In the News: Southland Muslims Promote Code of Unity

April 24, 2007


By Rebecca Trounson
Los Angeles Times, 4/23/07
Click here to read the entire article.

As the conflict deepens between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Muslim leaders in Southern California have launched what they hope will be a nationwide movement to promote unity among different branches of the faith in this country and help prevent acts of violence here.

In a ceremony that may be repeated as early as today in Detroit and later in other U.S. cities, a number of leading Southern California Muslims, including prominent Shiite and Sunni clerics, recently signed a "code of honor" that offers strategies for overcoming and avoiding divisions within the community.

Among the code's guidelines are banning the practice of takfir, judging other Muslims as nonbelievers, and forbidding hateful speech about the beliefs and revered figures of other branches of Islam.

"When it comes to interfaith efforts, we are brilliant," said Moustafa Al-Qazwini, an influential Shiite cleric who played host to the March 31 signing ceremony at his Costa Mesa mosque. "But when it comes to intra-Muslim work, we don't do enough."

The local reconciliation effort, which began with a February meeting at the Muslim Public Affairs Council's office in Los Angeles, was prompted by spiraling violence in Iraq and several incidents of vandalism in Michigan.

Although there have been no such incidents in Southern California in recent months, Muslim leaders here decided not to take chances.

"When the situation in Iraq took this very ugly form, we grew very alarmed," said Maher Hathout, a retired physician who is a longtime Muslim leader in L.A. "But then there was this even more alarming red flag because of the problems in Detroit.... We were very concerned this could happen here too."

Hathout and a handful of others met to discuss their worries. The resulting document spells out for the first time some practical "dos and don'ts" for Muslims in this country.

"There have always been meetings to express good feelings and give flowery talk about unity, but the significant thing this time is that we've moved to practical, behavioral remedies," said Hathout, a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "And we signed it together, in a single ceremony."

For many years, Salam Al-Marayati has been executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national education and advocacy group that is headquartered in Los Angeles.

Al-Marayati said he hoped the code would provide a framework for increased dialogue among Sunnis and Shiites and also help dispel rumors and myths that some members of each sect continue to spread about the other. Among the most pervasive such myths, he and others said: that Shiites, Islam's largest minority sect, use a different Koran from the majority Sunnis.

"If we want to talk about Sunni and Shia differences, the idea is that we'll be able to discuss them now in a scholarly way and not deal with them on the street," Al-Marayati said.

A link to the text of the code of honor is at the website of the Muslim Public Affairs Council at www.mpac.org.

SEND EMAIL TO: rebecca.trounson@latimes.com




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