My Faith: After my mosque was torched
The Islamic Center of Columbia, Tennessee, after it was torched in 2008.
August 7th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

My Faith: After my mosque was torched

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in 2011. Daoud Abudiab is president of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tennessee, where he works as an administrator for a physicians' group.

By Daoud Abudiab, Special to CNN

Last year, my son and I attended the White House conference on bullying prevention. We heard stories of people being bullied for being black, gay, lesbian and Sikh. The stories were compelling and left me more critical of our culture, in which it is popular to act in ways that dishonor our traditions.

Some of my friends were interested in the details of my Washington trip. I commented on the diversity at the White House event. A friend made a joke about the composition of attendees reflecting a typical Democratic Party gathering.

I thought of it as a typical American gathering. But I have become aware that not all Americans honor my American citizenship.

Read: Missouri mosque destroyed in fire

In some circles, my Muslim faith is not even accepted as a religion.

And Muslims everywhere are feeling increasingly less welcome in America. We see our kids bullied in schools over their faith and our daughters, wives and mothers picked on and ridiculed for wearing hijab, the Muslim headscarf.

Mosques  across America have been vandalized in recent years. Mine was one of them.

In 2001, I was excited to be among the founders of the Islamic Center of Columbia in central Tennessee.

We are a small Muslim community in a small town. Our families felt welcome, and we were positively featured in the local newspaper on a couple of occasions.

But in February 2008, the Islamic Center of Columbia was destroyed in a fire. A year later, three young men from Columbia were sentenced to prison terms of 6 to 14 years for hate crimes against our house of worship.

According to the federal complaint against them, the fire they set was at least partially inspired by the Bible. “What goes on in that building is illegal according to the Bible,” one of them told authorities afterward, referring to our mosque.

The men belonged to the Christian Identity Movement, according to the federal complaint, and said the arson gained them honor among the group’s other members.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the right-wing movement is “nominally Christian” but has little in common with even the “most conservative of American Protestants.”

After the fire, many Christians supported us. The pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, Bill Williamson, invited my congregation to pray at his church until we found a new home.

In November 2008, at the opening ceremony for our new location, I handed Bill back the key to his house of worship. We remain friends and share our story of love and compassion for one another any time we get the chance.

There were other Christians who did not act very Jesus-like after the mosque fire.

When my son countered middle school tormenters who called him a terrorist by telling about the burning of mosque, one response was “that’s OK, because you are in our country and we can do that to you.”

One local Christian pastor, meanwhile, publicly criticized First Presbyterian Church for sharing its space with my congregation, arguing that Muslims worship a different God than Christians.

People like that often claim superiority to Muslims, but they don’t walk the walk.

Last year, I shared a stage at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee with Robert Montgomery, a Pulaski pastor who I met through Bill Williamson.

We discussed the journey that led to our friendship. He claims to have become a better Christian as a result of the non-Christian friends he has known over the years. I know that’s true for me as a Muslim.

There is nothing to fear or compromise in such a friendship and everything to gain.

When I articulate my faith to someone who does not share it, I feel accountable. It is uncomfortable to be a hypocrite, or at least it should be.

Let me say to non-Muslim Americans: I do not want to convert you. I simply ask that you be true to who you say you are. Let us all honor the best of our traditions.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daoud Abudiab.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • Mosque • Tennessee

soundoff (597 Responses)
  1. Hussain

    illuminated Genius – Agree totally with your statements. Religions have been the bane of civilization and Islam has been the worst offender. Read the daily papers if one wants to keep up to date on all the atrocities committed by the members of this so call religion of peace. As long as they are in the minority they would write articles of this nature; but once they are in the majority position in any country, the tune is exactly opposite.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  2. socrates

    Steve P
    There are tooooo many ignorant people out there that I think they are beyond repair. the solution is that we wait for the next generation who will be more open, intelligent and educated.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  3. james

    A religion that hates all other religions.

