May 23rd, 2011
10:09 AM ET

My Take: This just in, Tennessee court says Islam is a religion

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.

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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.

Tennessee imam: My mosque was torched

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.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Church and state • Courts • Islam • Opinion • Tennessee • United States

soundoff (708 Responses)
  1. jeebs

    the answer to all of this BS is to create a government that rules the entire world. This govenment would abolish all of the national borders that currently exist and create provinces that have fluid borders. This govenment would then create a religion that would fulfill the needs of everyone.

    It is the only way to peace.

    May 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  2. Jeannie 807

    Hmmm, the Scopes Monkey trial was in Tennessee also – why am i not surprised at this new ruling.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  3. Tie Mie Shu

    Murfreesboro sounds like a Christian hell-hole to me. Some of the comments are hilarious. People should perhaps study the penal codes in the Bible for crimes such as adultery, apostasy etc. before pointing fingers at Islam. If you think that these penal codes are in context, so are the penal codes of Shariah law. Wouldn’t you kuffar want a death penalty for a person who r a p e s and murders your 15 year old daughter who pretty much grew up in front of your eyes? That’s right, Shariah speaks to human nature my friend.

    May 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Book

    Islamaphobia is just simple prejudice using limited knowledge. It is bad that it exists, but It is going to exist, just as anti-racial or anti-gay sentiment exists here. It will take a while to get past it. Islam operates under different values, many of which are incompatible with the west, but the problems only arise when religion starts interfering with the way we live our lives. This includes both Christianity and Islam, which tend to dictate more beliefs and actions than some of the other religions. I hope the US can move away from both systems of belief and just focus on providing for our needs and advancing mankind. Muslims will also need to settle their own differences, as there seem to be irreconcilable differences within Muslims throughout the region that often result in violence.

    May 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Tie Mie Shu

      "western" values cater to the needs of only a few rich and privileged my friend. Laws of God are what are universal laws. Just like when you go down the highway, the speed limit is not just for reckless drivers, it is for all. Similarly, when God says, you shall be stoned to death for murder, adultery etc. it is for the benefit of human society. I am a staunch supporter of severe punishment (in public) for hideous crimes that are destroying our families and communities.

      May 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  5. Larry

    I had no idea that Tennessee was so backwards. WOW.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • David Johnson


      Backwards? Well umm... yeah. Its part of the bible belt. Evidently god loves them so much, He doesn't want them to go out of their immediate gene pool to find mates.


      May 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Wow...how elite and clever of you. Using stereotypes against a random group you disagree with.

      May 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  6. yuctahootie

    In other decisions the Tennessee court determined that the tomato is a vegetable, that Lindsay Lohan is an over-exposed, useless idiot and that Lady GAGA is a... Well they are hopelessly deadlocked on that one.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • mike

      Actually, a tomato is not a vegetable but a fruit. 🙂

      May 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • paperjihad

      @Mike LOL

      May 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  7. George

    Timoth McVeigh was not a Muslim, but he was terrorist. It would be foolish to think that a Muslim is a terrorist because they are Muslim. From what I remember about American history, our foundation is built upon using all people differences to make us great. Has that changed?

    May 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Relictus

      The "different" people started killing the rest of us by flying airplanes into buildings. And my tax dollars support a lot of "different" people while I struggle to get by. I see "different" people at the Food4Less buying a lot of food with welfare coupons, while I have to budget for what I buy. I am jealous of those resting on our safety net, and scared that I might need that net at one and the same time. The "huddled masses" cost me a lot, and they don't even like us. Once, the "different" people wanted to be us – now, they just want to use us.

      May 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  8. name

    Let's just all be humans. We are the most intelligent beings on this planet, and some of us act worse than animals and expect to be respected as wise and noble people. Seriously.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  9. Conrad

    If you cannot leave a religion, doesn't that make it a cult? And how is Islam so compatible with American values when it persists in stoning women?

    May 24, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Stevie7

      The bible instructs people to stone disobedient children – but I don't see any Americans doing that. Maybe we should just outlaw christianity because it is inconsistent with American values.

      May 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Stevie7- Why did Leviticus say that? Have you ever asked why and check with a Rabbi on the topic?

      May 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I'm really not concerned with what anyone says – stoning anyone really isn't a good thing, regardless of the times. It is a reflection of the times, but it is not something that a loving god would advocate. Any attempt to justify such behavior is a BIG stretch to rationalize that which is violent and evil. So much for thou shall not kill.

      May 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "So much for thou shall not kill."

      If you have done your research you would know that the hebrew for "kill" is actually best translated murder.

