Maher Hathout and Salam al Marayati are two of the leading Muslim figures in America. Al Marayati is the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Hathout is a senior advisor of MPAC. Both have been featured on this site many times. In this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal they dish out more pablum to unsuspecting non-Muslims. While attempting to convince the reader that the horrors being perpetrated across the Islamic world are in contravention of Islam, they argue that American Muslims can be a force for reform back in their countries of origin.
Let Islamic Reform Start in America
We must stop looking to the Middle East, where regressive religion and authoritarianism reign.
By Salam Al-Marayati and Maher Hathout
Oct. 30, 2014
‘Muslim communities in the West,” wrote Graham Fuller and Ian Lesser in 1995 (“The Geopolitics of Islam and the West”), “are more likely to exert influence on their countries and cultures of origin rather than receive influences from them; over time they may have a substantive effect on the perceptions of secularization and minority rights in the Middle East.”
This shift—from the American Muslim community being perceived as foreign and an extension of the Middle East and South Asia to American Muslims instead influencing the East—is the direction in which Muslims are heading. Rampant authoritarianism in the Muslim world and the regression of Muslim religious establishments funded by the same autocratic governments currently make Islamic reform unlikely in the region.
American Muslims can significantly contribute to the revival of Islam and restore human dignity as a central principle of the faith. From despotic regimes to religious extremism, authoritarianism in the Middle East and South Asia has devastated modern Islamic thought over the last few centuries. American Muslims have the freedom and the intellectual capacity to create positive change for Islamic reform.
There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and their religion needs to be relevant for all of their lives. All religions and man-made philosophies go through reform and renewal. We Muslims must liberate ourselves from the shackles of dogmatic traditions such as sectarianism, tribalism, chauvinism and theocracy, all of which contradict Islamic ethics based in the Quran and the authenticated traditions of the Prophet Mohammed.
The areas that need immediate attention for Islamic reform are: promoting good governance; protecting the rights of religious minorities and women; and marginalizing the ideology of compulsion. There was more discourse on the penal code and jurisprudence centuries ago, at the peak of Islamic civilization, when leaders focused on the spirit of the Islamic law, rather than on the absolute letter of the law.
For example, within two decades after the Quranic revelation was complete in 632, the punishment for theft was suspended by Omar ibn al Khattab, the second successor to the Prophet, when the economy deteriorated and poverty was endemic. In this case, along with many others, a leader suspended a conditional Quranic instruction because of new circumstances. That thinking is needed now more than ever.
As is well known, the human rights of women and religious minorities are violated in many Muslim countries. Communities that don’t align with the ideology of the ruling power live in inhumane and oppressive conditions. In 2002 religious police in Saudi Arabia prevented girls from escaping a burning school in Mecca and 15 female students died. These men, members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, would not allow the girls to escape the building because their head scarves were not completely covering their hair.
This meant a rule trumped the protection of life, one of the five goals of Islamic law, the others being freedom of expression, freedom of religion, rights of family, and rights of property. The five goals are called the Maqaasid of Islamic law and are unanimously accepted by Islamic jurists. The Maqaasid needs to be given new life, and that can only happen in an environment of freedom and futuristic thinking. There is no Islamic ethics or morality achieved by religious police.
This Saudi religious police force, similar to those in Iran and throughout South Asia, is a bastardization of a very important Islamic concept—Maslaha, or public interest. The verse in the Quran related to Maslaha refers to the promotion of social benefit, defined by the Maqaasid and known by the people as human decency, and the prevention of public harm. Religious policing is rooted in the ideology of compulsion. It is a distortion of that valuable understanding of public interest in any nation’s jurisprudence or executive authority.
American Muslims have looked to the Middle East for religious authority, for spiritual direction and, at times, for political priorities. We must end this practice by declaring that any country or group claiming to be Islamic must uphold the most important principle in Islam, protecting life rather than destroying it.
Any country that kills its own people, persecutes religious minorities and subjugates women is anathema to American Muslims. They can call themselves angels, but they cannot camouflage their evil under a religious veneer. Islam liberated us from the shackles of religious tyranny, and we will struggle to liberate ourselves by declaring our independence from the tyrants and clerics who have usurped authority and religion in claiming sovereignty over Muslims world-wide.
Mr. Al-Marayati is president and Dr. Hathout is senior adviser of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
First of all, when these two gentlemen claim that American Muslims can be a force for reform, they should begin putting their own house in order. Both of them are recipients of the so-called Freedom Letter sent in 2009 and 2012 by Former Muslims United to the top 200 Muslim leaders in the US asking them to sign the Freedom Pledge, a simple statement that American apostates from Islam should not be harmed. To date neither has signed it. In fact, only rwo of the recipients have signed it.
In June 2012, Hathout spoke at St John's Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. When an audience member asked him if he would sign the aforementioned letter, he said he had never received it. I then walked to the table where he was sitting and placed it in front of him. It was a copy of the letter that had been addressed specifically to him. He tossed it aside then said he would read the letter and sign it if it was not insulting to Islam. You can view the video of that exchange here.
In December 2012, I encountered Hathout again at the annual MPAC convention at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. I asked him if he had ever signed the letter. He said that he would not because he did not believe in a death penalty for apostasy in Islam and nobody was going to dictate to him what to sign.
At that same conference, I asked Marayati the same question. He repeated the line about there being no death penalty in Islam for apostasy and that was why he never signed it. I also provided him with a copy of the letter that had been addressed to him. Both exchanges are described in the above link.
If these gentlemen were really serious about American Muslims leading the way for reform in Islam, they could have used the opportunity to sign the Freedom Pledge. They chose not to. That says to me that their words in the above editorial ring hollow.