Two lawmakers refused to participate in a Muslim cleric’s opening prayer at a session of the Washington state legislature yesterday.

Calling it “an issue of patriotism,” Rep. Lois McMahan, a Republican from Gig Harbor, near Tacoma, said her decision to remain at the back of the House chamber instead of at her desk was not a protest, but a personal decision because “the religion is the focal point of the hate-America sentiment in the world.”

Washington state Republican Rep. Lois McMahan

“My god is not Muhammad,” McMahan said in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“The Islamic religion is so . . . part and parcel with the attack on America. I just didn’t want to be there, be a part of that,” she said. “Even though the mainstream Islamic religion doesn’t profess to hate America, nonetheless it spawns the groups that hate America.”

The Seattle paper said McMahan and Rep. Cary Condotta, a Republican from Eastern Washington, left the floor during the prayer.

But McMahan’s spokesman, Scott Peterson, told WorldNetDaily that McMahan already had left the floor to get a drink of water and decided not to return for the prayer.

“She wasn’t being confrontational, the way it’s being portrayed,” Peterson said, noting that about 30 of the 98 representatives were absent from their desks for various reasons. “She didn’t necessarily want to make a public statement. It was more of a personal point, something she felt she had to do for herself.”

The director of the interfaith group that schedules the clerics for the prayers said she was “embarrassed to know that some of our legislators can’t even treat someone with that common respect,” the Post-Intelligencer reported.

“He’s an American citizen and he’s praying for their work, then how can it be an act of patriotism to walk away?” said Kathy Erlandson of Associated Ministries of Thurston County.

Peterson said the issue will come up again tomorrow and Friday. Since this is “Muslim week” for the opening prayers, an Islamic cleric also will pray at the beginning of those sessions.

“She hasn’t decided what she’s going to do,” Peterson told WND. “But she would never turn her back on a man of faith and walk out.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim lobby group in Washington, D.C., issued a statement today calling on state and national Republican leaders to condemn the lawmakers’ actions and apologize to Washington’s Muslim community.

“How many times must American Muslims ask Republican leaders to repudiate Islamophobic hate within their own ranks?” said the group’s executive director, Nihad Awad. “Americans must not allow the actions of a few, whatever their positions of authority, to divide our nation along religious and ethnic lines. Such divisive actions by elected leaders can only serve to increase discrimination against ordinary American Muslims and harm our nation’s image and interests worldwide.”

Washington state’s Republican caucus does not support McMahan’s actions, according to Seattle NBC affiliate KING-TV. The representative received about 400 e-mails today from constituents, the station said, and most were negative.

‘In the name of Allah’

Imam Mohamad Joban, of the Islamic Center of Olympia, presented yesterday’s brief opening prayer, the Seattle paper said.

The Muslim cleric said, in part: “We open this session of House of Representatives in the name of Allah, the one God of Abraham, God of Moses, God of Jesus, and God of Muhammad, peace be upon them all. . . . We ask Allah or God to bless the state of Washington so it may continue to prosper and become a symbol of peace and tranquility for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. We pray that Allah may guide this House in making good decisions for the people of Washington.

“At this time, we also pray that America may succeed in the war against terrorism. We pray to God that the war may end with world peace and tranquility.”

Washington state Republican Rep. Cary Condotta

The Seattle paper reported that Condotta, who also remained at the back of the room, declined to comment further except to offer: “Let’s just say I wasn’t particularly interested.”

The Muslim cleric, Joban, said the lawmakers’ actions were not hurtful, but ignorant, the Seattle daily reported.

“They’re unable to distinguish between Islam as religion and way of life, and bad Muslims,” said Joban, who also has opened a session of the Senate. “They are easily able to distinguish between Christianity and bad Christians.

“They need to understand that like [President] Bush said . . . Islam is a peaceful religion.”

Joban said he would accept another invitation to give the prayer: “Even if half of them leave it’s OK for me. As a Muslim we have to respect what people believe and . . . we have to forgive something because of ignorance.”

“The Holy Quran,” added Joban, says that one should “always respond to bad action with good and those who used to be enemies become friends.”

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