May 23rd, 2011
10:09 AM ET
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
A few months ago I spoke at an interfaith forum at the University of North Alabama. One of the speakers on my panel was Ossama Bahloul, imam of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
Bahloul began his talk by observing that God must have a sense of humor to have given him a name as problematic as Ossama. But the heart of his talk concerned the compatibility of Islam with American values.
What surprised me about Bahloul, in both his public talk and our private conversations, was his deep and abiding faith in America. Signs at the construction site for his planned mosque had been vandalized twice and federal investigators had determined that a fire at the site was intentionally set. Efforts to build that mosque, appropriate for a growing congregation that had been active in the area for roughly two decades, were met not only with protests but also with a lawsuit.
Yet Bahloul continued to believe that what was right would win out in the end.
In the lawsuit, opponents of the mosque argued, among other things, that Islam was not a religion and therefore was not entitled to the free exercise protections and special zoning treatment given to religious organizations. But last week, a Murfreesboro court ruled for the Islamic center.
In his ruling, judge Robert Corlew announced "that Islam is a religion." The fact that a court of law in the United States would actually have to make such a finding is a sad commentary on where we are today in the United States in terms of religious literacy.
Islam is not just a religion. It is the second largest religion in the world, with over 1 billion adherents. And as the Murfreesboro case demonstrates, some of these Muslims are our neighbors.
There is still one legal issue unsettled in this case—a technical matter concerning whether a prior proceeding allowing the mosque construction had followed the rules of a local open meetings ordinance. But, as the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro noted on its web page yesterday, the building permit is now in hand.
And, at least for now, the First Amendment is still the law of the land in Tennessee.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.