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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. Maq

    Peaceful co-existence of every Muslim and Chirstian and people of other religion must be our main consideration to live anywhere in the world. Regardless of what faith you profess, if you destroy property of others or kill your fellow being, you are astray and fall among the misguided people. Let us extend our hands of peace to one another, understand and respect each other's culture.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  2. Murrrrr

    The greatest trick that Satan ever pulled was convincing the world that religion was necessary. Jesus vs. Mohammed... who cares. Abandon all religion...

    Atheists unite!

    March 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • fran glass

      true athiests believe there is no god and also no "satan". don't make us all look bad. :op

      March 25, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  3. muslim (means submitter to GOD)

    Through out the history of the world, people of faith (the same faith and message of, believing in one God, the faith of Adam, Ibrahim, Noah, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad peace be upon all of them) have been attacked for simply believing and not willing to get corrupted and live Animalistic life style. I recently visited a small Amish town in Ohio, and they gave me the same impression of everyone outside their town attacking them and calling them names just because they choose a certain life style and refuse the be sheeps and follow what the mass media tell them to be like and must act like in order to fit it and be in their eyes normal. The first word that the angel Gabrial accented down from God in the Quran was "Read". As muslim (again which mean to submit to God) we are obligated to read not just the last revelation (the Quran) but all revelations including the Torah and the Bible. I wounder how many many out there of other faiths have done the same by reading the Quran. If you take the time to understand 1.5 billion people by reading a book which they believe in, you will truly understand that to be a muslim/believer you must believe in all revelation of God. We can not believe in some and deny some. God has sent the same message from day one, BELIEVE IN THE ONE CREATOR. God is so merciful that he did not leave any human beings (which by the word "Human Being" in Arabic is "Bani Adam" the son of Adam) without a messenger to deliver the same simple message and to guide. God is fully capable of doing anything he may feel like, like make all humanity believers, destroying nations, wiping out all of humanity, providing for all including those who do not believe in him and a lot more but he is so merciful that he makes our earth and solar systems so beautiful that even non believers can only say 'oh my GOD' even if they don't believe. I urge all believers of the creator to pick up a Quran and read. To the non believers (atheists) may God guide, as God is the only being capable of guide you. Be aware that God is also capable of sealing hearts, ears and eyes. So even when you see, hear, or feel the truth you will still not believe. I humbly thank you for reading my comments and ask the believers to join hands and spread peace and not Mischief on earth. Profit Mohammad, peace be up him, said three things will always continuously provide you blessing after the person passes away:
    A son or a daughter that mentions them in good and pray on their souls and ask for forgiveness for their parent as they were forgiving and merciful raising him or her.

    A charity that goes on in giving goodness, raising an orphens, building schools, building churches, and even planting a tree as every time any being rests, eats, takes shade under it or grasps any benefit from it you get blessings.

    Good knowledge that benefit humanity any way.

    May blessing from GOD come down on all of you.....

    March 25, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • fran glass

      more religious people should be as compassionate and knowledgeable (about their own faith and other's) as you are. 🙂

      March 25, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  4. Penwau

    See, the hate is not just directed to our muslim neighbors. We simply hate anything or anyone that is different than what we are. It's sad. We seem to forget that we are ALL immigrants. Unfortunately I think we are the most hateful country in the world.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  5. Greg

    Mr. Abudiab, I suggest you spend less time on PR and more time on housekeeping. For most of the last few decades, we of the non-Muslim world have heard little from those of you claiming to be peaceful. The ones making the noise have been the extremists who quote the Koran as justification for murder and destruction. If they have misrepresented your religion, why were you quiet? You say "don't hate us" rather than tell your brothers "don't hate". You say how well treated you were in your community in '01 but more than 3000 Americans were murdered in '01 just for going to work. Thirteen people in Fort Hood were murdered by one of your faithful who had enjoyed the rights, privileges and freedom of being an American Army officer. Those people died from tolerance. You want to be welcome next door, clean up your house!

    March 25, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  6. Jack

    The opposite of "Damed with faint praise" is "Blessed with faint criticism." My issue with American Islam the curios lack of criticism for the numerous hate crimes of their radical bretheren. I hear many whines from them about their victimization, but never any strong condemnation of the radicals. As in the civil rights movement, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

    March 25, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  7. Westboro coming to Michigan

    The Westboro Church is coming to Dearborn to picket outside the mosque there (I believe it may be the biggest in the country). I watched his phone interview on the local news station. That guy's a piece of work.

    I want to go protest because I know that the media will be there and I want to be a face of an American woman who comes from a Muslim family, and is just an average 24 year old, but I don't want to give this jacka$s more attention than he deserves.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  8. The Truth Hurts

    Christianity & Islam (muslim) are totally opposing beliefs. Too many have died and/or killed in the name of these religions.
    Time to keep them separate...live in only those countries that are compatable with your religion and we will stay in ours and let all your 'Radicals' kill you off (then we won't have to!)

    March 25, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  9. eric house

    What did these musliums expect? Not only did 9/11 happen... no that was not good enough no they had to rub our noses in it by building a mosque just a matter of blocks from the 9/11 site. Now people are burning their mosques down and they wanna play the victim. Well I remember fires... yeah fires that made people have to decide to burn or jump to their deaths.
    So please forgive me if I am haveing a real hard time feeling bad for these people. Many of you may not know this if you do not know a lot about Islam but here is why they are building that mosque in N.Y. because in their religion they are suppose to build a mosque where they claim victory over a opponent. They are spitting in our faces. Some people are spitting back.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      Amen....You are my Hero!

