Born in Cairo, Egypt on January 1, 1936, Maher Hathout was a disciple of the radical and violent form of Islam known as Wahhabism. In 1988 he founded the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a Los Angeles-based Islamic advocacy group that he directed for many years. Hathout also served as the longtime chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, which published MPAC’s magazine The Minaret.
As a student in Egypt, Hathout participated in the protest movement against British occupation of his country; he spent five years in prison as a result of his protest activities. After earning bachelor’s and medical degrees at Cairo University, Hathout relocated from Egypt to Kuwait in 1968. Three years later, he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he took a job as a cardiologist and became a Muslim community activist. In 1977 Hathout settled in Los Angeles, where he helped establish a coeducational youth group and a nationally televised weekly program about Islam. In 1991 he helped found the Religious Coalition Against War in the Middle East. Hathout subsequently went on to serve as the first Muslim chairman of the Los Angeles Interfaith Council, and in 2000 he became the first American Muslim to deliver the invocation at a Democratic National Convention, in Los Angeles.
Throughout his career as an Islamic activist, Hathout saw non-Muslims, particularly Jews, as enemies of Islam.
In 1995, Hathout wrote: “The term ‘Judaeo-Christian’ is a misnomer, and, in my opinion, it was coined, politically, for the sole purpose of excluding Muslims.”
When Israel in 1996 opened an entrance to an ancient tunnel that ran near the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hathout delivered a sermon accusing Israel and the United States of conspiring to “eliminate” Islam. “Under the protection of military armed to the teeth,” he said, “the mayor of Jerusalem, the Jewish mayor, the Zionist Jewish extremist racist mayor of Jerusalem decided to resume digging up tunnels that they believe they that they started some time ago and should be continued.” Hathout further described the action as part of “the whole plot to eradicate Islam and its symbols and to humiliate Muslims all over the world to the point of demoralization and helplessness and hopelessness so that they cease to be participants in shaping the human civilization and converting the atrocities and the injustices that are taking place all over the world, on the hands of Israel supported by the military and political power of the greatest power on Earth which is the United States of America.”
In October 1997, Hathout said: “The way the Israeli government is handling the peace process [with the Palestinians] is so futile that it becomes natural to expect that the only resistance is the armed conflict.”
In a 1997 address which he delivered at the U.S. State Department, Hathout lauded the prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Hassan al-Turabi as a “reformist.” Al-Turabi was the head of Sudan’s National Islamic Front, which the U.S. government had already condemned for supporting terrorism, launching a genocidal war in southern Sudan, and repeatedly perpetrating human-rights violations. As part of his plan to turn his country into a global base for militant Islam, al-Turabi in 1991 invited Osama bin Laden to Sudan, where he provided the al-Qaeda leader with sanctuary and his loyal friendship.
Yet another individual whom Hathout identified as a “reformist” in 1997 was Rashid Ghannoushi, the head of Tunisia’s banned Islamic fundamentalist Al-Nahda Party.
In May 1998, Hathout said: “The UN decreed the partition of Palestine to a Jewish state and an Arab state. That is tantamount to dividing my house between myself and an intruder.”
In an August 1998 speech given in response to al-Qaeda’s deadly bombings (on August 7) of two American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Hathout said: “We should first ask ourselves a few questions. What makes those people [the bombers] do what they do? Are there perhaps legitimate grievances that are not addressed? If you’d known in ordinary consular psychology that is not normal for people to behave normally under abnormal conditions and the treatments of terrorism will be addressing those abnormal conditions.”
Hathout condemned the August 20, 1998 missile strikes ordered by President Bill Clinton against Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for their involvement in the aforementioned embassy bombings. In Hathout’s view, the U.S. military response was “illegal, immoral, inhuman, unacceptable, stupid, and un-American.” “Worse,” he said, “the American attacks on the Afghan and Sudanese targets were worse than what the terrorists had done.”
In 1998 as well, Hathout described the Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah as “a movement of liberation” whose members were nobly “fighting to liberate their land,” “fighting on their own territory against a military occupation,” and “fighting only military who are armed.” By Hathout’s telling, these were “legitimate” activities by Hezbollah, aimed at defending what was, at its essence, “an American value — freedom and liberty.” Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon, he elaborated, were “very American,” akin to “what America did in the beginning against the colonizing of the British.” What Hezbollah was now doing, Hathout added, “is what all honorable people in the world are doing.”
