Bless their hearts.
That about sums up Azmi Mukahal's attitude toward critics of his faith and the mosque in Murfreesboro.
"We need to ignore it," he said. "We are all Americans. We need to live together."
Mukahal, who immigrated to the U.S. 22 years ago from Kuwait, said he has better things to do with his time than listen to critics, especially those who don't take time to ask Muslims what they believe and how they practice their faith.
But he and other Middle Tennessee Muslims find themselves listening to a lot of people like that. During a Thursday forum on religious tolerance, held at the new Antioch mosque, a critic began accusing Muslims of endorsing slavery. The man, who refused to give his name, went from Muslim to Muslim, asking them if they rejected slavery.
Mukahal was polite. Of course he rejects slavery, he said.
He was willing to share his thoughts on being Muslim in Middle Tennessee these days — when there's a lawsuit to stop his mosque from being built near Murfreesboro; when locals burn a Columbia, Tenn., mosque to the ground; when students ask a Muslim peer if he reads the "terrorist Bible."
That's enough to make others decline interviews. They don't want to be targets of protesters. They're tired of refuting claims and defending themselves. "I'm not talking about Shariah law and all that today," one woman said. "If you want to do something positive, then I'll talk."
Faith and the law
Mukahal wants people to know every Muslim is different.
For example, neither of Mukahal's two daughters, both in their 20s, wears a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
That's all right with him because his daughters can choose how to practice their faith. He taught them to read their holy book, and they decided for themselves how to apply it.
"I show them the Quran," he said. "What they want to do, they can do it."
Mukahal, a longtime Murfreesboro resident, seemed perplexed by non-Muslim critics who claim to be experts on his faith but believe American Muslims want to introduce Shariah law in America.
He and other Muslim immigrants came to America to escape trouble back home, he said, and have no interest in trying to force their faith on anyone.
"Why did we move here?" he said.
"We feel we are going to live a better life in America."
Mukahal said he reads the Bible and Quran on a regular basis. Both, he believes, teach him to be a good citizen.
"The Quran says you need to be honest," he said."You need to be trusted. Don't steal. Don't kill. Is that the law in America or not? But I cannot say that the Quran is supposed to be the law."