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. David Ellis

    I think we should have 1 large building with alot of LCD monitors on the walls where people pray. Muslims on Fridays, Jews on Saturdays, Christians on Sundays. The LCD monitors would change what they show (crescents, stars, crosses) depending on who is there currently. Everyone else free to use the building Monday – Thursday as a community recreation center/town meeting hall.
    Any acts of vandalism or violence would be against yourself as well then, and be pointless.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  2. independentlyowned

    I like the way he closed this article, that he's not trying to convert people. Everyone thinks that Muslims want to take over the world, but it's just not true. Unlike Christians, Muslims don't have missionaries all over the world trying to get other to see things their way.

    I'm an atheist, and when I lived in a Muslim country, people were more than glad to tell me about their faith, but only if I asked, and only for informational purposes; not once did they try to convert me. Here in the states, my Christian friends constantly try to tell me why God and Jesus are real and why I'll burn in hell if I don't believe immediately.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  3. Klancy Schmertz

    It takes time.
    I remember President Eisenhower bringing in federal troops for black kids to attend public school in Little Rock in 1956, I think.
    It took another decade for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it is taking generations to work out the bigotry. It is an evolutionary process. Unfortunately, those who look different and behave differently, and some who engage in anti-social behavior, just prolong the process of integration. Right or wrong, that's just the way it is.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  4. Jack Deth

    Button me Mittens!!

    August 7, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  5. Citizen

    As an agnostic, I never paid attention to muslims until 9/11.

    Since then, everything I have learned has convinced me that islam is little more than a glorified, violent cult.

    All muslim immigration in to the US should have been halted after 9/11.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • independentlyowned

      Maybe because all you've "learned" about Islam is sensationalist blogs on the internet? Most religions are equally violent and radical if you look selectively at their teachings, and if you read their books too literally. Maybe you actually talked to a real Muslim you'd realize how ignorant you've been.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • LarryB

      Citizen, my a$$. You're nothing but a hateful bigot who has no business blighting this planet.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      According to your logic we should have banned christianity after the Oklahoma City bombing. You are a dolt.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  6. Patriotic-American


    August 7, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  7. DavidW0909

    I grew up a Christian and I still practice the words of Jesus but I will tell you right now that there are plenty of my bretheren that are so full of hate and spite that it frankly makes me ill. I'm not saying that Muslims have done alot to seperate themselves from the terrorists creeps but the facts are do not judge an entire religion by the acts of a few who claim to be part of that religion and claim their acts are part of that religion and judge the entire religion. People are still people, many are flawed, most are normal. That is the truth and even Athiests are good and bad to. People need to stop worrying about religion and worry about how your own behavior reflects on yourself. Then we might get somewhere.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • ME II

      "That is the truth and even Athiests are good and bad to."

      In the midst of a comment about tolerance, you place this backhanded slur against non-believers, 'even an Atheist can be good'. Try again.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Steve

      Well said. 🙂

      August 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • CosmicC

      @Me II – at least he tried.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Christians scream for tolerance and cry that they are persecuted, but when it happens to people of other beliefs the christian majority clams up.

      Pat Robertson blamed the Sikh shootings on atheists. If you are beating someone with your cross, taking it out of your hands to stop the beating is not persecution.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  8. Satan

    See Mohammed and his dog kissing at saladandchips.com.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  9. Hypatia

    Xian, muslim, whatever. If one divides the world by old mythologies, one cheats oneself of a whole world.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  10. United13

    9/11 was not a muslim attack..........get that through your head already. Our leaders are corrupt and evil.

    July 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  11. Eric PAUL (France)

    The life of Christians in Muslim countries is most of the time unbearable, or at least very difficult. Why not ask Muslims who want to build mosques in the US or in Europe – France where I live – to publicly denounce the fanaticism Chrisitians have to bear in Muslim countries, the impossiblility to build churches and to turn towards another religion and the dramatic lack of religious freedom? Then, perhaps, would their claims be more welcome and would people trust them more.

    July 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • CosmicC

      So, being oppressed by someone makes it okay to oppress someone else?

