On June 24, Maher Hathout of the Muslim Public Affairs Council spoke to an audience of about 25 people at St Johns Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. The event was sponsored by the Guibord Center, headed by Pastor Gwynne Guibord, who was the host and moderator.
Prior to the presentation, a couple of audience members passed around flyers describing Mr Hathout’s background and certain facts about Islam. One of the female pastors saw the flyer and handed it to Guibord. She read it and handed it to Hathout. In introducing Hathout, Guibord objected to the handing out of the flyer without her permission. She then introduced Hathout as a tireless worker for bettering relations. She told us that Hathout had been interviewed by many major newsoutls like CNN, and “even Fox”. Hathout is also on the Guibord Center advisory board. The entire event was filmed and will be appearing on the Guibord Center’s website in a couple of weeks. In addition, a friend of mine captured the event on her I phone.
Hathout spoke from notes for about 15 minutes. He gave a very vague and general presentation defining the terms, Islam and Allah. He said that we have all been talking about each other rather than talking to each other. He said that in the Arab world, Muslims, Christians and Jews all use the word, “Allah”. He stated that it was false to say that the Muslim God was different from the Christian and Jewish God.
“One God. One message. Believe in God, do good and believe all of his messengers including the last one you were not told about“ (Mohammed).
That took us to the Q and A. I was the first. I asked him to explain what the punishment was under Islamic law (hudud sharia) for an apostate-including for apostates who speak out and publicly criticize Islam. I referred specifically to the names of Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan.
I should state here that Hathout does not give straight-forward answers. Most of the questions were direct about concerns of non-Muslims (all were polite). His answers are long, wandering, and twisted. In regards to apostasy and criticism of Islam by apostates, Hathout stated that things are getting twisted and misinterpreted, He referred us to a book he had written, in which he devoted a chapter to apostasy. He then quoted the “highest authority” the Koran.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.”
He also quoted the Koran as stating that whoever wants to believe, let them believe, whoever wants to deny, let them deny.” He then made reference to 1400 years of wars, and the Crusades. He said that in his opinion, “punishment for apostasy is fake.” As for him, “anyone who wants to leave is fine.” “People can sling mud", he said. Hathout also stated that in Mohammed’s time, a man had claimed that he, not Mohammed, was the Prophet. When told of this, Mohammed said to leave the man alone. Hathout also said that when the Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie, he (Hathout) had condemned it. Further, he stated that the laws of blasphemy are only applied in Pakistan, and that was a carry-over from the British colonial rule when it was punishable to criticize the Church of England.
“This is not Islam“, he stated. That was his answer. He never answered the question, the answer of which is death, a word he studiously avoided.
The next questioner asked about the concept of abrogation (to reconcile conflicting verses in the Koran. It means that the verse which was written later in time abrogated that written earlier). Hathout stated that he was involved in writing a book about abrogation. He said that the concept of abrogation is nonsense, and that it was developed by scholars trying to reconcile contradictory verses. To Hathout, verses written were applicable to a certain event in time, and other verses were applicable to events at another point in time. (I am paraphrasing.) The next questioner wanted Hathout to explain the relationship between Islam and the State. (separation of religion and state). Hathout said that the first example of (mosque) and state was Iran subsequent to the revolution. To this question, he said, even Muslims are confused. “The idea of an Islamic state is a myth“. He also said that we should have a state following the dictates of Islam. Further, he said that the closest thing to Islam is democracy. He also said that criticism of the Saudi royal family is considered heresy. Finally, he said, “Who knows the intent of God?”
A female questioner (Christian) asked why Muslims have such reverence for Jesus if he said he was the Son of God. Would that not be blasphemy according to Islam.
Hathout’s reply was that he (and Muslims) do not accept the Jesus ever made that claim. (“I don’t think Jesus said that.”)
The next questioner said that he was concerned about the gulf between Islam and Western culture. He referred to the previous evening’s event in Manhattan Beach where several apostates told their stories of the fear they have suffered because of their conversion. (This was the Pam Geller-Robert Spencer event, which I also attended. See my post.) Hathout replied , “Oh, you went to that one, huh?”
The questioner then mentioned the Freedom Pledge letter, which was sent by Former Muslims United to 100 top Islamic leaders in the US in 2009. Hathout was one of the recipients. (Only 2 signed the pledge or even acknowledged it.) To this, Hathout stated, “I never received it.”, at which time, I walked up to the table where he was seated and handed him a copy of the letter, which was addressed spefically to him. He took it in his hand and tossed it to the side in a dismissive manner. The questioner continued and asked him if he would read it and sign it here and now. At this point, Hathout took the letter and stuck it in his coat pocket saying he would read the letter, and if it was serious and did not insult Islam, he would sign it.
