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Legislators make peace
with Muslim prayer

Two Republican lawmakers who refused to participate in a Muslim cleric’s opening prayer earlier this week struck an entirely different posture when the imam returned to commence yesterday’s session of the Washington state House of Representatives.

After the prayer by Imam Mohamad Joban – which began with a solemn singing of Quranic verses – Rep. Lois McMahan and Rep. Cary Condotta shook the cleric’s hand and apologized.

Prayer by Imam Mohamad Joban, left, televised by public affairs channel

Joban accepted the apologies and invited the politicians to visit him at the Islamic Center of Olympia.

Immediately after the prayer, a national Muslim lobby group, which had called on state and national Republican leaders to condemn the legislators’ actions Monday, held a press conference outside the House chamber.

The incident figured prominently on the website of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a controversial group that considers itself a moderate voice for Muslims but is regarded by critics as a radical group with ties to terrorist organizations.

On Monday, McMahan, an evangelical Christian, said it was “patriotism” that caused her to remain outside the chamber during Joban’s prayer, asserting that Islam “is part and parcel with the attack on America.” Condotta did not explain his reason but indicated that his lack of participation was intentional.

McMahan issued an apology to her colleagues from the chamber floor Wednesday.

Washington state Republican Rep. Cary Condotta

Condotta said he thought the prayer yesterday was “great,” according to news reports.

Joban said, in part, “We pray that God guides the hearts of all good people of all faiths to see what we all have in common and pray that it makes us a stronger community in nation.”

In a written statement, McMahan said she stood at her desk yesterday “to show my support for Imam Mohamed [sic] Joban’s God-given freedom of religion.”

At the press conference with area Muslim leaders, Joban said the experience was “very exciting” and read from a letter he wrote to McMahan, accepting her apology, the Associated Press reported.

“What you did showed strength of character and moral fiber,” he wrote.

‘Germany in 1938’

CAIR said other groups scheduled to have representatives speak at the press conference included Northgate Mosque, the Islamic Center of Kent, the Islamic Center of Bellevue, the Arab American Community Coalition and the Al-Islam Center of Seattle.

Attendance for the opening prayer is usually spotty, as it was Monday, the AP said, but yesterday nearly all 98 representatives stood at their desks and listened respectfully as Joban began his prayer.

However, Rizwan Samad, president of the American Muslim Alliance of Washington, said the lawmakers’ actions still made him angry, and he is anxious about the future for Muslims in America.

“Muslim-Americans already feel we are in Germany in 1938,” Samad said, referring to what he sees as a backlash after the Sept. 11 attacks. “We do not want to sit quietly while the government moves toward Germany in 1942.”

The lawmaker’s apologies after their actions Monday were weak, he said, “like if you spill a cup of coffee, you say, ‘Oh, sorry.'”

Others had a more positive tone, noting the attendance for the prayer yesterday.

“It was a very sad day for America to see and hear the actions of our elected representatives,” said Asha Mohammed, outreach coordinator for the Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington. She said her religion teaches that “when once asked for apology to accept it wholeheartedly.”

“We are patriots, we do love America,” Mohammed said. “We accept the apology, and that’s that.”

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