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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. Sincerely Sorry But Its not only Muslims

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/24/thousands-christians-displaced-ethiopia-muslim-extremists-torch-churches-homes-2057387870/

    March 25, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Haemisch

      The difference is that teh authorities in Tennessee put the the arsonists in jail; in Muslim lands they do it with impunity.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • RobA

      Why on earth would you post that link after this article? Are you trying to say that persecution of Christians outside the US makes it OK for Christian bigots to persecute Muslims?

      Once again, it's the "but he's doing it too, so it's OK for me to do it" mentality. I presume you'd scold your children for thinking like that, so why is it OK for you to do so?

      March 25, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • RobA

      @Haemisch:

      If the Religious Right had their way, the US would be as dominated and corrupted by religious influence as places like Iran. And people like you and not-so-Sincerely-Sorry are the reason.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  2. mohammed

    Religion in 22 words:

    Religion is action not symbolism
    Religion is your footprints on eart over your lifetime
    Churches + temples + mosques = Hypocricy + social and economic segregation

    March 25, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • RobA

      More people need to understand that. Religion is not some club you go to in order to have an excuse to hate people that are different (though that's what lots of people seem to think).

      Anyone who think that violence justifies violence, or that hatred justifies hatred, is a representative of evil, not whichever faith they claim to represent.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  3. norcalmojo

    Muslims burn the churches and homes of 1000's of Christians in Ethiopia and CNN publishes this.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • RobA

      They publish that too, but you didn't see it because you were looking for an excuse to complain about CNN's "bias," I'll bet. Plus, the articles are featured on the home page based on popularity. You and everyone else here who complains about this pre-empting the Christian persecution are indirectly responsible for it happening, because you read this and tell other to read it, but you only glance at the headlines about Christians being persecuted globally. If as many people clicked on that as did on this, they would receive equal representation.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  4. zman

    What a STUPID MORON.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  5. Meredith

    As a resident of Middle TN, I apologize to you, my neighbor, on behalf of all of our bigoted neighbors. I am honestly SHAMED to live here with them, to be a part of a community that is capable of such hatred and who clearly aren't true believers of the Christ they claim to follow. I am sickened by the fact that tonight CNN will feature the sheer ignorance and hate of the people of Murfreesboro, TN for the entire world to see, and that I will be lumped in with the hatemongers by association. As a side note, the comments here are for the most part reprehensible. If you espouse Jesus as your savior, then act like it. Your words are turning people AWAY from Christianity faster than anything a non-Christian could ever do or say, and you will answer for that when your time comes.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  6. Anna

    So phony ... blah

    March 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  7. Khadijah

    Well, it was pretty clear that the guys that torched the Mosque were not proper Christians. And for me, those who would persecute Christians are not real Muslims. The Historical record is clear that Muhammad PBUH sought out the wisdom of the Jews and the Christians during the formation of Islam. And it is those who really know little of the foundation of Islam, like Bin Laden, who are the troublemakers.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • RobA

      Those who misuse religion for evil purposes thrive on the ignorance of their followers. They need people to act on prejudice instead of reason, or else they would have no soldiers to wage their so-called holy war, which represents not the faith, but the selfishness and hatred in humanity's heart. They want people to only hear the bad about their alleged "enemies," and not the good. And people who are looking for an excuse and not the facts, they eat it right up.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  8. Altee11

    Is the hijab mandatory for women in Islam? It seems to be presented by this man as mandatory, but I understand it is more cultural and it is not mandatory nor even necessarily Islamic.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Muslim

      95% women around me did or does not wear hijab

      March 25, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • proudmuslimah

      As a Muslim woman who does wear the hijab, I do believe it is required, but I wear it by my own choice to show my submission to Allah. Other women have different interpretations of the Quranic text and hadith that lead them to their choices about whether or not to wear hijab, and some believe it is required by do not feel ready or safe enough in America to wear it even if they wanted to. There is a lot more to say about this subject, but the honest answer to your question is it depends on who you ask.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Jack

      In America it's totally cultural. The vast majority of women who do wear them- want to. If you go into a community with high Muslim population, you will find families where half the women do and half don't, it's just a matter of personal choice. There are places around the world where they require it. A lot of the women would wear them anyways, but for the ones that wouldn't they don't get a choice. That's the government in those areas though, and an old traditional culture. I think education and technology being brought into those areas would help to put a stop to that.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • RobA

      It's at least as mandatory as a scapular (ask a Catholic about that if you don't know) or a crucifix pendant, or women wearing dresses instead of pants to church. It's as mandatory as one's faith determines it to be.

