations. By contrast, his entry reiterated Islamic proclamations of liberty that he has previously expressed at the other right-leaning venues like the Catholic Acton Institute. “Islam established a form of pluralism that, although not secular, was more extensive than anything before the American era.” Thus “religious minorities were allowed to follow their own religious laws in all matters internal to their own communities.”

To justify such benign understandings of Islamic subjugation of non-Muslim dhimmi minorities that would astonish, for example, many Middle Eastern Christians, Ahmad has often resorted to hackneyed Islamic apologetics. He has cited the ubiquitous superficial understanding of Quran 2:256 as a “flat and sweeping statement” against religious repression; equally shallow is his reference to Quran 5:32 as protecting individual human life. This “senior lecturer in the Honors program at the University of Maryland” and “adjunct lecturer for the Joint Special Operations University” has also made the common false argument that for dhimmis the jizya “poll tax is in lieu of military service.”

Ahmad’s various writings only offer more such halcyon praise for Islamic rule. He lauds the oft-exaggerated Medina Charter from Islam’s seventh-century origins in the Arabian Peninsula. Meanwhile, the scandalous Islamic slavery apologetics of Georgetown University Professor Jonathan Brown flatly contradicts Ahmad’s claim that Islam’s prophet Muhammad “never owned slaves.”

Ahmad’s odes to tolerance under Islamic sharia law climax in the absurd claim that Islam “introduced the concept of formal equality before the law to the world” and the “concept of freedom to the world.” He has written and stated without evidence that the often brutal twelfth-century Muslim commander against the Crusades, Saladin, served as inspiration for England’s 1215 Magna Carta and its principle that the sovereign is subject to law. “The nobility that imposed this concept on King John had just returned from the Crusades where they had witnessed that the ruler of the Muslims, Salahuddin, was subject to the same laws as governed his citizens.”

With similar sophistry, Ahmad argues that in the “peaceful religion” of Islam “warfare is governed by strict rules of what today would be considered ‘just war theory'” and that “jihad ‘in the way of God’ is a struggle for a just cause.” Concerning Palestinian conflict with Israel, he baffles with the statement that the “Palestinian resistance is, in fact, mainly a nonviolent resistance.” Yet the fourteenth-century Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun has written of a much different understanding of Islamic warfare in his Muqaddimah, praised by Ahmad at and elsewhere. “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.”

Ibn Khaldun, a historian once cited by President Ronald Reagan in support of Laffer Curve tax-cutting theories, has often received Ahmad’s praise as a medieval Muslim forerunner of free-market thought. He “was much more consistent than Adam Smith on the economics,” Ahmad has stated, but the Muqaddimah takes a much dimmer view of entrepreneurs. Their characteristics such as “cunning, willingness to enter into disputes, cleverness, constant quarreling, and great persistence…are qualities detrimental to and destructive of virtuousness and manliness.”

Ahmad’s professions of tolerance find little favor in Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah. “All the pre-Islamic sciences concerned with religious groups are to be discarded, and their discussion is forbidden. The religious law has forbidden the study of all revealed scriptures except the Qur’an.” His scientific understanding is equally medieval: the “assumption of physicians that hunger causes death is not correct,” for if the “amount of food one eats is slowly decreased by gradual training, there is no danger of death.”

Cynical responses to the tweet noted the Muqaddimah‘s racism against black Africans, but Ibn Khaldun’s assessment of Arabs is hardly more positive. His review of Islamic history indicated that Arabs “are a savage nation” and have a “nature to plunder whatever other people possess.” Accordingly, “civilization always collapsed in places the Arabs took over and conquered.”

Any such dark observations are lost on Ahmad, who always sees a positive global role for Islam with groups like the MB’s “social organization.” He has promoted the “peaceful critics” of Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy in the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), an Islamist organization that demands an even stricter Saudi application of sharia. Responding to a 2008 article on Iraq’s clearly sectarian Sunni-Shiite Muslim civil war, Ahmad and his MFI coauthor wrote that the article’s “principle premise, that Islam is at the heart of the bloodshed going on in Iraq, is fatally flawed.” Earlier in 2004, Ahmad saw precisely sharia as a solution for Iraq’s sectarianism, arguing that a “rapid exit of American forces…will allow for the development of a legal system sanctioned by Islam, the one common thread among all the significant factions in Iraq.”

Nonetheless, on occasion not even Ahmad can completely ignore sharia’s illiberal elements. Although he appreciates the peaceful nature of democratic power transitions, “democratic means of succession and tenure are not the only ones consistent with Islamic principles.” He also concedes “no doubt that, under Islamic law, certain issues cannot be left to the majority”; the “idea that verses of the Qur’an might be put up to a referendum for repeal or amendment is out of the question.”

Yet for Ahmad the greatest threat to liberty in the Middle East and beyond is not any Islamic doctrine, but Israel, slandered by him as the “single greatest source of instability in the region.” He participated in a 2001 Beirut conference on Jerusalem attended by numerous terrorism-linked individuals such as Abdurahmen Alamoudi from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Ahmad’s address declared that Americans on Israel hear “only what the Zionist-controlled media and politicians have let them know.” Americans therefore “are unaware of Zionism’s…racist foundation, its colonialist nature, and the systematic brutality of its daily dealings with the indigenous people of Palestine.”

