CNN In America documentary Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door reported by Soledad O’Brien is scheduled to air this Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 8pm ET. Please note other scheduled showings until April 2, 2011 are listed here. Soledad O’Brien follows the riveting story how the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, TN received overwhelming opposition to their county approval to build a new 53,000 square foot Islamic center on 15 acres (which they paid in cash) this past June 2010. Their impressive master plan includes a school, gym, cemetery and a masjid (mosque).
This story chronicles the lives of two main characters:
Lema Sbenaty, a first-generation born white American of Syrian descent, is a 18-year old resident of Murfreesboro most (if not all) of her young life was the valedictorian of her graduating class who presently attends Middle Tennessee State University where her father Saleh Sbenaty is an engineering professor. A confident, out-spoken, proud Muslim young lady speaks eloquently at public hearings, and protested alongside non-Muslims who spoke for “freedom to practice religion” against the protesters to halt the building of the Islamic Center. At one point, Lema speaks openly against a politician when claiming that Sharia law will creep in which will include the oppression of women.
Kevin Fisher is a 45-year old single black parent, a resident of Murfreesboro for over 20 years who organized and led the rallies, opposing campaigns, and filed a lawsuit against building the Islamic Center, in which their attorney attempted to present that Islam is not a religion and was exposing unreasonable, unsupported claims to instill the fear of the practice of Sharia law. While passionate in his cause, it was obviously rooted in defensiveness (upset that he didn’t get enough notice, to speak against th approval of Islamic center), anger (walking out of the public hearings and armed with a blow-horn shared with the crowd that “we” filed a lawsuit) and fear or ignorance to Muslims as people and the religion of Islam (in his contradictory interview answers). Note: His ex-wife is Muslim.
Supporting characters that were equally strikingly chosen:
Imam Bahloul, the imam of Murfreesboro, TN who was equally well-spoken, despite having immigrated from Egypt in 2004 and taught himself English. His passionate leadership is demonstrated in the understandably emotional scene when they were walking around the arson fire that destroyed equipment, and gun shots were fired. Imam Bahloul also showed pure shock when receiving hateful cussing in the Center’s voice mail, yet shared his sadness with the congregation that these poor actions were hurting the children. However, despite all opposition he remains steadfast in his faith, is pleased with the outcome of lawsuit, and shares that while he knows that opposition will continue shares his optimism and notes that the Constitution will be on his side.
Imam’s wife, the only other Muslim woman interviewed, was born and raised Methodist who embraced Islam after 9/11. Also a well-spoken, confident white Muslim woman her loving views from a proud American and a devoted wife and mother shines when she talks often with tear-filled eyes.
Sally Wall, an influential Murefreesboro resident, successful real estate agent, was a major funder to the lawsuit. One would have to watch this documentary in full, as CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien displays with emotionless common-sense rebuttals and follow-up questions that exposes Sally Wall’s ignorance of Islam, her inability to back up her own defense, and laughingly-odd (to be as kind as possible) answers.
Kevin Fisher’s defense attorney. To further expose the overwhelming passionate ignorance of this Southern white educated man, having watched this documentary first with my three young Muslim daughters (the only Muslims in my family), my proud immigrant Thai Buddhist father, and my highly-successful white American Auntie K, the Director of English Learner/World Languages in the City of Stamford, responsible for 22 schools; and then watching it at the pre-screening with over 50 digital writers from all faiths, journalism, media, political professions and backgrounds–both rooms sigh, huffed, and coughed our blurts of laughter many times when this man spoke, let alone walked with his interesting array of “professional” attire.
The characters are classic with stark difference in opinions, that makes their physical make-ups (i.e., race) almost ironically unreal.
The “Ignorant Southerners” (as portrayed by the 2 main opposing characters detailed above) while possibly equal in wealth and education to their Muslim neighbors, are extremely defensive with no basis expect their obvious unresolved post-9/11 fears.
Whereas, the bright light shines on the highly-educated, confident, faithful, well-spoken, non-defensive, Muslims who are welcoming, optimistic and speak with passion stemmed from their faith in Allah, subhanallahu wa T’ala (May He be Glorified) and their freedom to practice religion afforded to them by the U.S. Constitution.
An emotional experience
- Be prepared for a mix of emotions throughout this extremely fast-paced one-hour show.
- The commercial breaks are sure to keep you eager not to leave your television set.
- Rather than share the full-range of emotions my colleagues, family and I felt throughout this documentary, my job today is to encourage you to watch or record this show and continue the dialogue that CNN dared to begin simply by producing show.
An educational social media experience
Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door – Educator and Parent Guide – Designed for Grades 11-12, post-secondary. CNN just posted this today, as an educational companion to this documentary. I feel very comfortable discussing most of the issues discussed, and have already shared much of it with my girls aged 7, 9 and 10 years old.
Soledad O’Brien will be tweeting live
During the debut, this Sunday at 8pm ET sharp. @Soledad_OBrien will be tweeting with the #musliminamerica hashtag.
CNN: In America. Muslim Unit.
Be prepared for my pre-screening follow-up post tomorrow, inshaAllah, God willing; where I’ll share my personal and professional views of the forward-thinking mission of CNN: In America. Muslim unit, their website, and social media efforts.
Follow the rest of “Unwelcome. The Muslims Next Door” series here
Part 1. The pre-screening anticipation.
Part 6. A Muslim and Non-Muslim Mom’s View.
Watch it with us Live, April 2, 2011 8pm ET & tweet #musliminamerica
So, what do you think of the storyline? Intrigued to watch it this Sunday? Stay posted for tomorrow’s follow-up post, or subscribe to our RSS feed so you’re sure not to miss it.
- Unwelcome. The Muslims Next Door on youtube
- Can social media make the world a more tolerant place?
- Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door, the dignified struggle of Murfreesboro’s Muslims.
- Help Build the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro – Featured in CNN’s “Unwelcome. The Muslims Next Door”
- A single white Canadian mom new to Islam shares her view of “Unwelcome”