By Professor Sulayman S. Nyang, Howard University, Washington D.C.
Dr. Maher Hathout has left us for his rendezvous with the Almighty Allah. Like all of us on the pathways to death, which we all inherited from Adam and his wife, Eve, the good doctor is gone. But in acknowledging his parting of ways with family, friends, colleagues and strangers in the masjid and beyond, it is imperative for us to look at the man and his works in America.
He was undoubtedly one of our most striking and self-affirming articulators of Muslim interests; related to this observation was the fact that he saw the urgency for Islamic leaders and people in the United States of America to assert their Din and their democratic status in America simultaneously. Those of us who had the opportunities and the privileges to meet and communicate with him over the years can now hereby testify that Maher was a brother and a Muslim colleague who deeply recognized what must be done to make American Muslims effective partners in the remaking of America. During his lifetime he goes down in history as one of the Muslim leaders who knew me and brought me to his circles, Not only did his own brother secure my endorsement of his now famous book on Islam, but he and his colleagues at the Muslim Public Affairs Council demonstrated their commitment to dialogue with both Muslims and non-Muslims. Although occasional encounters with dissenting Muslims sometimes strained our emotions in our desperate attempts to heal the wounds in fratricidal battles, truth be told, Maher left me personally with a strong feeling for better relationships among Muslims and with other communities. This attitude towards words and deeds in the field of human contacts puts him in a category of peace-makers and fence-defenders.
In assessing the Man and His Works, it is significant for me to name five things among a countless number that deserve our attention. First of all, whenever the future historians of the American Muslim communities write their encyclopedia, narratives on pioneers and on those who tried seriously to build bridges between town and gown in the interest of Muslims in the United States of America, Maher Hathout will be on that list. Again, because of his recognition of this reality, he and his colleagues in California and beyond deploy the intellectual talents of many in my profession to engage themselves. The Minaret which served the purpose of the American Muslim Affairs Council, was just one tool among others that added to the series of interfaith and journalistic devices harnessed in the name of America and Islam. Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet with the late Maher and his colleagues. Not only do I expect many footnotes on Maher Hathout in the writings of many of my colleagues in the academy, but I also anticipate a new attitude among our leaders to focus on the social history of the prominent community leaders and the growing numbers of imams across the country. Thirdly, Hathout will be remembered because he instructed the audacity of hope and the willingness to engage America in as many ways as possible. The fourth and final points to bring out here deal with his persistence, patience and perseverance. Those who embrace these three Ps are historically destined to build successful institutions and to nurture children, nephews and nieces who are willing to start with what they know and build on what they have.