    Huh. Interesting.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  4. illuminated Genius

    Given the amount of hatred given towards other people's religions in Islamic nations, i have a real hard time accepting the crocodile tears of muslims who are brainwashed with the lies of Islam being peaceful. Islam has never been a peaceful religion not since for the last 1,400 years alone! More than 270 million people died because a insane narcissist, pseudo prophet, pedophile, war mongering, racist, misogynistic, hate monger named Mohammed bought the world's biggest satanic death cult into this world. The hypocrisy and lies may have deceived the world for a long time since the peaceful verses were used as a front to deceive people, while in Arabic violent verses which contradict the peace verses are used to hide Islam real evil true intentions. The atheists are right, Islam is not a religion but more as a social political ideology from the 7th century. Its rise in unpopularity was inevitable as well its eventual fall. Given the high level of intolerance it has always projected and how it incites and brainwashes people to believe in insanities such as killing themselves for 72 virgins in heaven and to fight for Jihad and Holy war is one reason why Islam may not be considered a religion in the near future and possibly would be even lose its religious status. It has happened in Italy already, since most of the world is fed up with radical Islamic extremists in the global Jihad movement. Islam is one of the most racist hypocritical religions on this world. Anyone who sees a nation like Saudi Arabia would know nothing except Islam is excepted in that nation. If the world actually followed Islam we would be living like the Taliban would today with oppressed women covered like plastic body bags and people would be stoned to death under Sharia. It is time for people to move on from the 7th century, Islam has no future. Science and rationality and logic is our future along with secularism and humanism not religious insanity of corruption in Islam and corrupt organized religion like the members of Wesboro Church or Al-Qaida or any other religious extremist. Our governments will be neutral and have separation of church and state to keep religious influence away from our policy making .

    March 25, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Loulou

      WOW, where to start? First of all, you are not significant enough to judge a prophet that more than 1.3 billion people believe in. Secondly, someone who goes by the name "illuminated Genius" calling a prophet a narcistic pedophile murderer sounds a bit obsurd. I'm sorry but I wish you could be a little bit less ignorant and fuelled by hate and instead be fuelled by reason. EVERYONE knows the biggest murderers were the British and French Empires who tried to dominate the world and are still trying. All the crimes you accuse muslims of perpatrating, America has already perpratrated.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Wilbur


      Not significant to judge muhammad? I would beg to differ because it is a fact the man Islam says is the model for all Muslims on how to live their life did all the following:

      1). Married a six year old and consummated it when she was nine
      2). Tortured a man by putting coals on his chest to find his treasure
      3). Took as a slave the wife of the man he tortured to death, took her to bed that night, and then later married her. To boot he had her father and brother beheaded
      4). Had numerous slaves he traded in even gifting some as presents
      5). Had several people murdered simply for daring to mock him
      6). Led or took part in 72 battles/raids in which he stole and personally murdered people
      8). On his death bed ordered the ethnic classing of all non Muslims from the Arabian peninsula
      9). Sent letters to the world leaders of the time telling them if they submitted to Islam they would be safe

      I could go on and on but the troubling aspect of this is that Muslims are prescribed to imitate this very bad mans actions. I guess we now know why the Islamic world is bar none the most xenophobic and intolerant part of the world.


      March 25, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Roger Kilmer

      Man, someone's really smoking the good stuff. Why don't you spend less time on hate-filled, vile-spewing websites that propagate lies and falsehood – go learn about Islam from Muslims. But wait, that's never going to happen because you are an islamophobic bigot. And because once you learn the truth of the matter, that you wasted away precious time of your life trolling CNN and surfing paranoid rants on seedy websites, you will still make the claim that the Muslims are lying about their religion and that the non-muslims are the ones who got it right. I just hope the illogicality of the fact that, who are you to tell people what THEY believe, sinks in and you realize the error of your ways.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  5. Priyath

    Freedom is the weak point MUSLIMS use to get sympathy when in the west. But they do not speak a word of the discrimination doe against minorities in their native countries

    March 25, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  6. FrankHerbert

    all religions preach 'tolerance', but their followers act differently with hypocrisy.

    March 25, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  7. Izzy

    There are bad people of all types and locations and cultures. With or without religion there would be war and death. Religion is not the problem people are the problem. People with their false sense of superiority and righteous, so much so that "God" wills them to kill and harm. The evil of cultural supremacy and racial supremacy have poisoned this world. And until people learn to appreciate others and not judge them as good or bad these incidents will continue. Don't blame the Muslims for being Muslim or "in the wrong place," blame the people who did such an act for the sin of hubris.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • sassypants

      I think we need to blame people for not staying put in their home countries.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  8. MisterE

    It is just sad to see that so much hatred resides in this country.
    I applaud Mr. Williamson for allowing those without a place to worship to offer his own home.
    Abiding by what the bible says that no mater what "God is Love".

