Ever since 9/11 the search has been on in earnest to find a moderate Muslim: a professing Muslim who clearly and unambiguously endorses Western pluralism, the equality of dignity and rights of all people, and even newly hot-button issues like freedom of conscience. And again and again the media darlings exalted as moderates have been found to have skeletons in the closet — attachment to jihad-martyrdom attacks against Israeli civilians, at very least.
Maher Hathout is the latest Media Moderate, and one of the most compelling. He has written a large and exhaustively documented book, In Pursuit of Justice, that presents the most honest and comprehensive case for Moderate Islam that I have ever seen. Instead of glossing over and denying uncomfortable truths, as so many Islamic apologists do, Hathout in this book acknowledges them and presents a case for an Islamic alternative. He even uses Bat Ye’or as a source.
But Hathout’s book is ultimately an exercise in constructing his Own Private Islam, since the faith he delineates exists nowhere in the world today, and never has. And Hathout himself is not all that he appears to be in this LA Weekly article, “Yes, a Moderate Muslim”:
Ever since he came to this country in 1971, Egyptian-born retired cardiologist Maher Hathout has played one of the most active roles in crafting the identity of American Islam. As a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California and a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), he has advocated for a homegrown religion that is independent from nations abroad (and their oft-scrutinized funding), and has integrated American democratic ideals into the Islamic Center’s policies.
At the Vermont Avenue mosque where Hathout leads prayer, no Islamic school of thought is privileged over another. And the mosque tries to avoid the taint of Arabo-centrism by distancing itself from Saudi Wahhabi ideology and making sure that all sermons are made available in English (apart from Koranic scripture) for the benefit of the numerous non-Arab attendees. Unlike in Culver City”s King Fahad mosque, women and men pray together: “The Center does not believe that segregation of the sexes is the guarantee of righteousness,” reads islamctr.org’s “Ideology” section. Such decisions have helped Los Angeles avoid the kinds of problems that currently beset France, whose mosques tend to be led by immigrant non-Francophone imams with little connection to the surrounding society.
“The harm is that Islam here will be a foreign entity,” Hathout told PBS”s Frontline. “As a physician, I know that foreign bodies are eventually rejected.” The success of his own integration was marked when he was selected to deliver the invocation at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in L.A.
Hathout had an appointment to meet the president on the same day planes struck the World Trade Center. Post-9/11, he has had to deal with a recurring question: “Why don’t Muslims denounce terror?” He spent countless hours debating the right wing over the original meaning of the word jihad “” even penning a book on the subject, Jihad Versus Terrorism. In 2004, he launched the MPAC”s national terrorism-prevention campaign (with more than 600 mosque endorsements) and, with Sheriff Lee Baca, unveiled the Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress, which will act as “eyes and ears” for L.A. terrorism prevention.
Some Muslim critics call these actions an unfair admission of guilt. Hathout, however, believes cooperation will break the estrangement between law enforcement and Muslims. “The problem,” he says, “isn’t how loud we are but how deaf some people can be.”
Well, I am not deaf. I heard Hathout loud and clear when he blamed Ariel Sharon for a suicide bombing in Israel, without whispering a word of condemnation for the wanton murder of innocent civilians:
“What happened in Jerusalem is very regrettable. It is the bitter result of the reckless policy of Sharon. And it is about time that the Israeli public should exert some pressure on their government.”
I also heard him when he praised the jihad terrorists of Hizballah as freedom fighters:
“Hizbollah is fighting for freedom, an organized army, limiting its operations against military people, this is a legitimate target against occupation. The whole country keeps condemning Hizbollah; I disagree with them on other issues, but on the issue of fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate, this is an American value – freedom and liberty.”
Yes, a moderate Muslim. Time for the next candidate.