      May 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • LOL

      Lycidas you are too funny constantly playing with words to try and make yourself seem smarter than you are.

      Let's see now the definition of murder is....to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously. Or is there another hebrew definition for murder too. LOL!

      May 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @LOL- It's obvious that "intent" means little to you. If you are ever called for a murder trial, plz tell them that you don't care if it was in defense or if they meant to kill someone..it's all the same to you 😉 lol

      As for the hebrew, you do realize that languages do not perfectly translate from one to the other right? That is very important to know when discussing ancient texts. Act like you got some sense before commenting eh?

      May 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • LOL

      Well Lycidas if you get called for a murder trial you should decline you jump to conclusions with out thought.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Sadly, you haven't proven that I do. But your opinion has been noted, doesn't that make you feel good about yourself?

      May 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • i wonder

      "As for the hebrew, you do realize that languages do not perfectly translate from one to the other right?"

      Yeah, and everyone knows that "God" only speaks ancient Hebrew....

      May 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Just curious... is there any valid reason to say, "stone disobedient children?" Also, I couldn't find a reference in Lev, only Deut., do you have a chapter/verse in Lev?

      May 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • LOL

      "Sadly, you haven't proven that I do. But your opinion has been noted, doesn't that make you feel good about yourself?"

      I bet you feel good about yourself posting trash like this. LOL!

      May 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @LOL- As much as you do, I am sure.

      @i wonder- Actually no one said anything about God talking here. You do realize that God didn't write the Torah..right? Right?!

      @Nonimus- Don't know, don't have any children. But if you want a reference, try Deut 21st chapter. You will note that it is not the parents that dispense punishment. But I am sure everyone on here already knew that..right?

      May 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Sorry about the Lev reference, so use to the Mitzvot being listed in that book. But let us also make note that when talking about "children", the verse in no way implies young children but adult ones. Odd how the haters don't seem to catch that when they bring it up, or the whole part about the parents not giving out the punishment. It was the elders that decided the guilt and punishment.

      May 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  10. Rick Santorum

    Not only Islam is the 2nd largest religion, it also represents the views of the vast majority of American Christians. Views about gay rights, marriage, abortion, the beginning of life at conception, creation of the world, and the right to bear nuclear arms, to name just a few.

    May 24, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  11. BIGRED

    In his ruling, judge Robert Corlew announced "that Islam is a religion." So it is up to the courts and government to decide if a faith happens to also be a religion? I am sure that the Jews and Romans during the time of Christ and for the next 100 years would have probably agreed that Christianity was not a religion.

    May 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Peace2All


      The fact that a group of pretty ignorant people decided to challenge the fact that Islam is the 2nd biggest religion in terms of # of followers in the world is mind-boggling to me.

      It wasn't that they (the people in Tennessee) 'really' didn't think that Islam was and is a religion, it was they were trying to make sure that the mosque would not be built, so they were trying to find a way around by making challenges in this fashion. That's pathetic in my book.

      And no... I'm not unaware of the lunatic suicidal crazy idiots that some of the followers of Islam can be.


      May 24, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  12. ophu

    "And, at least for now, the First Amendment is still the law of the land in Tennessee." Except for where saying the word "Gay" is concerned. Then the first amendment goes into the toilet.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Peace2All


      It's the..."At least for now"... part of that sentence that really gives me cause for concern about the 1st amendment.


      May 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  13. Reality

    An update on the major religions in less than 100 words: (please staple a copy on your mosque, church or synagogue doors)++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





    Added details upon request

    May 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Newo

      ...saving them from what, nothing after death?

      May 24, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Joe

      So since you know so much, why don't you tell us something useful, like who's gonna win the Belmont Stakes, or who's gonna win the Super Bowl this year? Or if there's even gonna be a football season? Seems like someone who could figure out whether people existed or not and if angels are real could figure out something useful. You must be rich right with all your 'knowledge" right? Ohhh wait.. you're a know nothing loser that posts his own opinions online like they are facts.. got it. Now back under your rock please the people with brains want to talk...

      May 24, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Reality

      Saving Christians from the Big Resurrection Con/Disease:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
      o "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      o p.168. by Ted Peters:
      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      o So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Reality

      It is called the Great Angelic Con:

      Joe Smith had his Moroni.

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Reality

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      "Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Grasu200

      have you heard the latest on britney spears? .....i thought so.....

      May 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  14. Abd

    This weekignite sign stating that the islamic center of murfreesboro is adopting part of the hwy where their new center will be built was also vandalized. Go figure!

