Dr. Maher Hathout: A Visionary
Updated: Sep 2
Alas! We will miss Dr. Maher Hathout's opinions and guidance on matters that are often beyond our intellectual confines. But, the methodology to reflect on issues that he taught us is with us and will help us tackle all the challenges we face or may face confidently, boldly, and sincerely. He did not want us to be his followers, but leaders, a concept that we discovered much later in our journey of Muslim work in America.
That was Maher Hathout, a man who I came to know intimately during the last 25 years. Dr. Fathi Osman, with whom I had the privilege to work in London, asked me to move to Los Angeles in 1989 to focus on the Minaret magazine and introduced me to Dr. Maher Hathout the first time. For almost 16 years, there was not a single day when we did not talk or meet or attend a function or share a forum about every aspect of Muslim life in America. However busy he was, he remained focused on his weekly discussion on the Quran and the methodology to comprehend it. He wanted each of us to understand the Quran on our own and view and review everything we face in its guidance. He was confident in our ability to relate to the divine message. He was confident in our efforts to serve the community. It is what he taught us, and this is what he practiced. Many of us learned the Quran under his caring guidance from cover to cover. It was like taking a bath every day in the purest of the purest water. There were no explanations, no opinions of any scholar, only our intellect at our mercy. It was a path that many deem dangerous, many would forbid Muslims to take, and a methodology that not many in our long history of guides and teachers had focused on. On top of the list of such teachers and guides is the name of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet made the Quran a manifesto of the life of everyone; he came in contact. He adopted that daring and bold methodology to prepare a younger generation to take up the challenges.
He wanted all of us to be like a walking and living Quran. He wanted us to be like that not because it was his methodology, but it was the right thing and the only thing that matters in our relations with the creator. His life testifies to his sincerity towards the Quran. The Quran and its relevance in our times and all times are the titles of the man we knew as Maher Hathout. Under his supervision, we were all involved in the course launched under the title of Quranic understanding for everyday people, which later inspired many other works on the Quran.
He knew that we would always find ourselves in the maze of sects, factions, and groups unless we relate to the Quran. He knew that the practical unity among Muslims would come when people would understand the purpose of their existence directly through the primary text source on the subject. He knew that each individual could relate to the divine message without any third person, not because he was saying so, but because the divine cannot be unjust with people by making some more privileged than others.
In his way, he was in the league of scholars and poet philosophers like Shauqi, Saadi, Rumi, and Iqbal.
It is his most significant contribution to the younger generation, a gift that the coming generation has yet to grasp. He believed that only this approach would bring discipline to the community, intellectual integrity, and sincerity. By saying, he was repeating what the Quran had emphasized and what the Prophet had lived. A true leader does not create countless followers, but inspires people to become leaders in their own right. Dr. Maher Hathout did that.
People would call him a pioneer in focusing on Muslim American identity. Yet this idea was the outcome of his sincere attempt to relate to the Quran. Every stand and position he took emerged from his understanding of the divine teachings, not based on his organization or personal thinking. Some people call it a hard approach, uncompromising and unyielding, but the truth is always stubborn and determined.
Some people would say that he pioneered interfaith dialogue. Yet, it was the outcome of his understanding of the Quran, an idea that people are still reluctant to accept as a genuine Quranic message. Only recently, while I was speaking at a seminar in a major university in India, a professor, seasoned in his Islamic studies, described the interfaith movement as a conspiracy of Christians and Jews to make Islam ineffective. Had he learned the methodology of comprehending the divine message from Dr. Maher Hathout, he would have found better reasoning to relate with the people of all faith.
We are grateful to the Almighty for his life and contributions with the full realization that even if the teacher is gone, the book is still there, and the confidence he created in us to relate with it is still there. Therefore, rather than saying that may Allah bless him, it is better to say that Allah's blessings were upon him because he was asking people to relate the blessed words of Allah.