      The problem is that it gives bigots a target. But it is unreasonable to demand that people simply not wear them...just as unreasonable as it would be to expect an American of a discriminated minority to disguise themselves as a white person.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  9. MrJaunty

    At least only a building was burned – no life was lost like 9//11 – so get off your high horse... I have to agree with Sam & Nodak comments !!!

    March 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Muslim

      This does not make any sense. Just because KKK do something evil in the name of christianilty you wouldn't go burn churches, would you? 9/11 people were terrorists, using the name of islam

      March 25, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • fran glass

      MrJaunty you are obviously a very confused man.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • RobA

      I'll say it again for the ignorant children that don't seem to get it...someone else's wrong actions do not excuse your own.

      You defend this as if you lit the match yourself. Did you?

      March 25, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  10. Kelly

    Everyone needs to quit arguing about who's religion is right. We need to realize that here in the United States we are free to practice our religions, and should NOT have to worry about being bullied for it, or worry about our place of worship being torched.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  11. Curt

    "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."

    I think that's a great sentiment and wish more people who claimed they were Christians actually follow thru on the whole "Love thy neighbor" bit

    March 25, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Frederica

      Curt, Christianity does teach genuine character, freedom of conscience and mercy for all, but it also teaches everyone the Truth and to honor God, never tradition. Wrong tradition must be pointed out or taken down if necessary.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • dnfromge

      Frederica – you have been seriously misguided and sound like a Christian extremist. I have never heard your viewpoint "Wrong tradition must be pointed out or taken down if necessary" in any Christian church I have attended. That is a "terrorist" thought process. Open your heart, learn about people who may be different than you, learn to be more accepting and tolerant and you will become a much happier, well rounded and Christian person.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • RobA

      @dnfromge:

      You completely misunderstand Frederica's point, which was that faith is about being true to the divine virtues, and not just blindly following tradition. Doing something because your predecessors did it is not an excuse for refusing to change for the better. By "wrong traditions" Frederica refers to the old-fashioned mindset in every major faith that makes it OK to discriminate against those not of the faith.

      Humanity can and must change to outgrow and discard those prejudicial "traditions" held in every religion.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  12. Hal

    Thanks to the US laws and justice system, the criminals that burnt the mosque were jailed for their acts. How much protection do Christian churches get in Islamic countries. When their churches are destroyed and their members killed or hurt do they enjoy the same response as here in the US. Strange how much injustice is meeted out to others by Moslems yet they are the ones crying foul. Sudan is a typical example.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • RobA

      Here is someone else defending what was done in TN by using other countries as an excuse.

      Did you go to school at all? Were you taught not to use other people's bad deeds as an excuse for your own?

      March 25, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  13. bulldogmama

    I'm sorry your son was bullied at school, and I appreciate you sharing your courageous story. Best of luck to you and your congregation as you start anew. Not all Americans hate Muslims. My family and I certainly don't.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Muslim

      THANK YOU!

      March 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • dnfromge

      I wholeheartedly agree with Bulldogmama's sentiments!!

      March 25, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  14. Micky

    I am so grateful that some true followers of Jesus showed love to these people after their mosque was burnt down by so called "Christians". Thank you First Presbyterian Church of Columbia and pastor Bill Williamson!

    As a follower of Jesus myself, I purposefully live among Muslims in my community and work to show them the love of Jesus. How much different this world would be if we showed love and not hate towards people who are different than us! We need to stop fearing those who are different and instead talk to them, get to know them and their beliefs and show them the love of Christ.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Muslim

      We understand the love of Jesus just like we do for Abraham, Moses, Mohammed, Noah, ...alll prophets sent to earth.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Frederica

      @Muslim: Jesus is God. Don't blame Christians for this because the Word of God says so. If you think the Bible has changed, that's because you've never read it. There is nothing so profound and life-changing like the Bible in this world; it cannot be anything but God's own living Word. If you read it all, coming to any conclusion other than "Jesus is God" is impossible.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Abraham Lincoln

      @ Frederica, I've read the Bible cover to cover numerous times. I've studied not only the words in the book, but also the history behind it. Having done so, I can safely say that concluding that Jesus is not god is an easily defensible position.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Not a Muslim

      You say you follow Jesus but you don't believe he died on a cross, that he is divine in nature or that the Bible is true in what says ( you say it has been corrupted and the real Bible destroyed). Sorry Muslim, the Jesus you believe in is not the one Christians do. Mutowafeeka!

