August 01, 2003

Islamic Libertarianism?

Tim Cavanaugh interviews Imad A. Ahmad, the president and director of Minaret of Freedom, an institute that tries to promote free market ideas within the context of Islam:

What's the mission of the Minaret of Freedom Institute?

We have a fourfold mission: to counter the common distortions about Islam; to show the origin of certain modern values that came out of Islamic civilization; to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about the value of freedom and free markets; and to try to advance the status of Muslims, whether they live in the oppressive east or the hostile west.

How difficult is it selling a Muslim audience on libertarian and free-market ideas?

It depends on the particular idea. Most free market ideas are easy to persuade Muslim audiences on. They're very much promoted by Islamic teachings and history. An example: The value of trade and traders is easy because the Prophet Muhammed was himself a merchant. On the other hand there is one free market idea that is very hard and almost impossible to sell to Muslims. That's the permissibility of charging interest on a loan.

On other libertarian ideas beyond market ideas, it depends really on what the issue is and to whom you're speaking. For example, most Muslim immigrants to the United States are social conservatives. Most African American converts have had family members who have had such bad experiences with drugs that that's very difficult to talk about.

On the other hand, when you talk about civil liberties, it's not as hard as you might think given the bad civil liberties records of most of the Muslim world. On the contrary, one can point to the practices in those Muslim countries and contrast them with certain Islamic teachings in order to make the point.