The next questioner wanted to know why Muslims are not standing up and speaking out about terror and other events happening world-wide. Hathout stated, that “when we speak up we get vilified.” He continued that every major US Muslim organization spoke up after 9-11. Every US mosque condemned it. “Do you want me to write it on my forehead?”
After a coffee break (featuring Green-friendly actual drinking cups instead of Styrofoam), the Q and A continued. A gentleman told Hathout that he had read one of his books, and found him to be very moderate except for one thing-the topic of homosexuality. The question was, “How should a Muslim leader treat this topic in a Muslim-majority county?”
Hathout corrected him stating that the book was written by his brother (Hassan?), and that on this topic, he did not agree with his brother. He said that when most Muslims hear this word (homosexuality) they react as if it were an “allergy”. “I do not agree”, he continued. He thanked the man for bringing up this “taboo subject” and stated that he didn’t understand the issue, but was going to write something on this topic to “fill the hole“.
At this point, a man in clerical collar introduced himself as a retired preacher and proceeded to throw up a two-part softball. He asked in what areas are American Muslims most misunderstood by Christians, and how he could get to make Muslim friends outside of events like these-people whose homes he could visit, etc.
Hathout mentioned 3 main areas- women, jihad and “kill the infidel”, the latter term he stated, was an invention of the Crusades. Here are some points he made. “We don’t want to kill, but we don’t want to be killed.” In Algeria, one million Algerians were killed fighting the French. Religion does not kill people. People use religion to control people. In WW I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam war, religion played no role. We should remedy violence through religion.
The next questioner was a lady who told of having a Muslim roommate in college, who instructed her never to touch her Koran, and how she was put back by that. Hathout told her he was sorry and that girl “was not brought up right“.
The next questioner (an Arab-American Christian who speaks and reads Arabic) told of reading the Koran and being amazed at the “second-class” references to women, the reference to a husband beating his wife, and asked, “Where are the female imams?”
Hathout stated that in Islamic jurisprudence, a woman can divorce her husband-for any reason. He also said that in Arabic, the word “beat” has 17 different meanings. “Part of our struggle is to correct this misinterpretation,” he said. He also made a reference to Saudi Arabia as a place where a woman could not drive. “There is nothing about that in the Koran“. As to women imams, he gave an example of a woman who had proclaimed herself an imam and had been “cursed” by many, but supported by others. “We are trying to explain the message of Islam, Feed the hungry, the suffering, ect. There was a reference about hate in connection with the 700 Club. “Why do parents reprimand their child for trying to be American”, he asked.
Finally, Guibord asked the final question, another softball. She opened by saying that English is an “object language”, while Arabic is a “process language”. This apparently was a vague issue related to “the Texts”. Her question seemed confusing, at least to me, but she wanted Hathout to explain this. I assume she was trying to open up the idea of misinterpretations of the Islamic texts due to differences in language structure and thinking.
Hathout stated that we need to go deeper into the Texts. He asked why didn’t God create man with one religion? In his opinion, God wanted man to be diverse in every way including in beliefs. Somewhere along the way, there was a reference to conquerors like Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Bush. (As I said, he wanders in his answers.)
After the event, I was chatting with a woman who had been handing out flyers about Hathout. The aforementioned pastor/priest approached us and asked the woman who had produced the flyers, which were not signed. The woman wrote down the name of the man who produced them (who happened to have been in the audience.) The pastor became a bit argumentative and asked why, when a true moderate comes to speak, he is attacked?” At that point, I joined the conversation and told the man that Hathout was not a moderate, and that he had not answered my question. I explained to him what the penalty for apostasy (and blasphemy) is death. I also explained to him that Islam was both a religion and a political ideology, which has a code called sharia, much of which is benign, but containing punishments for Crimes against God (hudud). That, I explained, is where you find things like death for apostates, blasphemers, adulterers and homosexuality. At this, he asked what about all the terrible things Christians did a thousand years ago (or two thousand?) The man continued to be argumentative and finally, I told him with all due respect that he was ignorant and needed to educate himself. He replied in kind and that was the end of conversation. The man then went outside and started an argument with the man who had produced the flyer.
Let me conclude by saying that Hathout is an experienced dissembler. He could not give direct answers to the questions and concerns. His sponsors, the Guibord Center, is obviously, an activist group devoted to putting a happy face on the whole issue. As for the audience and the questioners, everybody followed the protocol and was polite. It was not structured to allow for meaningful discussion or follow-up questions. Nevertheless, we made our points. Others in the audience will have to judge as to whether Hathout satisfied their concerns. I hope to put up a video of this event in the near future.