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Posted Online on Tuesday, 26 September 2006 23:55 IST

In search of a moderate Muslim

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Milli Gazette Online

Muslim Islamic NewsThe Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission has finally voted to reaffirm its selection of Muslim leader Dr. Maher Hathout for a human relations award, ending a bitter, two-week battle that many lamented has seriously set back the region's Muslim-Jewish relations. 

The furious fight on the selection process was sparked when the Zionist Organization of America and some other Jewish groups charged that Hathout, a 70-year-old retired cardiologist, has denounced Israel as an apartheid state and supported of Hizbullah as freedom fighters. 

Dr. Hathout's long years of interfaith work prompted him to invite the Muslim leader to meet Pope John Paul II during his visit to Los Angeles in 1987 and to deliver a eulogy during the pontiff's memorial service. 

Interestingly, the vote for Dr. Hathout came two days after the American Jewish Congress honored another resident of California, Tashbih Sayyed, and four other 'moderate' Muslims for what it sees as their friendly attitudes toward Israel. 

Sayyed was honored along with Satanic Verses-famed author Salman Rushdie, who received the AJC's highest honor, the Stephen Wise Humanitarian Award. The three other Muslims honored by the AJC were: Salim Mansur, Nonie Darwish and Wafa Sultan. The honoring ceremony was billed as "Profiles in Courage: Voices of Muslim Reformers in the Modern World." 

Gary Ratner, executive director of the Congress' Western region office in Los Angeles, says his group believes support for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is central to the definition of a moderate. The definition Mr. Ranter implies that a moderate Muslim should support:

Israel's occupation of the Palestinian land. 

Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. 

Israel's killing of unarmed Palestinian men, women and children. 

Israel's right to imprison some 10,000 Palestinians. 

Israel's right to imprison elected government of the Palestinians and their members of Parliament. 

Israel's attack on civilian targets in Lebanon killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

Israel's sole right to have nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Israel's right to defy all the UN Security Council resolutions while Arab and Muslim states must comply under pain of sanctions. 

Apparently another factor in AJC's choice of honorees is that at least three of them have renounced their faith. Salman Rushdie is a self-described atheist while Wafa Sultan and Nonie Darwish say they left their faith years ago. If you are not convinced, here are some more takes on the credentials of the six honorees: 

The less said the better about the Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie. Contrary to the basic Islamic belief that the Quran is a revealed book, Rushdie subscribes to the Rand Corporation criteria for a moderate Muslim that he/she believes that the Quran is a historical document. While honoring Rusdhdie, the AJC said "Mr Rushdie is among the great minds of today that can help us learn how to understand and combat terrorism." 

Egypt-born Nonie Darwish is the founder of Arabs for Israel and author of Now They Call Me an Infidel. She blames Arabs and Palestinians for all the strife and killings in the Middle East.

Syria-born Wafa Sultan is a resident of California who came into prominence for her bitter attack Islam in her TV on Al Jazeera in February this year. She believes that the Muslims are the ones who began the so-called clash of civilizations.

Pakistan-born Tashbih Sayyed is editor of Pakistan Today weekly that is supported by a number of Jewish groups because Muslims declined to give ads when he published pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian articles. Sayyed says it is debatable that Islam was spread by the sword and Prophet Muhammad's actions were divinely inspired. 

India-born Salim Mansur is one of the leading members of Canadians Against Suicide Bombing (CASB). Mansur, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, argues that the Muslim world must stop blaming the West for all its own ailments, including poverty, illiteracy, injustice or extremism. 

Now the question is why the AJC wants to honor such Muslims whose only qualification is criticism of the Islamic faith and of course, support for Israel. The reason is obvious. The Jewish groups have been trying to promote alternative Muslim leaders in America who are friendly to Israel though they may enjoy little following among the Muslims. In this drive they are helped by the mainstream media.

In the post-9/11era, we see efforts by many Jewish groups to discredit and dislodge the established American Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). While leaders of these groups are being accused of promoting 'extremism' and 'terrorism' for their stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict some fringe groups are encouraged and promoted to make the voice of the 7-million strong American Muslim community. One such group the Progressive Muslim Union of North America was launched in November 2004 amid wide media publicity. However, the group lost steam when many of its disappointed founding members resigned. 

A recent article over the controversy of Dr. Hathout's nomination, the Los Angeles Times poses an interesting question: Who is a moderate Muslim? Is it Maher Hathout, the Los Angeles Muslim leader who has promoted interfaith relations and women's equality but denounced Israel as a brutal apartheid regime? Is it Tashbih Sayyed, a journalist based in Alta Loma, Calif., who praises Israel's behavior toward Palestinians as tolerant and criticizes Muslims for corrupting Islam? 

Surely, the answer will depend on who is reading the question; a supporter of the Israeli atrocities against Palestinians and Lebanese or a sympathizer of the besieged Palestinians and Lebanese victims of the recent Israeli rampage. 

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine, American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com 

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