When All Saints Church, known for its outreach to faith groups beyond its own Episcopal ministry, announced that it would host the annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council this weekend, it got a rash of hate mail. Officials at the Pasadena church say the response was triggered by an online article that described the church as naive for hosting the group. The article charged, among other things, that the council’s officers had past connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the group has refused to label Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations.
All Saints stands firm in its decision to host the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which it has worked with for more than a decade, and it is right to do so. The council, a Los Angeles-based organization that promotes the interests of Muslim Americans, has been fending off criticism for years. We don’t necessarily agree with every word its leaders have ever uttered, but the organization has generally taken moderate stances on international issues and has regularly denounced major acts of terrorism around the globe. It has consistently urged American Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement and help prevent terrorism.
Yes, the council opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (So did a lot of Christians and Jews.) And yes, the group’s senior advisor, Maher Hathout, acknowledges that he had a connection to the Muslim Brotherhood when he was a young Egyptian fighting the British presence in his country — 60 years ago. In his last 40 years in the U.S., Hathout says, he has not been associated with any foreign groups. He has been critical of Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt with long-standing ties to the Brotherhood. Hathout even delivered an invocation at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.
As for not denouncing Hamas and Hezbollah, the council’s president, Salam Al-Marayati, has addressed that charge repeatedly over the years; in 2006, for instance, the council took out a full-page ad noting that it supports Israel’s right to exist and that it “has never supported Hamas or Hezbollah.” If on some other occasions the organization has sounded insufficiently condemnatory, that’s hardly a reason to ban it from All Saints Church.
Groups don’t have to be completely like-minded in all philosophies to have fruitful interaction. (Otherwise, there would be no interfaith exchanges at all.) But in this case, these are two organizations that promote community involvement. It seems perfectly reasonable for All Saints to offer up its home for the convention this Saturday of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In fact, it’s something of a mitzvah.