      August 7, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  12. robert

    Anyone who thinks islam is not filled wilth hate and violence, is hiding from the reality of whats going on today simple as that.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Frank

      It's thew same with every religion. Not the religion itself is bad, the people use it and interprete it as they need and there are lots of really weird people among all of them! Not talking muslims alone here. Ever visited the torture chambers of Europe? If you get the chance, do so. That was Christianity(again, the people), by the way.

      July 21, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • Bob D

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of PanAm Flight 103!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the military barracks in Saudi Arabia!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the American Embassies in Africa!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the USS COLE!

      REMEMBER the MUSLIM attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001!

      REMEMBER the Muslim hostages taking in Iran in 1979!

      REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM

      July 21, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Satan

      Remember all the innocent civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yeah those totals far exceed your list by tens of thousands....so there ya go.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • CosmicC

      @Bob D – your selective memory is going to kill us all. Remember the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the crusades, the KKK, the Serbians, pograms, the European invasion of the Americas. The killings in the name of Christianity at least equal those in the name of Islam and are still being carried out today.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • TR6

      Anyone who thinks Christianity is not filled wilth hate and violence, is hiding from the reality of whats going on today or what the bible actually says, simple as that.

      Remember the pastor that wanted to lock all gays behind and electric fence?

      August 7, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Isabelle

      Remember the Christian Nazis? Remember the Spanish Inquisition? I'm sure there is more, and this is not to say anything against Christians but to point out that Islam is not the only religion that has had abusers. You are being a little short-sighted in your history.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Joel

      Remember the Christian bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building.
      Remember the Christian bombing of the Atlanta olympic games.
      Remember the Christian bombings of black churches and schools.
      Remember the Christian bombing of a women's clinic in Birmingham.

      All religion is invented by men, to control men. If you start a religion that loves all other religions, you lose control. There are good people and bad people. There is not a good god and a bad god. There isn't any god, as far as I can tell. Stop acting like one contradictory, moronic, ancient fairy tale is any better than another, because they are all wrong and they can all be interpreted to suit any type of individual, peaceful or sadistic. The only certainty is that if you believe any religion without question, you are either slow, or you don't know much about the religion.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • LarryB

      Christianity seems to be filled with it too.....not to mention pedophilia.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  13. Jack Fuller

    Seeing all the hateful and Islamophobic comments here makes me wonder whether or not America deserved 9/11.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • jay1776

      That says a lot about you

      August 7, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  14. Pacific_waters

    It sure sounds like the overwhelming majority of Christians were compassionate and loving. How many of your Muslim brothers would have done the same?

    April 15, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Kayla

      As far as I'm concerned, rarely have American Christians been attacked as we have, and when christianity IS attacked, we DO support them

      May 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      So, faced with concrete stories of abuse by Christians, you make a reassuring statement about the average Christian, then condemn Muslims for failing to meet your speculative average. To say that is an ironic criticism is putting it mildly.

      April 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • CosmicC

      @Kayla, tell that to the victims in Oklahoma City.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • jay1776

      CosmicC – Oklahoma City was not christian terrorism. It was an Anti-Government attack

      August 7, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  15. Adeyinka Dare

    If America is an Islamic country, then the world will be in trouble. The pain Islamist has cost christian in the Northern part of Nigeria is more than what the mouth can tell. They killed, maimed, assault men, women & children crying allahu akbar. Saw was used in Kano State to cut a man's neck and the head was hanged on a stick with a cry of allahu akbar.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:21 am |
    • Kayla

      The group you're talking about is not Islamic, and isn't part of Islam. They might go by the name Muslim, but they can't ever in a million years be called a muslim if they sawed off someones head for no supported reason and hung it on a stick and cried allahu Akbar. This is NEVER the act of a true Muslim, and I'm sure it isn't an act of a true christian either.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • danielwalldammit

      What a remarkably bigoted little gambit you are playing.

      April 21, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • PP

      How many true muslims exists in this worlds? Nice talk.

