Islamic Center of Columbia Attack–One Year Later

When we were planning our southern leg of the journey, my brother Josh, who lives in Nashville, told me about a small Muslim community in Columbia Tennessee whose mosque was attacked. Frankie, Craig and I immediate decided that we should visit.
We met Daoud Abudiab, Director of the Islamic Center of Columbia, when we arrived in Nashville at the Nashville Islamic center. He invited us down to Columbia to tell us the story of the attack and have lunch with some of the community.

On February 9, at 5:00 a.m., Daoud was awakened by the fire department. His Mosque and the home of the Muslim community was ablaze.

The community of 55 people at the maximum had purchased the building paid it off and was extremely proud that they had a home in the idyllic small town of Columbia in south Tennessee. The mosque was the only one within a wide radius and people from many small towns in the area came to worship there.

Three individuals had broken in, trashed the inside and tossed Molotov cocktails into the Mosque. They had spray painted several swastika and “white power, we run the world”. They were part of something called the Christian Identity Movement. Fortunately, they were arrested immediately and are awaiting sentencing.

In the 7 years following 9/11, many have faulted the Muslim community for not speaking up enough. “Where are the moderates?”, people ask time and time again. But, many did speak up, others just didn’t know what to say. And when the Islamic Center was burned down by one of their own, the Christian community felt the same way. Many didn’t speak up. Not because they condoned the actions, but because they didn’t know what to say. Others said that the attackers were non-Christians or misguided so there is no reason for them to apologize or speak out against it.

Within a week, neighboring Muslim communities rallied and held a vigil at the sight. It was advertised an open to all. People from all faiths came and one of those was Reverend Bill Williamson from First Presbyterian Church. He had immediately sprung into action, collecting money during a service at the church and attending to present the money and take it one step further–offering a set of keys.

Reverend Williamson welcomed the displaced worshipers to visit the church. He brought Daoud and others to the Church and showed them to a room that he had set aside for them to use for meeting and prayers. He even offered to remove any symbols or pictures which might offend.

Daoud spoke of Williamson like a brother, someone he truly admired. “I was impressed with the clarity in which Williamson interpreted ‘love thy neighbor'”, Daoud said.

One of the things that struck me about in speaking with the community was the irony of it all. We’ve found a range of feelings towards Muslims in our travels. A lot of good words and thoughts, some negative. Some think all Muslims are terrorists. As Daoud said, they were now the ones attacked by terrorists. His child had been mocked in school, called a terrorist and teased mercilessly, as children often do to one another. It was a hard thing to hear—a child, the victim of terrorism, being called a terrorist.

Daoud was careful to point out that in the grand scheme of things, it was just a building, and no one was hurt physically. But, we couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that a small minority of people can really devastate people—the world, nations or in this case, a community. It only takes a handful of people to do a lot of damage and no faith is immune to terrorism. In the end, much of the damage is heaped on the community from which it sprung.

A year has passed since the incident and the story has received little attention . It reminds us of the worst and best of humanity. In this case, two men of extraordinary faith and integrity carried their communities and rose above a potential conflict—two men, who should be applauded and recognized.Jonathan Hayden

12 responses to “Islamic Center of Columbia Attack–One Year Later

  1. Hello, found this from a CNN story and was interested so I read a few of the entries. This one really spoke to me, it is quite tragic. I admire what you are doing and admire the courage of this community. Keep up the good work, I will definitely read this blog again.

  2. Pingback: Justice served in mosque burning in Columbia, Tennessee « KNOWLEDGE

  3. I’m always proud to read about Dr. Akbar Ahmed and his students in their courageous journey around the USA –they are persistent and determined to offer ongoing dialogue among different faiths. The story of the burining of the mosque in Tennesee is devastating. However, I’m relieved to hear justice was served; and that the criminals who burned the Mosque have been sentenced to 14 years in prison. This story should be picked up throughout the USA by print and broadcast reporters everywhere. I, for one, will do what I can to let others hear about this!

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  11. Update in 2013 – The members of First Presbyterian Church continue to enjoy and grow in our friendship with the members of the Islamic Center of Columbia, including learning more about the Islamic faith and working together to build houses for Habitat for Humanity in our city. Rev. Bill Williamson has retired, but our church family continues its relationship with Daoud Abudiab, his wonderful family and the Islamic Center of Columbia.

  12. Pingback: Reflections on the mosque that burned in Tennessee | Craig Considine

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