Religious leaders honor prominent Muslim voice of Southern California

Memorial held for Maher Hathout, longtime chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California

The rain-soaked scene outside Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday was a fitting tribute to Maher Hathout: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh leaders in religious garb paused during his memorial service to observe a moment of silence for victims of the terrorist massacre in France.

Hathout, the longtime chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, was one of America's leading Muslim voices advocating peace with other religions.

"It's at moments like these that we feel the absence of someone like Dr. Hathout intensely," said Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple in Bel-Air.

To the scores of people gathered under umbrellas in City Hall's Spring Street courtyard, Chasen offered a prayer calling for an end to violence in the name of religious extremism — first in Hebrew, then in English. Others offered Christian and Islamic prayers.

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, bemoaned "the evil and the darkness and the despair of the senseless, barbaric act that happened in the last few days in Paris." He praised Hathout, who founded the council, for speaking out against religious extremism.

"We are standing on his wide shoulders to continue his work," he told the crowd.

Hathout, 79, died of cancer on Jan. 3 at City of Hope hospital in Duarte. A cardiologist born and raised in Egypt, Hathout was a leader of the Islamic Center for about three decades.

Outside the Islamic community, Hathout was best known for trying to strengthen ties among religious groups in Los Angeles. He spoke with presidents Clinton and George W. Bush about improving relations with the Muslim world.

In 2006, Hathout became a source of controversy when he was nominated for a humanitarian prize. Over the objection of some Jewish leaders who denounced him for calling Israel an apartheid regime, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission went ahead and awarded him the John Allen Buggs award.

On Thursday, leaders of multiple faiths described Hathout as a champion of peace and moderate Islam.

Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, a California Sikh leader, called him one of the "few shining lights" who stepped forward after the 9/11 attacks to tamp down expressions of bias against Sikhs and Muslims.

The Rev. Gwynne Guibord, an Episcopal priest, compared Hathout to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying he was a "seeker of justice" and "lover of truth."

The Rev. Ed Bacon, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, called Hathout "one of the most important Muslims of the late 20th and early 21st century."

"He would be one of the strongest voices against what happened in France this week," Bacon said. "He strongly objected to the hijacking of Islam by violent terrorists." Hathout, he added, was "a voice of reform and moderation."

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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