      July 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  16. Adeyinka Dare

    How i wish those that claim that Islam is a religion of peace are up to 25% and they practice it as claimed perhaps there would hv been peace in the world. Islam has claimed many innocent lives in the name of doing the will of Allah. I hv lived with them and i know who they are. The hausas in my country do not believe in other tribes to be moslems. I knew many that were killed in 1991 in Kano b\c of a german preacher R. Bonkey. A saw was used to cut a man's head b/c a water truck seller claimed to h/v seen a page of quran in their dust bin. I can count more & more. If the America was an Islamic country then all the christian nations would hv been wiped out

    April 15, 2011 at 5:54 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      So, faced with clear evidence of Christian attacks on Muslims, you respond by telling us that Islam is not a religion of peace. Pathetic!

      April 21, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  17. naimah

    When a person or a group claims to be of a certain religion, be it christian, Muslim, Jew etc., and this person doesn't adhere to this religion properly, then you don't blame the religion. Unfortunately, there are people who claim to be Muslim, Christian, Jew etc., but they don't correctly understand the Books of ALLAH ( Torah (Old Testament), Injeel (The Gospels -New Testament), Noble Quran and they don't know nor do they follow the teachings of ALLAH's Prophets and Messengers (peace and blessings be upon them all) properly. The hatred and anger that a person harbors towards anyone because of their faith is clearly a result of ignorance, and ignorance leads to fear. People tend to fear what they have no knowledge of and unfortunately this leads to violence. How can a person/people claim to have a relationship with The Creator and at the same time allow so much hate and anger and resentment rent space inside of them 🙁

    April 7, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  18. Mountain / Molehill

    And how many people must die and American flags be burned before this is resolved? It is only a bit of ink on paper...GET REAL! Many books are burned everyday due to wear&tear. It should be the IDEAS & BELIEFS in the book that are important and there are millions of copies floating around the world. Is all this really worth Human Lives and destroyed property?

    April 4, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • CosmicC

      I'd rather see a flag burned than a book.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  19. USA Just Burns, Afgans KILL!

    From MSNBC 4/1/2011

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials say eight foreigners and four protesters were killed at a United Nations office in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif when a protest turned violent in response to a reported Quran-burning in the United States. At least two of those killed were beheaded, Reuters reported.

    ..Demonstrators stormed the office Friday, opening fire on guards and setting fires inside the compound after news reports that a Florida pastor burned a copy of the Muslim holy book on Sunday, March 20.

    The burning reportedly happened at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., according to USA Today. The incident was said to have occurred at a mock trial overseen by controversial pastor Terry Jones, who last year halted plans to burn a Quran on the anniversary of Sept. 11. That proposal sparked protests and condemnation around the Muslim world.

    April 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  20. Navman

    I hate that your Mosque was burned. That is not a good thing. As a Christian I would tell people who did this to examine the person who they claim to be like. Would Christ have set fire to that Mosque. I think he would have sat among it's worshipers and taught them as he did with the fellow Jews with whom he disagreed. Similarly, I would ask Muslims. If being a Suicide bomber is such an awesome way to worship Allah, then why don't your top Imams and Clerics strap on a vest. I would say it is because it is easier to sent people to their death than to lead them there. Jesus allowed himself to be killed for us, he didn't take up a weapon and kill others. Just look at that for a moment. When I claim that my religion teaches peace, I can look at our founder and be sure. The most violent thing Jesus ever did was turn over some tables. How about Mohammed?

    March 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Patriotic-American

      "If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls... the forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was twofold, the unit of God and the immateriality of God; the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with words.
      "Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?"
      Lamartine – Histoire de la Turquie, Paris 1854, Vol II, pp. 276-77

      "He was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope's pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar: without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue; if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports."
      by :

      Rev. Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammadanism, London 1874, p. 92:

      "His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement – all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad."

      Montgomery Watt, Mohammad at Mecca, Oxford 1953, p. 52:

      “It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy; for, in the mosque, when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and king kneel side by side and proclaim: 'God Alone is Great'... “

      Sarojini Naidu, the famous Indian poetess says – S. Naidu, Ideals of Islam, Speeches and Writings, Madaras, 1918

      August 7, 2012 at 11:34 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.