Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dispute between Kabbani Followers and Hosts Disrupts Forum at Islamic Center of Southern California

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dispute between Kabbani Followers and Hosts Disrupts Forum at Islamic Center of Southern California

Article excerpt

Dispute Between Kabbani Followers and Hosts Disrupts Forum at Islamic Center of Southern California

A landmark meeting at the Islamic Center of Southern California that featured a State Department ambassador-at-large speaking on international religious freedom ended on a sour note June 8 when members of the Islamic Supreme Council of America disrupted closing comments of Dr. Maher Hathout, the center's spokesman.

More than 200 Musks and representafives of the Christian and Jewish communities stared in disbelief as the ISCA dissenters shouted "dictator" at Dr. Hathout. They noisily refused to leave but did sit down when security officers asked them to.

"In the 15 years that we have been presenting ecumenical conferences, town halls and press conferences, the conduct -- even among adversaries -- was civil," stated Salam al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Yesterday was a dark day in the history of our community."

The well-publicized program at the Islamic Center featured Robert Seiple, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Dr. Laila al-Marayati, White House appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The theme of the forum was "International Religious Freedom: Relations between the U.S. and the Muslim World."

Dr. Marayati opened the program by describing her role on the commission as one of giving a sense of fairness to the perspective of Muslim religious freedom abroad. "Even in countries where Muslims are the majority, secular regimes may persecute citizens for religious beliefs" she said, citing conditions in Uzbekistan, where young women who wear hi jab are labeled "Wahhabi extremists," and in Turkey, where a scarved member of parliament was denied her seat in the political body.

"This also enables Muslims who are persecuted in the western provinces of China, in Israel, Burma, the Philippines and former Yugoslavia to bring their grievances to our attention," she concluded.

In taking the podium, Ambassador Seiple said that dispatches cross his desk every day about Muskim-Hindu clashes in India, dire conditions of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Christian slaves in Sudan and a Catholic bishop who has been imprisoned for 27 years in China.

The former director of World Vision attributed the causes of religious persecution to the "inability to live with that which makes us different," the need for power, greed to possess the resources and land of others, and hatred.

Another cause of persecution, he pointed out, is when religion is superficially understood and improperly applied. A case in point, he said, was the sailor who wrote "Happy Ramadan" on a missile aimed toward Iraq during the Gulf war.

"When American Muslims saw a photograph of the sailor's graffiti on the missile, they were rightfully upset," he continued. What is the solution? "To impart education, sensitivity and respect for other religions. This is what my office concentrates on."

The former university administrator stressed that all major faiths believe in human dignity and reconciliation. Calling for a new reconciled relationship among all people, he said: "I hope the 21 st century will be anchored in reconciliation, but it will not be easy to accomplish." Turning to situations within the United States, Ambassador Seiple touched upon a topic his Los Angeles hosts had advised him not to broach, inasmuch as it didn't deal with religious freedom.

"Some of you Muslims in this country don't like each other. I am saddened by the de facto boycott of the Islamic Supreme Council of America," Ambassador Seiple said. "There ought to be a better way [of solving your differences]."

While non-Muslims in the audience were for the most part in the dark as to what Ambassador Seiple was referring to in his remarks, they stunned many Muslims in the room.

The controversy centers around Sheikh Hisham Kabbani, a Lebanon-born religious leader who has been in the U. …

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