      March 25, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Micky

      @Muslim – it's not the love for a phrophet, but it the love of Jesus for us.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Micky

      woops *prophet

      March 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Tucker

      Until they decide they have you outnumbered enough to cut your filthy Christian head off. . . .

      March 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  15. Overtaxed

    Cry me a freakin river, maybe they should take their cult back to Mecca where it belongs, these poor pitiful muslims have no intentions of ever becoming Americans. Go home, the US isn't your home.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Muslim

      I did become an american. I am probably more secular and liberal than you are. Cult is used for smaller groups. There are billions of muslims in the world.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Frederica

      USA belongs to Christians. Others are accommodated by Christian mercy.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • dnfromge

      Overtaxed and Frederica – please stop being ignorant, narrow minded haters. Comments like yours make the rest of us appear just as judgemental and offensive as you both are.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Muslims been here awhile, guy

      My great grandparents came to America in 1915. They migrated into South Dakota and Indiana working 15 hour days on the railroad and taking English classes at night. They sent their kids to churches to learn about faith because there were no mosques. Together, they had EIGHT sons in World War II.

      My great-grandparents and their children worked harder not only in their daily lives but to be American citizens than I am willing to bet you ever have.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  16. umsu

    Don't give a rat what an atheist thinks about me. Mock at me now, mock at u later after death we'll know for sure who were the idiots! Smartie! From a Proud muslim

    March 25, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • sa

      Dear UMSU,

      I am a Muslim & Islam prohibits you from calling names to anyone – You should study & understand Islam and should not call idiot to anyone regardless of who they are and what they are saying. May Allah guide us all to straight path.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • ostifari

      I am an Athiest and I fully support your beliefs.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  17. nodak

    Burning someone's place of worship is always wrong. What I don't understand is that the majority of Muslims apparently are unwilling to stand up and condemn the Islamists who carry out terror attacks. I will gladly condemn the radical Christians such as the Westboro Baptist Church members who demonstrate at funerals. It is going to require peaceful Muslims to take there religion back before I can truly trust one of them.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Muslim

      I condemn everyday. Everyone I know does too.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • proudmuslimah

      We do condemn, every day all day, but no one wants to listen as you are an obvious case in point. Take one minute to do a web search with the words "muslims condemn terrorism" and you will find millions of results with Islamic organizations, Imams and individual Muslims who have condemned every single act of terrorism in the name of Islam since 9/11 (and before). And if you can't be bothered to do that, then please hear this – I am Muslim and I condemn, denounce, and disagree with every single act of terrorism in the name of Islam as these actions have never had and never will have a place in our religion.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Traylor

      They do. It just doesn't get reported. And when it is, no one listens.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  18. kungumastah

    Atheists think they are better than everyone else just like everybody does. Everyone...atheist, protestant, sikh, muslim, think they are right and everyone else is wrong. That is a fact of life. So instead of trying to bash everyone else and trying to preach your view as the correct one, just acknowledge that maybe we are all wrong, and move on toward making this world a better place to live for everyone. Because when it all comes down to it, no one really knows. Not your priest, your imam, your preacher, or you. NO ONE REALLY KNOWS.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • alex

      as an athiest myself, i have to say your comment was very closed minded, i never put my beliefs on anybody and i dont judge anyone else's. i have nothing but empathy for this man and if i could i would not mind helping him out in anyway possible.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  19. Sam

    Why doesn't one of CNN's big hitters run a report on all the Christians killed in Muslim countries? Or all their churches and bibles that are burned? It is fine for them to run stories like this, they are important but they never run the other side. The number of Christians persecuted around the world greatly outnumbers any Muslim troubles in the USA. As a matter of fact, most people are very tolerant here with only a few crazies. Not so, in say, Iran or even Egypt. It would be great if CNN would come off their bash-America-horse every now and then. Yeah, we're not perfect, but you'd rather live here than most other places so let's get some perspective eh? It's disgusting people who see the kind of atrocities the Chinese and other nations perpetrate and then turn around and say, but we've got Guantanamo, which is not even close. Seriously.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Fair comparison

      You make an interesting point, but I think it's important to remember that your example of Iran is apples/oranges, as Iran is a nation that is run by a mullah. That would be a fair comparison if the United States was a country run by a Christian head priest, rather than a nation that has tolerance of all religions as one of its cornerstones.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • zman

      Who gives a rats butt what goes on in other countries? The article is about what happens here, in this country. Everyone knows what goes on on other countries, after all, we have the religious wrong to rant and rave how oppressed they are while they are trying to convert others. The people who burned these mosques learned their 'respect' for others from their parents, who are most likely, in their view, 'christians'. If you want to talk about atrocities, don't forget the spanish inquisition and numerous other 'christian' actions and ideologies....you know, like Hitler and his 'cleansing', black Christian churches burned in the south, etc.. You and sesnurse are a couple of crybaby christian hypocrits. The world would be better off without any of you self righteous idiots!