    March 25, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  9. Steve P.

    This is a thoughtful and well-written article. I support you and your right to worship as you see fit.

    The majority of the responses that I have read are pathetic. Ignorance is the problem. We need to work harder to educate one another about the diversity that exists within our country. It enriches our nation.

    And for the record, I have Muslim friends. Not once have they tried to convert me or called me an infidel or expressed anything but sadness and regret about terrorism.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  10. JOE

    Islam is violent? Who started the two World Wars, which resulted in a total of roughly 100 million deaths? Who put Jews in gas chambers before burning them?

    March 25, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Wilbur


      Nice try! Please reference verses in the bible that leaders during world II used to justify this violence. You can't because they do not exist. Yes their are violent passages but the key is they are contextual meant for a specific time, place, and event. The Quran is viewed as the word of god thus muslims believe it to be perfect, beyond critique, and most importantly transcendent for all time(I.e. Not contextual in anyway). You might also want to look up the inspiration for the yellow star the Nazis made the Jews wear! You'll find it was directly lifted from islam's rules for dhimmis. If you research it further you will also find hitler wished the Germans were Muslims because he thought Christianity was to soft. Further debasing your point is the fact we are all waiting with baited breath for the ever allusive Christian, Jewish, buhddist, and Hindu suicide bombers that Islam holds a 100% monopoly on. If your now thinking we caused this in any event your dead wrong. Everything is a red herring respective to actions of orthodox Muslims killing non muslims because the underlying problem is the fact our unbelief in Islam is and always will be the biggest issues for these fanatics. The litmus test is when you place the "problems" Muslims say cause this on other faith based groups none react with the violence that Muslims do. The fundamental problem is the fundamentals of Islam that categorically reject true religious freedom even to leave it, equality of all regardless of faith, the right if man to make and change laws, and most importantly the right of personal agency that subordinates the rights of the state ornery god to our simple right ton life and liberty. Islam mandates the death penalty for leaving Islam, says the only valid law is gods and democracy is heresy, and that all agency rests soley with god subordinating the individuals right to life and liberty to his laws. Read the quran, a Hadith source, and the sir. Then pay attention to to the endemic human and religious rights abuses across the Islamic world. You will then notice with acute clarity the direct linkage between Islam and these abuses.


      March 25, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • TPN

      You are just full of "Fun Facts" . Have you ever thought of trying out for the Jeopardy show?

      March 25, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  11. Chuck

    "Let me say to non-Muslim Americans: I do not want to convert you. I simply ask that you be true to who you say you are. Let us all honor the best of our traditions."

    So my question is this....if and when there is a war/conflict where all Muslims are called on to destroy the infidels where will you stand then? Will you kill these neighbors that welcomed you in? Will you kill those that helped you when your family and the other families of Muslims fled the hardships of your Muslim destroyed homeland? Will you try to destroy our culture and make it the same as the place you fled? I am sorry. I have been to the middle east for 2 trips to Afghanistan and 2 trips to the Persian Gulf for 8 months each time in a military uniform and I have learned and have seen the pain and suffering in the name of Islam. You can try and say that you want to be American, Canadian or any other Western society you come to, but the reality is that no matter where Muslims go there is a trail of destruction. It starts small like how they sue us because of our beliefs...Christmas or our flags and national anthems offend them....in Canada it has happened many times. How we must accommodate their clothes, which really have no religious standings. Until I see a Muslim woman wearing western clothes and not crying foul when someone says Merry Christmas....time to get stepping and go back to where Islam is loved. Why don't they want to go back to their countries? 2 reasons...they want to convert or take over the West and their great religion is so oppressive they fled the very beliefs they are trying to shove down our throats. I can not nor will I ever welcome them to our great country built on non-Muslim traditions and was defended by non-Muslim soldiers in WWI and WWII.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Rachael

      There is so much ignorance in this comment I don't even know where to start. The hijab is not a big deal; would you ask a Jew to remove a yarmulke (I think that's how it's spelled)? Most Muslim people are peaceful; there are horrible people/acts from any religion.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • BG

      @ Rachael

      "would you ask a Jew to remove a yarmulke.."