      March 25, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  10. sam

    Forget all of the fighting and death for a minute. Forget about politics, government and your beliefs. Look at the Muslim belief system, their culture, what they believe in. How many times have we heard about a young daughter of a Muslim family in America being murdered by their own fathers and brothers because they strayed from the Muslim faith? How many of us have read the Koran or have a clue about what is in it? I would say 1% of those who spew their crap on this website. The book they follow tells them to kill the infidel (Us) that does not follow their law. Theirs is a very intolerant and violent belief. As all groups of people, there are those who are extreme and we read about those. So which ones do we trust? Those who are elected into OUR government? Right. Those are the ones who will be passing laws biased on their beliefs and forcing us to follow. Perhaps the Muslim teachers in OUR schools who behind closed doors teach our young children about Jihad? No I don't think so. How can we trust a culture that follows a book that tells them to kill us and rein terror on our heads? Perhaps we should trust the ones who take a knife and cut the head off of someone’s son, father, or husband, film it and proudly post it online for the world to see. You tell me. It is not a matter of being tolerant It is a matter of protecting our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives. I am not willing to give up my way of life, the way of life so many have died to preserve. From Paul Revere to the men and women who would ,and do, die to hold that which is true. Tolerance, the narrow path to being taken over by whoever comes.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • The Truth Hurts

      Excellent!...Hit the problem right on the Head!

      March 25, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  11. elka

    @sam99999
    You are so right. This is a small incident. I will go further and say the treatment of Muslims in this country is far better than the treatment in their own countries. Look at what is happeining at this very moment in Libya. All immigrants had to deal with problems like this. Read the hstory of some of the tough neighborhoods in NYC. You will then know what you have to live through to become a real American.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  12. train_rider

    There a wackos in every walk of life belonging to many different religions. The majority of Americans are disgusted by this violence however I am sure the majority are also thanking God this wasn't a muslim based attack, because if that were the case the Muslims would have blown the building up when it a was packed with women and children iinfidels.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  13. weekender

    Dude! I feel your pain, bro! Try being a polytheist in a country full of monotheists!

    March 25, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  14. Steve Powers

    Where's Bill Mayher when you need him?

    March 25, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  15. elka

    Instead or looking at religious books, most of you who posted here should be looking at spelling and english grammar books.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  16. sam99999

    I do not condone the instances of religious discrimination that the author describes, at all. I can only say that the treatment of Muslims in this country is a thousand times better than the treatment of Christians in Muslim countries. He needs to put it in perspective.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  17. Turn-About-IS-Fair-Play

    Oh...Boo,Hoo,Hoo you cry-baby! Guess you don't like it when the shoe is on the other foot!

    From MSNBC:

    Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Western Ethiopia after Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.

    At least one Christian has been killed, many more have been injured and anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 have been displaced in the attacks that began March 2 after a Christian in the community of Asendabo was accused of desecrating the Koran.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Turn-About-IS-Fair-Play

      One down.....49 to GO! That's 'Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth' Let's see how YOU like Christian JUSTICE!

      March 25, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • fran glass

      wow Turn-About... jesus christ would be so proud...

      March 25, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  18. fran glass

    why does everyone keep bringing up christian oppression in muslim countries? This is an article about an American muslim, his family and his friends being persecuted. It was also about their mosque being burned. In THIS country. Shouldn't it enrage you that those self-proclaimed "christians" acted in such an unamerican and unchristian way? Does everyone who keeps bringing up christian persecution in other countries feel that this man and his community DESERVED what happened because of what happens overseas? I guess i don't understand the point... unless of course you are just xenophobes using christian prosecution in other countries to justify your bigotry back home.. is that it?

    March 25, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • fran glass

      ^persecution

      March 25, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  19. Jon Jones

    Well sir, the fact that Muslims are being harassed and not treated fairly, might have something to do with people of your faith trying to kill every Christian they see? Blowng themselves up, and enerally wanting to instigate chaos and destruction in the name of Islam.

    March 25, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Turn-About-IS-Fair-Play

      BINGO!
      FROM MSNBC:
      Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Western Ethiopia after Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.

      At least one Christian has been killed, many more have been injured and anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 have been displaced in the attacks that began March 2 after a Christian in the community of Asendabo was accused of desecrating the Koran.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Shaz

      So we must chastise every Muslim, is that what you are saying? I guess, considering the fact that the U.S. is occupying Muslim land and killing Muslims on a daily basis- Muslims also have the right to chastise every Christian and American.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • fran glass

      again, i ask if you christian persecution in other countries means this man and his community deserved what happened. I would love to know.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • fran glass

      ^you think

      March 25, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Eman Saad

      If that was true then their would not be a Christian alive today. That is a very ignorant statement I am a Muslim and have never had anything but respect for my Christian friends. In the Quran the book of Islam says the Christians and Jews are people of the book. Surprised there's more the Quran says "We created you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another not despise one another" surprised again the Quran also says "If you kill one person it is as if you have killed all humanity and if you save one life it is as if you saved all of humanity " maybe you should learn about Islam from Muslims and not from people who have a hidden agenda against Islam.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  20. abd

    All who hate us, mulims, here in the US go and burn our mosques, we don't care, every muslim in the community pays $10 and we can rebuild it. but you spend 14 years in jail and no money can bring these lost years back.

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

      I'm so sorry for all the people who are burning your mosques and being intolerant of your faith. I just wish that you know that there are some people that stand with you. I may not be a Muslim or a Christian but i believe in the right to exercise you freedom of religion. I feel sad whenever i see such an obvious sign of bigotry and i hope that some day people can learn to respect each others differences. If i ever meet a Muslim who has been hurt or is being insulted i will stand up to them and help my fellow man fight against such horrible unkindness. I hope that many others will do the same.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • fran glass

      I second what Chris said. I would like to think that more American's hold beliefs like ours than do not. I really, really would.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:55 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.