Ossama Bahloul, an imam and religious scholar, moved to Tennessee in 2008, at a time when more Muslims were settling there than ever before. In a phone conversation recently, he could barely contain his enthusiasm for the state, extolling the “very loving” community and the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
His sweetness belied much of what he spent our call telling me. Over the past decade, he said, his mosque has repeatedly been vandalized and spray-painted with obscenities like “Fuck Allah.” Raw bacon was left on the mosque’s doorstep, and again on the front door’s handle, a strange but persistent tactic of anti-Muslim bigots. Once, Bahloul said, the security camera caught a group of men attempting to destroy the mosque by arson.
This all began in earnest around 2010, when his thriving community sought to do what had become the most radioactive thing an American Muslim could do post-9/11: build a new mosque.