      If it covered his face? Yes.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  12. Neil

    I for one applaud this man's courage. From what I can gather from the article he has done nothing but practice his chosen faith peacefully. Yet a small few decided that the peaceful worship of another God (or the same God, the difference in this context is irrelevant) was somehow a threat to them. As long as I live I don't think I will ever understand that rational. The scary part is that there are countless examples of this type of intolerance worldwide and throughout history (as some of the other posters have pointed out). I like hearing stories such as this though. It gives me hope that one day enough people will learn to help one another in their time of need that stories like that might become commonplace. And that they would do so not because their faith demands it but, because it is the right thing to do.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  13. Robert

    Hey Daoud, will you denounce Hamas in public? If you are for peace, denounce your fellow muslims who rage war.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Captain_Colossal

      peace by killing all infidels !

      March 25, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Lanjha

      I dont understand why u folks are after Hamas. They are just fighting for their freedom and rights in the area. Al Qaeda and the likes are the ones trying to spread their – islam dominace & medieval way of life – arround the world.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Rachael

      That's not what the article's about, why do you bring it up? It has nothing to do with the incident he's describing.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Loulou

      It's funny, most of these poeple have not educated themselves on Middle Eastern politics slighty; HAMAS is not a terrorist organization. It's a political party fighting for democracy and freedom in Israel.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • BG

      @ loulou

      "... Middle Eastern politics"
      According to -who-?

      "HAMAS is not a terrorist organization. It's a political party fighting for democracy and freedom in Israel."
      By sending missiles and bombs into areas populated entirely by Jewish civilians.

      Aren't you a hoot, loulou !

      March 25, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  14. Reality

    Solving many of these problems in less than 100 words:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians:

    There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:

    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    Added details upon request.


    March 25, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  15. Mikki Dora

    Quit crying and go somewhere else. At least we don't kill you because of you believe in a violent religion. By the way, do you still beat your wife?

    March 25, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  16. sehrish

    I am a muslim and I like that someone had the heart to write an article like this. It just shows that not all muslims are the same! We have bad apples too. In my family my sisters go to church with their friends, and no one tries converting n e one! It is the those who lack knowledge and education that criticize religions!

    March 25, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Sidhartha

      Well the fact is your religion clearly states that non-believers are infidel. Therefore your religion is not democratic and fundamentally doesnt belong in America. You can be tolerated but you will NEVER be accepted by free thinkers who consider all humans equal.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • LKJ

      @Sidhartha: I converted to Islam in 1981 and I am still the only Muslim in my extended family. But we get along well. Of course, Muslims would like everyone to believe in and worship One God. We all would like others to agree with us. But we can still get along even when we do disagree.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Thinkingman

      This reply is to Sidhartha, who stated the following in response to your post::

      "Well the fact is your religion clearly states that non-believers are infidel. Therefore your religion is not democratic and fundamentally doesnt belong in America. You can be tolerated but you will NEVER be accepted by free thinkers who consider all humans equal."

      Boy did you misunderstand America's position on religious freedom! A religion does not have to be democratic to "belong in America". In principle, if not in practice, we consider that ALL religions belong here equally, just as we welcome those without religious faith. And as for a religion that "clearly states that non-believers are infidel", check out Deuteronomy 13. It is scary how hypocritical Christians can be when casting aspersions on Muslims for passages in the Koran that are almost identical to those in the Bible.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Lanjha

      @Sidhartha – you are supposed to the symbol of peace and tolerance in the world. Better change your name or take some lessons from the Lama.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • Loulou

      To "Sidartha": Your logic is purely based on your hatred for Islam. From the sounds of your name, you are also a Hindu? Yeah, what about your religion which allows the murders and suppression of MILLIONS of MUSLIMS in India every YEAR? Yeah, I think we have more Hindu terrorists/suicide bombers in just India then all Muslim extremists in the world. So please keep your anti-Islamic sentiments to yourself next time so we can be spared from your hypocrisy!

      March 25, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Loulou

      and Sidartha, your narrow-minded opinion does NOT dictate who or what get's accepted in American society. Leave that to the general DEMOCRATIC population to do. And if you were a little smarter, you would be starting to make friends with Muslims as they are quickly rising to the top as one of the most educated religious groups in America. We may even have our first Muslim President sometime soon.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • BG

      @ loulou

      "We may even have our first Muslim President sometime soon."