    May 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  15. jackfertig

    considering how many "Christian" groups insist that the US is supposed to be a Christian (not secular) nation, and how many "Christian" militias are stockpiling weapons one has to wonder if there's a little bit of projection going on here. Religious "fundamentalist" Christians make up a pretty sizable part of the US population, are more than well represented in congress and recently had one of their own as president, while Muslims are less than 2%. Now who really poses a threat to religious freedom in this country?

    May 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  16. Shells

    Funny here we are with the same thinking as the 3rd world country.....

    Everyone STOP trash talking is this what the teachings of Mohammed (p.b.u.h) or Christ or Lord Ram or Moses would want to see that their followers of faith are breaking the first rule of religion to not dishonor or discriminate another human life, their beliefs and their faith........Stop and read and Listen to your radical hateful words and how its against your beliefs.....the world solely belongs to Allah in reference GOD....Must we be so hateful and so radical. Islam is a religion so is Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and many others out there but not are the same and not all people follow like a true follower stop blaming every Muslim for bombs and attack and stop attacking any other religions for who they are. Our intake and opinions tell others who we are. We do voice our opinion and stand up to stop the killings in the name of GOD but whose to tell this to those illiterates out their who follow anyone who uses afew verse from their holy book. Libya has rebels those that feel the pain and suffering and want to end the violence. Palestine and Isrealis when was the last time their children got to know their neighbors or see themselves grow up to be someone. Kashmir, Pakistan, India and Afghan they all are stupidly corrupted with power to attack all human life. The land is ours to live on and those countries who does not accept other religions and other beliefs look how they suffer with poverty and violence and killing of men women and children of their own and others Everyday. And if we as Citizens begin to believe and look at each religion in a hateful manner then God's wrath will continue which it has look at the cities and states facing devastation because people are becoming violent hateful and sinful not because of "mother nature". Please stop the hate what those suicide bombers or their assailants did we can't forgive them but we shouldn't be angry because the life here after will justify justice....yes our loved one's died but one day we will too and with all this negativity and hate who knows how severe our death maybe as a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or even Atheist. Also Saudi's have a population of christian and so does Pakistan, Afghan and Palestine but we'd rather not be there because look what violence has done to those who believe in these peaceful religions but over land and power and political corruption they are so illiterate and radical........No country has been at peace for decades and I don't want the American's to become those countries or those people. be thankful where we are and who we are and also yes our political system is corrupt but they aren't making us typical citizens to carry grenades and weapons to kill. Be thankful share the land you don't have to share the ideology or faith....

    May 23, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Abdul

      @Shells. This person is preaching tolerance. His whole commentary is bigoted and one sided. Shells is used 'they are all stupid and corrupted' multiple times in his sermon. Although I liked the message, the language carries absolutes in it.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  17. Peacemaker

    "No race is superior; no religion is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them" ~ Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor & human rights activist.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  18. tommas

    Fidei, you tell me... they are the ones not following what they call the word of god.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Fidei Coticula Crux

      @ tommas,

      You were quoting Scripture like you knew what you were talking about, so it is up to you to clarify your statement... not I.

      May 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Fidei .. one big problem (I've encountered in this Belief BLOG) is they cannot read (with understanding) and the really do not read the Bible. They like to spout things (maybe they heard some where) but they did not read the Bible and they do not reflect understanding of what they read here (on the BLOG). They just blurt. So it may seem like (exchange) but actually it is just blurting (often illogical or incorrect). There is a sense of "vindication" among the anti-Camping group because Camping was so ridiculous. So this particular comment section is not really making sense.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm |


    May 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  20. The Truth About Islam

    wow.. so many ignorant false statements about Islam.. please get educated and englightened –


    May 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • tommas

      They are not false, it is just ridiculous for any christian to say their religion is moral.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Well the "truth" we have been watching about Islam is pretty consistent. Airplane hi_jacking and (airplane bombings), Bee_heddings, Soo_i_cide bummers, abusing women, brutality, vie-oh-lence .. a lot of TV messages about doping folks in .. jee-haws against cartoonists and stand_offs with Russian author_ities .. even some done-in journ_al_ists and so no matter what PR releases one might make (to paint a rosey picture) the one everybody sees is not so rosey... so you cannot do press re_leases that say something "nice" and then act like bar_bar_ioans and expect people to be gull_ible

      May 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Abdul

      I think if you read this, it will certainly enlighten your.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • claybigsby

      @ Rightturnclyde: You act like the entire Muslim population is a bunch of terrorists. Thats like saying all christians are neo-nazis, KKK members or terrorists (unibomber). you sir are ignorant.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:23 am |
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