Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Sunday that communities have a right to ban Islamic mosques, pointing to a Tennessee city where a planned mosque has drawn protests and legal challenges as an example of local residents pushing back.
During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,'' Cain said his view doesn't amount to religious discrimination because of his contention that Muslims are trying to inject Shariah law into the U.S.
Shariah is a set of core principles that most Muslims recognize and a series of rulings from religious scholars. It covers many areas of life and different sects have different versions and interpretations of the code.
Asked if his view could lead any community to stand up in opposition to a proposed mosque, Cain replied, “They could say that.'' He pointed to opposition to the planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as an example.
“Let's go back to the fundamental issue that the people are basically saying that they are objecting to,'' Cain said. “They are objecting to the fact that Islam is both religion and (a) set of laws, Shariah law. That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes.
“The people in the community know best. And I happen to side with the people in the community.''
Cain's comments were denounced as “unconstitutional and un-American'' by a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.
“It's clear that Herman Cain has decided that he will score political points every time he bashes the Muslim community or its constitutional rights,'' council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a phone interview.
Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, sided with mosque opponents while campaigning in Murfreesboro last week. He raised concerns in the Sunday interview that Muslims might try to infuse Shariah principles into the community.
“I happen to also know that it's not just about a religious mosque,'' he said. “There are other things going on based upon talking to the people closest to the problem. It's not a mosque for religious purposes. This is what the people are objecting to.''
Hooper called the remarks “utter nonsense,'' saying Cain “seems to have hitched his wagon to the most extreme anti-Muslim bigots out there.'' He called on Republican leaders to repudiate Cain's comments.
“Each time you have someone who is regarded as a mainstream political leader expressing these kind of hate-filled views, it just fans the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry nationwide,'' he said. “And it gives legitimacy to intolerance and hatred. And he, of all people, should realize this, being African-American.''
In Murfreesboro, the future new mosque has been the subject of protests and counter-protests in the city about 35 miles southeast of Nashville.
A county judge ruled in May that mosque construction would not harm the residents who sued to try to stop it, but he allowed them to move forward on claims the county violated an open meetings law in approving it.
Opponents have used the hearings to argue that the mosque is part of a plot to expand Islamic extremism in the U.S.
Imam Ossama Bahloul, the religious leader of the congregation, issued a statement Sunday lamenting Cain's statements.
“It is sad to hear these words coming from a GOP presidential candidate, who is not only supposed to believe in but should also uphold the US constitution,'' Bahloul said. “Mr. Cain is encouraged to educate himself about the first amendment and learn more about our peaceful and productive Muslim community in Murfreesboro.''
He said the Muslim community there strongly believes in the Constitution and the judicial system, contrary to what some have alleged.
“Our community has been the subject of vandalism, arson, and mental and physical abuse and Mr. Cain should look beyond the false claims that a small but radical minority is making against our community,'' he said.
Goldy Wade, 62, who has lived in Murfreesboro most of his life, said Sunday that “people want to generalize various groups.'' Wade said he has no problem with the new mosque being built.
“This whole country is supposed to be based on religious freedom,'' he said. “They're exercising their right to practice that religion.''
Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said Cain's comments “demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution.'' “And it's baffling that a man with designs on becoming the leader of this nation would so callously alienate over 3 million of its citizens,'' Fotopulos said.