      March 25, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  20. Sam

    Why doesn't one of CNN's big hitters run a report on all the Christians killed in Muslim countries? Or all their churches and bibles that are burned? It is fine for them to run stories like this, they are important but they never run the other side. The number of Christians persecuted around the world greatly outnumbers any Muslim troubles in the USA. As a matter of fact, most people are very tolerant here with only a few crazies. Not so, in say, Iran or even Egypt. It would be great if CNN would come off their bash-America-horse every now and then. Yeah, we're not perfect, but you'd rather live here than most other places so let's get some perspective eh? It's disgusting people who see the kind of atrocities the Chinese and other nations perpetrate and then turn around and say, but we've got Guantanamo, which is not even close.

    March 25, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • sesnurse97

      Amen brother.

      March 25, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Kelly

      I have seen articles about Christian Churches getting blown up in Muslim countries, where have you been?

      March 25, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Rex

      Sam, under what rock do you live in? Do a simple google and you will be led to a mountain of stories chronicling the persecution of many Christians in Muslim countries and Muslims who have died with those Christians too. The acts of idiots in other countries should not lead us to follow. What? We can't think for ourselves and know what is right? CNN has featured Christian persecutions many times on TV and right here on the net. Pay attention next time.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • willie

      Hail jesus. Hail Jesus.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Make Peace with your maker

      You bring up a valid point, a trend is growing and as much as others think there is a balance, it's the same ole..U.S. sucks, why we hate everyone story. Problem is, we live in a nation that suppose to accept everyone- like them or not, whatever they do in their own country is fine- when they're here- deal with it!

      March 25, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Anna

      I totally agree !! and when they throw "Illigal by the Bible" that is just an outrage of ignorance ..i don't know who runs this network but this cheap propaganda sounds like it came out of a damb ass dilusional muslim.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Akainu

      They do. Cut it with the persecution complex you and so many other Christians in America seem to have.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • JonathanL

      IBullying is not a religious thing. It is something all immature people do, muslims, catholics, Jews, Atheists, Hindus. What about the recent story of the the Muslim women who taunted the Christian woman in Pakistan until she finally said bad things about Muhammud, which they then used against her under the blasphemy law to have her executed – she was then pardoned – but this brought their blasphemy law under scrutiny because it is used to oppress critics of Islam, and since then two politicans who criticized the Blaspemy law have been assassinated by the Taliban. Is that not bullying and non-Jesus lilke? I was attacked twice by Catholics in NYC growning up, mugged by blacks, beat up by puerto ricans, attacked by poorer white kids when I didn't share someting they wanted to steal. You realize Atheists are often picked on in discussions, and I don't think an Atheist could even get elected to a government post. It is such a shame because they are the most intelligent and nicest people. How long would an Atheist church last in Mecca?

      March 25, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Brent

      Exactly I just saw an article today talking about how 80 churches were burned in Ethiopia where the "peaceful" muslims were telling them to convert or die. The problem is you never hear so called "moderate" muslims denouncing these atrocities. CNN and MSNBC are the most biased piece of trash news outlets. CNN used to be my only source for news until they started taking a hard left.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Jung

      Great post, Sam hit it right on the money.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Leo

      I'd like to think we hold ourselves to a higher standard of religious freedom in the USA. What? Because some violent hate-monger in the Middle East decides to blow up churches, that means we should sink to that level and burn down mosques? What about, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"?

      We hear about the violence against religious minorities in all sorts of countries. I also hear about Christian groups in sub-Saharan African countries who are slaughtering innocent children, claiming they're witches. Or killing people suspected of being gay. And we hear about the churches in certain Muslim countries being attacked.

      And we hear about countries like Egypt where the locals can support each other and say, "Muslim or Christian, we're all Egyptian."

      I'd like to think that here in the USA, we can say that we're all American, regardless of our religions. Either we support religious freedom for all, or we become a theocracy and destroy the very foundation of religious freedom. As a veteran, I believe that our freedoms are valuable enough to defend, and I believe that we either extend them to all, or none. So let's hold ourselves to the higher standard, and... ya know... NOT destroy other people's houses of worship.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:43 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.