      Why, is Barry finally coming out? Good. It'll be official.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  17. Dover

    This is Tennessee, what do you expect? Conservative rednecks that all pass around one tooth that they share, and show off when their week comes up. Thank our lucky stars the right wing dinosaur is finally dying. Take a seat and enjoy the show.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  18. Noboddame

    The world is a swamp of hypocritical Horse manure. Ignorance is the true evil.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  19. T.J. Stone

    I find it difficult to even think of Islam as a religion. What religion would require parents to bury a 13 year old girl alive for speaking with a boy. (turkey) A pastor I know was killed, his head cut off and his wife made to recant her Christianity while she carried his head through the village on a pole. (Indonesia) Even as we write this, Churches are being burned and Christians murdered by Muslims. (Africa) A Christian in Africa was murdered for wearing a cross in a predominantly Muslim area. Fifty rockets fired from Palestine into Israeli civilians just this past week. I could write a book of Muslim atrocities against humanity, but what would it really matter. I would die an infidel before I would bow one time toward Meca. As far as their prayer posture, what do they think it benefits them to stick their butts in the face of God and expect to get their prayers answered?

    March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Steve

      I agree. But Christianity and Jews are worse. Its a fact that those religions have killed more muslims than the other way round. Hell, just one incident in Bosnia, Srebrenica, killed more muslims than their "terrorists" have killed in ten years.

      All old testament religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim) are inherently violent, undemocratic, and use the word unbeliever, infidel, etc to put one man over another. I hope the world gets rid of them all so proper religions of the East like Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism and Hinduism which dont teach people that their are believers and non-believers spread. TJ Stone you are 100% correct. Get rid of the Old Testament violent religions!

      March 25, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Sidhartha

      I agree; Muslims, Christians, Jews = violence. You all try to blame each other but you are responsible for millions of deaths. The Christians are the worst.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • LKJ

      The incidents you mentioned in Indonesia and Turkey were horrible, and they do not reflect the teachings of Islam. Every religion has some who do terrible things and even blame the religion for their actions. And in terms of Palestine, did you know that Israel launched an attack early this week, killing women and children? That never makes it into the mainstream news. Anyway, Islam requires Muslims to act peacefully toward others, whether Muslims or non-Muslims. We're told that for someone who has taken one life, it's as if he (or she) killed all of humanity, and for someone who has saved one life, it's as if he or she has saved all of humanity. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, in every country, and some will do bad things not because they're Muslims but because they're people. Most of us are just trying to get by.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • joe

      What teachings of Islam are so great? I've read the Koran and it's nothing but rules calling for the death and punishment of non-believers, that women are officially worth half as much as a man, that battles won were because all soldiers believed in god, and the ones lost... somehow they didn't, stupid rules where sand can be used for cleansing when required, etc. what a BS religion. Christianity is too, but at least they had some interesting stories.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • TPN

      @Sidhartha: your religion forbids one cast of people from touching the other cast of people of the SAME religion. According to your logic, what do you think we should do about that?

      March 25, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • david

      have you read the bible? Same stuff.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  20. Al

    OK, this was a sad event that should never take place in America. But where's the coverage of the 50 Christian churches Muslims have just burned in Western Ethiopia.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • amy

      the article isn't about Ethiopia Al. It's about a country that was founded on the freedom to practice ones own religious beliefs freely.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Sidhartha

      Is Ethiopia your benchmark? I think America is a special country – obviously you dont.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Jack

      Boy – you are stupid! Ethiopia is a country run by a very conservative Christian majority that dominates all aspects of the countries power. The Muslims and Jews have been persecuted harshly. In fact the Jews all left for Israel in the 90's. And just one last point – the very small minority of Muslims in Ethiopia live in the east – not the west; thats 100% Christian.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Steve

      Yeah I was wondering the same thing. CNN seems to make sure we cover all the issues that muslims endure but hardly any of the issues they create. I wonder why no discussion about disclaiming the hate towards infidels.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Izzy

      Because we're in America and not Ethiopia. Furthermore Ethiopia may not have the same protections for religion like the United States does. We can't force people to be like this country, we have to make sure that we live up to what we put on paper.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • sassypants

      I agree Al. It happens daily in muslim countries.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • sjalal

      Al, its just like not seeing the coverage for a story about Muslims running fundraising for a church that was burned by extremists in Malaysia. There are many stories that you wont see. But lack of them doesnt mean they dont happen. Your comparison raises a very important question. Are we setting standards for the US based on what happened in Ethiopia?

      March 25, 2011 at 1:38 am |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.