At an October 2000 “Jerusalem Day” rally in Washington, D.C., Hathout said: “We did not come here to condemn the condemned atrocities committed by the apartheid brutal state of Israel, because butchers do what butchers do and because what is expected from a racist apartheid is what is happening now. They say America is the only democracy in the Middle East. This is a lie. They say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. This is a lie. Israel is not a democracy, Israel is a theocracy, and is an apartheid state against every fiber of the modern world.”
At an “Interfaith Rally for Peace and Justice” which was held in Los Angeles in 2000, Hathout described Israel as a “criminal apartheid regime, doing what it does best — stealing land and killing people.”
Highly critical of what he perceived as America’s excessive support for Israel, Hathouth said in May 2001 that “the United States is … under Israeli occupation… [and] we have a Congress that beats the Knesset in being pro-Zionist.”
After a Palestinian terrorist’s deadly August 9, 2001 bombing of a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, which killed 15 and wounded 130, Hathout described the incident as “the bitter result of the reckless policy of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon.”
At the University of California’s Irvine campus on September 9, 2001 — two days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks — Hathout spoke at a benefit dinner which was held to raise funds for the legal defense of Jamil Al-Amin, who had been indicted on charges of fatally shooting one Georgia sheriff’s deputy and seriously wounding another. Repeatedly referring to Al-Amin as “our brother,” Hathout stated unequivocally that he believed Al-Amin’s version of the Georgia shootings rather than the police version. This, he explained, was because “the track record of our brother [Al-Amin] is one of integrity and straight-forward speaking and a bold stance,” whereas the Atlanta Police Department — like police “in so many other places” — had “not a very good track record.” Hathout added that in America:
At the same UC Irvine event, Hathout condemned the United States for lacking the “willingness to accept any more responsibility for reparations of the victims of racism here in America” or “to stop [Israel’s] apartheid racial slaughtering of the people in Palestine.”
A few days after the 9/11 attacks, Hathout praised a participant in a chat at the IslamOnline website who claimed that the identities of the 9/11 hijackers were being deliberately falsified as a means of demonizing Muslims. Hathout lauded the writer for “providing unique information that needs to be more known and verified,” and urged him to “please call the Minaret magazine.”
Speaking at a 2002 conference titled “United for Al Quds” — the Islamic name for Jerusalem — Hathout talked of “a junction that joins us [Muslims] to Christians, those Christians who are not being fooled by [conservative evangelist] Jerry Falwell and their likes, and with Jews who have not been Zionized, and also with large numbers of oppressed people all over the world, who understand how the hegemony of the elite of the world can violate what is sacred and what is important to the masses.”
At a March 12, 2006 banquet fundraiser for former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was accused of having served as the North American leader of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hathout stated that Al-Arian was in fact an innocent man whose “record is clear.”
In September 2006, the Los Angeles Daily News quoted Hathout describing Israel as a land of “butchers” who had set up “a racist apartheid state” that was “practicing state terror.”
In his later years, Hathout’s public speaking and activism diminished dramatically. He died of cancer in Duarte, California, on January 3, 2015.
Hathout served as a charter member of the Pacific Council on International Policy (the western partner of the Council on Foreign Relations), a Board of Directors member of the Interfaith Alliance, and Chairman of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
Hathout wrote extensively on Islam, human rights, democracy, and Middle East politics. He authored three books: Jihad vs. Terrorism (2002), In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam (2006), and Islam 2.0: Conversations with New Muslim Generations (2009).
The Islamic Center of Southern California, which published MPAC’s magazine The Minaret, identified Maher Hathout’s brother, Hassan Hathout, as “a close disciple of the late [Muslim Brotherhood founder] Hasan al-Banna of Egypt.” A March 1998 Minaret article stated: “Hassan Hathout was a companion of Hassan al-Banna … Hassan Hathout would speak of al-Banna with such love and adoration; he would speak of a relationship not guided by politics or law but by a basic sense of human decency.”