Commentary: Islamaphobia in Tennessee is nothing new

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tennessee ranks second in the nation for largest number of hate groups with 38 based here, four of which are dedicated anti-Muslim groups. 

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that exposes extremism and delivers anti-bias education, says that from 2018 on, Tennessee has experienced more white supremacist incidents than any other state in the U.S. 

I am a poet at heart and I can express my feelings more articulately in Urdu verses. There is no time to teach Urdu or poetry, but I will lend you all a word that would precisely describe the bigoted, nonsensical ad that the Tennessean ran Sunday. That word, my friends, is “Bakvaas.” Its uses are too many to discuss here, but when I saw this ad, I said to myself, “What a complete and utter Bakvaas!”

Islamophobia, a billion-dollar industry now sanctioned by the highest office has caused a 44% rise in attacks against American Muslims since 2017. The FBI has elevated the threat by white supremacists and nationalists to equal that of other foreign threats.

The Tennessean sales and marketing team made a grave error in judgment, professional negligence of the highest order when they ran a reprehensible anti-Muslim ad. It placed an already marginalized community that lives under constant threat into a state of shock and fear. 

American Muslims, like our African American brothers and sisters, do not have the luxury to exhibit anger.

The supervisor who callously allowed to run it even when it was flagged by a subordinate has since been fired. Tennessean has pledged to contribute the amount from the ad to AMAC and have also committed to giving ad space to Muslim organizations. 

These are just a few first steps in the right direction to do the damage control. The consensus in the Muslim community is to hold Tennessean to a higher journalistic standard. We in the Muslim community ask Tennessean to stop giving not only ad space to anti Muslim and racist groups but also editorial space to anti Muslim voices like the former disgraced speaker of the house Glen Casada, twice failed mayoral candidate Carol Swain, and outright bigot, former State Sen. Mae Beavers.

The Tennessean needs to rebuild and earn our trust again by holding the elected officials accountable for their naked anti-Muslim bigotry. 

Murfreesboro Muslim Youth Project 

Tennessee’s religious community reeled when the Tennessean, Nashvillle’s daily paper of record,  published an advertisement that gave prophetic warnings of impending Islamic terrorism. With George Floyd-inspired protests as the backdrop, the Islamic community of Tennessee wonders what backlash will come from the ad’s rhetoric. 

A representative for the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth Project, who asked to be referred to by his first name only due to fear of repercussions, said his community was heavily impacted by the Tennessean’s advertisement. 

“Hate has consequences,” Abdul said.

When asked his proposed solution for the community, Abdul’s principles came down to simple social practice. 

“The public in general should recognize hate in general. Get to know your neighbors, Muslim or not,” he said. 

The Murfreesboro Muslim Youth Project hosts a Love Your Neighbor event twice annually to practice this principle with the next scheduled for October 25. 

Abdul also explained the history of the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth Project and its experience with the consequences of hate. The group was founded after the murder of a three young Muslims who were shot in their Chapel Hill, NC home in 2015. 

-Rachel Brooks

Anti-Muslim fear mongering is the hallmark of political campaigns in TN from gubernatorial races down to alderman, county commissioner and even school board.

State Rep. Susan Lynn distributed an anti-Muslim DVD on the State Capitol. Former State Rep. and now Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron invented a conspiracy theory that involved a mop sink! According to him, the Capitol restroom had been remodeled to accommodate Muslims washing their feet before praying.  Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott has said that Muslims’ belief system is evil. 

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron (Photo:
Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron (Photo:

Bias in news coverage is another area the Tennessean needs to take a good look at when making amends. In 2017 a former Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) employee Robert Doggart was convicted of recruiting people to burn down a mosque and kill Muslims, but the story got less coverage than the one about Nashville’s first Kurdish-American police officer resignation.

Stories covering Muslims positively to highlight their work & contribution reduces the stereotypes and the anti-Muslim fervor. A well planned out diversity training of Tennessean staff is much needed. 

When I was the first Muslim woman Democratic nominee for the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessean didn’t bother to cover the campaign that was eventually featured in the New York Times and Harper’s Bazaar, among other publications.

There is a genuine call from readership and the Muslim community leadership to hire more journalists of color & cultural background to diversify the Tennessean workforce. This will help generate more diverse stories and reporting.

Reporters at Tennessean do the hard & exhausting work of building relationships in the community in which they live and work. They were rightfully appalled when they saw the ad, as it betrayed them as much as it betrayed the trust of Tennessean readership. 

We understand the strict separation between sales and editorial departments and American Muslims, like our African American brothers and sisters, do not have the luxury to exhibit anger. We get labelled and stereotyped as “angry Muslims’ in under a fraction of a nanosecond. Our faith teaches us to dig deep and find forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him said, “kindness is a mark of faith and whoever is not kind has no faith.”  

With this in mind, I have started a fundraising campaign to help journalists who have been on furlough for the past three months. You may join and contribute 

Our nation is in a moment that is bigger than all of this. The Black Lives Matter movement calls for all kinds of reforms. An attack on one minority is an attack on all minorities. American Muslims are allies with our African American brothers & sisters in our collective struggle for equal rights. 

As an American Muslim living in Tennessee, my sincere hope is that the Tennessean will use this moment for a somber reflection and reassess its processes to make sure to never repeat this colossal mistake and make improvements in every area going forward.