Azizah Al-Hibri is a Lebanese-American who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the American University of Beirut in 1966. She subsequently earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, and a J.D. from UPenn Law School. After completing her legal studies, Al-Hibri became a practicing attorney specializing in securities and corporate law. In 1992 she became the first Muslim woman law professor in the United States, teaching for the next 20 years at the University of Richmond.
Al-Hibri was also the founding editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. And in 1993 she founded KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. This organization was heavily funded by the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation, which was established by Al-Hibri’s brother Ibrahim, who earned a fortune from his business transactions with Saudi Arabia. Another major donor to KARAMAH was Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose $10-million-dollar check for post-9/11 disaster relief was famously rejected by then-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani when the prince suggested that U.S. policies in the Middle East had provoked the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center.
Al-Hibri has written and lectured extensively on Islam’s compatibility with women’s rights, human rights, and democracy. Further, she contends that when America’s founding fathers — most notably Thomas Jefferson, who owned a copy of the Qur’an, and James Madison — sought to establish freedom of religion, they likely drew their inspiration from “the Islamic model of 1500 years ago”—specifically, “a Qur’anic revelation which says there shall be no coercion in religion.”
Al-Hibri served on the advisory board of the American Muslim Council during the 1990s, a time when that organization was under the leadership of Abdurahman Alamoudi, who would later be convicted and incarcerated on terror-related charges. In a 1995 congressional hearing, Al-Hibri testified against the Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Act, complaining that the legislation “gives the President the ability to designate, with no effective recourse, certain groups as terrorist.”
In September 1998, when the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal was at its height, Al-Hibri — in an article titled “Statement on the Lewinsky Scandal: An American Perspective” — stated that the case against Clinton was weakened by the fact that four witnesses—Sharia Law’s standard for adultery convictions—were lacking. She noted that under Sharia, Clinton’s accusers, “who violated his privacy and broadcast his behavior,” would themselves have been considered “guilty” and subject to punishment. And she speculated that Clinton, “coming from a religious background,” “may have understood the religious significance of [vaginal] penetration and hence avoided it,” thus restricting his activities to oral sex.
In early 2001, Al-Hibri traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and condemned the Western press for “sensationalizing” Taliban atrocities in order to “attack Islam.” A month after 9/11, she cautioned the U.S. against striking militarily against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets during the holy month of Ramadan, lest America offend “the sensitivities of the Muslim world” and thereby “give bin Laden one more tool to argue to the Muslim world that the United States is disrespectful of their religion.” That same year, Al-Hibri defended Wahhabism, the extreme brand of fundamentalist Islam that is practiced in Saudi Arabia, as part of the “religious diversity” in Islam’s “marketplace of ideas.” And in October 2001, she expressed support for a fundamentalist approach to Islam.
In a 2002 interview with Bill Moyers, Al-Hibri asserted that “there [is] no reason at all to think that Qur’an [sic] gives women a subordinate place in society.”
At a 2004 United Nations seminar on “Islamophobia,” Al-Hibri expressed bewilderment as to why anyone should be critical of Islam, whose holy book gave “dignity to the children of Adam,” and whose doctrines encouraged freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and democratic, consultative government. Indeed, she added, the very concept of the separation of church and state came from Islam, whose early leaders were forbidden to adopt any one school of political thought.
In a 2007 article that appeared in the Arab News, a Saudi publication, Al-Hibri opined that “Islamic fiqh [jurisprudence] is deeper and better than Western codes of law.” In a similar vein, she contends that Saudi Arabia’s criminal-justice system is superior to its “impersonal and powerful” American counterpart. And she has praised Islamic Law for ensuring that capital punishment “is not imposed unless due process has been observed in a fair trial, and extenuating circumstances were fully considered.” By contrast, Al-Hibri has called for a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States, on grounds that its application is rife with “inequities and biases” that “disproportionately” affect “minorities.”
When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in 2008 endorsed the adoption of some aspects of Sharia Law in Britain, Al-Hibri voiced her agreement.
On June 7, 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Al-Hibri to a two-year term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal panel tasked with reviewing the circumstances surrounding violations of religious freedom internationally. The Islamic Society of North America, at whose events Al-Hibri has sometimes appeared, expressed its strong approval for her appointment by Obama.
Today Al-Hibri is a Professor Emerita at Richmond Law School.
For additional information on Azizah Al-Hibri, click here.
Further Reading: “President Obama Appoints Dr. Azizah al-Hibri to USCIRF” (Yalibnan.com, 1-10-2011); “Azizah Al-Hibri” (Karamah.org, Harvard.edu); “The Professor Who Sharia’ed Bill Clinton” (by Daniel Greenfield, 6-13-2011); “Statement on the Lewinsky Scandal: An American Perspective” (by Azizah Al-Hibri, 9-22-1998); “Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Azizah al-Hibri” (PBS.org, 2-15-2002); “Islamophobia’s Big Day at the UN” (FrontpageMag.com, 12-15-2004).