- Says that Islam is fully compatible with women’s rights, human rights, and democracy
- Contends that when America’s founding fathers sought to establish freedom of religion, they likely drew their inspiration from Islam
- Served on the advisory board of the American Muslim Council during the 1990s
- Condemned the Western press for “sensationalizing” Taliban atrocities in order to “attack Islam” in early 2001
- States that Islamic Law “is deeper and better than Western codes of law”
- Was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2011
Azizah Al-Hibri1 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 J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a Ph.D. in philosophy, also from UPenn. Today she is a practicing attorney specializing in securities and corporate law, a professor of law at the University of Richmond, and the founding editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. She is also the founder and executive director of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. This organization is 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 has been 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.
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 wrote an article stating: “Had the President [when he perjured himself] been testifying in an Islamic court, he would not have been placed in this terrible predicament in the first instance.” Al-Hibri pointed out, further, 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.
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.”
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, and making policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. The Islamic Society of North America, at whose events Al-Hibri has sometimes appeared, expressed its strong approval for her appointment by Obama.
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1 Her full name is Azizah Yahia Muhammad Toufiq al-Hibri.