Libertarian Islam

Sculpture of the Prophet Muhammad at the United States Supreme Court.

A commonly used epithet to describe Islam is ‘The Religion of Peace,’ but this is inaccurate and confusing. The phrase became more commonly used after 9/11 by politicians. The Quran never describes the faith in these terms. It is more accurate to describe Islam as a religion of non-aggression and justice. The Non-aggression principle (NAP) is considered to be a defining principle of libertarianism. Many libertarians today like to bend, or flat out break this principle, however, a Muslim can be a Rothbardian libertarian, like Ron Paul, who manages to encompass economic and sociological theories while using the NAP as an axiom.

Libertarians who want to learn more about the NAP are blessed to have the many resources such as the Libertarian Institute, the Scott Horton Show and the Ron Paul Liberty Report. The other day I found some time to listen to one episode of the latter. Afterward, the live chat feature remains open, where many libertarians sing praises for Dr. Paul. To my surprise, in the live chat, there were many libertarians or those who call themselves libertarian, who rejected the NAP!

If libertarians are wavering on the NAP, then how can a Muslim, who is supposedly in an inherently aggressive religion, adopt this principle? Again, there are many resources available to libertarians who want to better understand how Muslims can adopt libertarian ideals. Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad is a scholar and libertarian activist who ran for US Senate as the Libertarian Party candidate. He is currently the President of the Minaret Freedom Institute, a libertarian Muslim think tank. I urge those who want to know more about Islam and libertarianism to read his publications.

Furthermore, the roots of Muslim libertarianism are historically much deeper. Dr. Denise Spellberg, an associate professor in the Department of History, at the University of Texas-Austin has a fascinating interview online about her book on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. She explains that Jefferson saw a place for Muslims in his free society through the writings of John Locke:

“Neither pagan nor Mahometan,” meaning Muslim, “nor Jew ought to be excluded from the rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.”

It may also be a surprise to some readers that Muslims have a rich tradition of secularism. According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the father of secularism is the influential Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes. In his work The Decisive Treatise he provided the justification for the separation of state and religion. Dr. Gary Adler Jr., an associate professor at Penn State University, summarized Ibn Rushd’s secularism in his book on Secularism, Catholicism and the Future of Public life:

“In other words, secularism can be seen as an instrument of the Divine, ensuring that the righteous Muslim would be wise in matters affecting them on earth in the same way as the Quran ensures his correct path with respect to matters eternal.” (Secularism, Catholicism and the Future of Public life Adler; p.86).

The Prophet Muhammad himself can be an example of the NAP in practice. Imam Tahir ul-Qadri, the scholar who controversially issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing, spoke to the United States Institute of Peace about the life of the Prophet. According to Qadri, the Prophet of Islam had a military career for thirteen years, and he only fought back any aggression imposed on him by the enemy. The scholar summarized five verses in the Holy Quran, Islam’s holy book, which mentions ‘self-defense,’ was revealed to the Prophet in the city of Mecca. He believes the word ‘Jihad’ to have many meanings but in a military context as a ‘defensive war’. Jihad, he maintained, is not an aggression, rather it represents self-protection according to the Quran. Ron Paul, a champion of the NAP and libertarianism, echoes this idea of defensive wars, by consistently clarifying his position of non-interventionism, not isolationism.

If you have read this far you may assume that I am a typical Muslim apologist. My intention is not to be an apologist, but to offer you a line of reasoning which allows Muslims to fully adopt the NAP. That said, as a believer in the NAP, I fully condemn all forms of terrorism including that from radical Muslims. The Islamic State is led by Sunni Muslims who follow a radical interpretation of Sunnism in order to feed their aspirations. These radical interpretations are rooted in The Ridda Wars conducted after the death of Prophet Muhammad and in the writings of Sunni thinkers Ibn Taymiyah and Abdul Wahab.

The Ridda Wars, or Apostasy Wars, were a bloody and influential innovation in the name of Islam, especially from a libertarian perspective. Many libertarians believe in a voluntary tax system, whereby the citizenry can hold the state accountable. Well, in 7th century Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad held a voluntary tax system, and never fought a war for taxes. This took a drastic change after his death when the Islamic empire began to spread by the sword. The beginning of this evil expansion is exemplified in the Ridda Wars, where the first caliph implemented the first statutory taxes. The caliph mandated that anyone who did not recognize his leadership, and held back taxes in opposition to this authority, was an apostate, and an enemy of the state. This began the killings for Apostasy, and taxes, which were never conducted under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (Sunan an-Nasa’i volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 3978, Eng. Ed., Sahih Darussalam).

Ibn Taymiyah and Abdul Wahab aimed to give an academic relevance to this form of terrorism against apostates. Richard Bonney was a History Professor at the University of Leicester, and he wrote the book titled Jihad: Quran to Bin Laden. In his book, he describes Ibn Taymiyah and Abdul Wahab as the inspiration for Osama bin Laden:

“Ibn Taymiyah thus should be seen as a revivalist of the doctrine of jihad…His fatwa regarding the Mongols established a precedent: in spite of their claim to be Muslims, their failure to implement shariah rendered the Mongols apostates and hence the lawful object of jihad. Muslim citizens thus had the right, indeed duty, to revolt against them, to wage jihad. For Osama bin Laden, Ibn Taymiyah, along with Shaykh Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, is one of the great authorities to be cited to justify the kind of indiscriminate resort to violence which he terms jihad (Jihad: Quran to Bin Laden Bonney; p.121-2).

Libertarian Islam is an oxymoron under the violent interpretations of Sunnism, but all major religions have a history of violent and peaceful interpretations. This gives an added importance to Muslims, and fellow libertarians, to use the NAP as a foundational principle. A principle of non-aggression can have the power to unite people. Libertarianism in its purest form has a profound attraction to people of all backgrounds, and I am proud to call myself an American libertarian Muslim.

Like many Americans, I am a small business owner, a husband, and a father of two young girls. Yes, I do sport a full beard and my wife wears a headscarf. Yet we still attended the Republican caucuses and proudly wrote in Ron Paul as our vote for president in 2012, not only due to Dr. Paul’s unwavering NAP-based philosophy but due to our belief in wholly American ideals. Freedom of religion is an important part of our society, and if we want American libertarianism to triumph then we should trust our ideals.

Scott Horton, a founder of the Libertarian Institute, summarized it best on his podcast. He described the difficulties we will face if we reject Muslims based on their faith, and do not give them a place in our society, as envisioned by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson:

“The Islamic state has been saying ‘see fellow Muslims, the Westerners, the Christians, and the Jews, they hate us and they will always hate us. We have no place in the west!’ In other words, pushing for a clash of civilizations that they need because War is the health of the (Islamic) state… Instead of (the Trump administration) arguing that, oh yeah, we believe in the enlightenment and freedom of religion… Muslims absolutely have a place in our society, plenty of places in our society… instead this (immigration) policy plays into the hands of those on the other side.”