Ahmad has flatly declared that “I don’t think you will find a moderate Muslim who will accept the State of Israel” and that “Israel has no more right to claim Jerusalem as its capital than Russia has a right to claim New York City as its capital.” He also demands a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s 1948 independence war, a demographic suicide for Israel’s Jewish state. Without any factual support, he calls this demand something “guaranteed by International Law, and which no Palestinian government or representative has the right to negotiate away.”

Evoking longstanding anti-Semitic tropes of dual loyalty, Israel’s continuing existence appears to Ahmad as the result of Americans with “foreign objectives.” He thus promotes discredited conspiracy theories that an Israeli airstrike against the U.S.S. Liberty during the 1967 Six-Day War was deliberate and not mistaken; hereby America’s “Zionist lobby has no need to be ashamed of its skill” in a cover-up. Meanwhile, America has undertaken “reckless imperialist adventures conducted at the behest of the neoconservative supporters of Israel.” The associated American support for Israel and Middle East dictatorships merely provides grievances to jihadists like Osama bin Laden, whose agenda supposedly “focuses primarily on political arguments.”

Ahmad sustains his hope for Israel’s destruction precisely from his demonizing of Israel as a parasite upon America:

The question is not if but when and how the Israeli state will fall.  Eventually the drain that unconditional support of Israel puts on the economic well-being of the U.S. will become transparent and unendurable, and the American people will demand a change of policy.

Ahmad’s hatred of Israel and radicalism were on full public display during his moderation of the 2014 “Israel Fails US” event at Virginia’s McLean High School outside of Washington, DC. The audience included future Trump Administration national security adviser Sebastian Gorka, his wife Katherine (currently at the Department of Homeland Security), the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Faith McDonnell, and this author. The event sponsors, Muslim “libertarians” from Muslims4Liberty, were conspicuous through their female members in their rather un-libertarian black, Saudi Arabian-style niqabs that cover a woman’s body except for an eye-slit.

Ahmad’s fellow panelists were Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss from the fringe Jewish ultraorthodox anti-Zionist organization Neturei Karta and the Palestinian-American lawyer Ashraf Nubani, a specialist in defending jihadist terrorists. Weiss’ outrageous remarks blatantly disregarded the Islamic Republic of Iran’s persecution of its once-thriving Jewish community. He noted his past visits to Iran. where he expressed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about being “thankful for how he protects his Jewish community.”

Echoing Ahmad, Nubani stated that “I don’t see the existence of Israel beyond the next 20 or 30 years.” He also ludicrously asserted that Hamas jihadist terrorists have merely a “national liberation movement. Everything that they do indicates that this is an issue over politics,” notwithstanding an “Islamic agenda” and “Islamic terminology.” Likewise, an audience member observation that the Hamas charter “is a statement of genocidal intent” against Jews provoked from Ahmad the laughable response that this is a “blatantly fallacious, disprovable, demonstrably false statement.”

In this context the devout Muslim Nubani did not inspire confidence with his future vision for the Holy Land. “For Muslims we believe that it is an eternal public trust that is predicated on Muslim sovereignty with the rights of both Jews and Christians to live in peace and security in the land and to worship at its holy sites.”

Ahmad’s other radical associations include past MFI speakers such as Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian-American convicted of material support for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and deported to Turkey. Ahmad has decried a “smear campaign” against this man who ran afoul of authorities not because of “some imagined links to terrorism, but because he’s so good at speaking for the Palestinians.” Esam Omeish, a fellow supporter of the “jihad way” against Israel, has also addressed a MFI gala dinner.

Iranian diplomatic representatives funded a table for another MFI gala featuring the notorious anti-Semitic Israel-hater Alison Weir. Close relations are not unusual between Iran and Ahmad, who has worried about an international “double standard” prohibiting Iran’s “peaceful use of nuclear energy.” He has also suggested that “Israeli terrorism” is among the “greater state sponsors of terrorism than Iran.”

A frequent collaborator with Ahmad is the Washington, DC-area Muslim El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan, who has ranted against Israel and praised the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini was a “symbol of faith, love, power and grace” for Salaakhan. He ominously quotes Khomeini as being in a “war of ideology” in order “to desiccate the corrupt roots of zionism [sic], capitalism and communism in the world…It recognizes no borders, no geography.”

One Salaakhan presentation to Ahmad and MFI took a distinctly anti-libertarian stance against the 2005 Danish Muhammad cartoons. Salaakhan judged them as “clearly an act of deliberate provocation” analogous to Holocaust denial, while praising the radical MB cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He, “as usual, has provided the Muslims with sound Islamically-based nisaya, or sincere advice” including calls for an international law prohibiting insult to all religions.

Salaakhan shares with Ahmad a conspiratorial mindset involving individuals like the radical leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart. Salaakhan eulogized her on MFI’s website as among “America’s recent political prisoners” for her conviction on charges of aiding terrorism, an example for Ahmad of how “oppressive laws” afflicted Muslim defenders. He has also wondered whether the radical Muslim convicted cop killer Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) “is just one of many Muslim critics of American policy who have been targeted by neoconservative columnists and commentators.”

Ahmad’s febrile imagination, Islamic doctrinal fantasies, and obsessive hatred for Israel provide a poor example of faith-based freedom. At least in his case, libertarianism and Islam do not fit, as any libertarian who has not baked out his brains with pot should realize. The CATO Institute and any other liberty-loving individuals should best disassociate themselves from this false friend of freedom.

A version of this piece also appeared on

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