Friends who are a part of the Islamic Center of Nashville wanted to build a center of worship in Brentwood, Tennessee. The Tennessean reported in an article published on May 29, 2010 that “The Islamic Center of Williamson County proposed a 12,000-square-foot mosque on the site. But the group of 40 families withdrew the rezoning request last week citing additional costs for a left turn lane as well as opposition from neighbors who expressed worries about flooding and runoff potential, traffic woes and environmental impact. Some foes also conducted an e-mail campaign expressing concern about Islam.”
I can understand traffic concerns. I can understand noise concerns. Given what we have recently experienced in Nashville, I can most certainly understand the issue of building on a potential flood plain. What deeply disturbs me is the prospect of religious intolerance that seems to be just below the surface of the campaign to stop the building of a mosque in Brentwood. I am a deeply committed Christian, but I am equally committed to the idea of religious freedom, which is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
I was also surprised to read that the leader of this campaign against the mosque is a member of a denomination whose motto is “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” This kind of opposition to building a house of worship is not an expression of an open heart, and it most certainly is not an expression of an open mind. I do not understand how this kind of religious intolerance promotes the diversity of the Nashville Community whatsoever. It is rather more indicative of the mindset that prevailed in our community several decades ago around the issue of school desegregation. Back then, the answer was to pull students out of the public schools and put them in private academies to keep them away from the undesirables. In this modern manifestation of intolerance, the mantra appears to be “not in my backyard.” One would think that a city of international renown would be more open to the diversity that is ingredient to the world around us.
My dismay was only further enhanced when I read that there are some in the Nashville community who believe that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology. While is it true that Islam does have competing political visions, the same is true of Christianity. I cannot imagine any world religion that does not have an accompanying idea, if not ideas, about how to form, nurture and promote community. Should we exclude Roman Catholic churches from our communities because their Council of Bishops issues statements on political matters and how loyal Catholics should conduct themselves in the polity? Is there any church, for that matter, that does not encourage its members to interact with others in the community in certain ways, which includes how their members may choose to vote on matters of communal import? Clearly, calling Islam a political ideology and not a religion is to overlook all the ways in which religion influences our common life. Furthermore, I find it interesting that the advocates of such a view are not religion scholars themselves, the very people who study such matters and are in the appropriate position to speak on such matters.
In the end, such actions do an immeasurable amount of harm to our community. Likewise, it feeds into the negative mindset that those who believe the United States is conducting a war on Islam hold and propagate. This incident is a stain on our community that will not easily be erased.
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