Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door - Educator and Parent Guide

  • "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" examines a city in middle Tennessee that is torn apart as residents fight to block the construction of a large Islamic center.
  • CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight to block the mosque project in Murfreesboro
  • Use this educator's and parent's guide to examine the issues of religious freedom and tolerance in America
  • The guide includes before-viewing and post-viewing questions and research and learning activities

Educators and Parents: This Educator and Parent Guide is provided for teachers and parents to use as a catalyst for discussion and learning, if they choose to watch this program with their students. CNN provides Educator and Parent Guides for all of its "In America" programming.

(CNN Student News) -- Watch or record "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" when it airs on CNN on Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. ET. By recording the documentary, you agree that you will use the program for educational viewing purposes for a one-year period only. No other rights of any kind or nature whatsoever are granted, including, without limitation, any rights to sell, publish, distribute, post online or distribute in any other medium or forum, or use for any commercial or promotional purpose.

Program Description: "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" examines a city in middle Tennessee that is torn apart by fear and suspicion as residents fight to block the construction of a large Islamic center. From New York to California, since Sept. 11, 2001, fears of radical Islam, terrorism and "Sharia law" have fueled opposition to mosque projects and launched a national debate around religious freedom protections. Murfreesboro, Tennessee has just over 100,000 people, 140+ churches, and one mosque. For decades, Muslims have lived and prayed in Murfreesboro without incident, but last May, when the Muslim community gained county approval to build a new 52,000 square foot Islamic center in town, hundreds of Murfreesboro residents took to the streets in protest. CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight to block the mosque project in Murfreesboro and the fight over religious freedom; a fight that would ultimately include protests, vandalism, arson and an explosive lawsuit that would involve the U.S. Department of Justice.

Recommended grades: 11-12, post-secondary (college, graduate school)

Subject Areas: Government, Religion, Sociology

Before-viewing Discussion Questions: Use these questions to promote discussion before viewing the program.

1. What are some of the roles that religion plays in the lives of individuals and their communities? What are some ways that religion has influenced policy and practice throughout U.S. history? What religious rights are protected in the U.S.?

2. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of religious diversity within a community? In your opinion, how might a community capitalize on this diversity? How might a community minimize potential tension that could arise between members of different religious groups?

3. Share what you know about Islam. How would you characterize America's relationship with its Muslim communities? Cite evidence that supports your statement.

4. Is there a process in your community regarding zoning and building? If so, why do you think that this process exists?

Post-Viewing Discussion Questions: Use these questions to facilitate discussion and critical thinking after watching "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door."

1. Why did the Muslim community in Murfreesboro seek to build a new Islamic center there? What are the plans for the center? In your opinion, what potential impact, if any, might this center have on both Murfreesboro's Muslim community and the town as a whole?

2. How did some residents in the community react to plans to build an Islamic center? Why do you think that some people in Murfreesboro were opposed to the center's construction?

3. Why do you think that a significant Muslim community has developed in Murfreesboro? How does Saleh Sbentay describe his relationship with the Murfreesboro community before and after the 9/11 attacks?

4. What do you think that Sally Wall means when she says, "We're worried about our American way of life"? What do you think is her definition of the American way of life? How do you think that might compare to Imam Osama Bahloul's idea of the American way of life? Explain.

5. Describe the approval process for the Islamic center featured in the documentary. What role did public input play in this process? Do you think that the process was fair, both to Murfreesboro's Muslim community and to the community as a whole? Why or why not?

6. What criteria do you think that Murfreesboro's city council used when it approved the building of the Islamic Center?

7. According to Kevin Fisher, what was the purpose of the lawsuit against the Islamic center? What arguments did Fisher's attorney and the defense attorney each use in court? What is your opinion of each of these arguments? What decision did the judge make in this case? What do you think was the reasoning behind this decision?

8. According to Harvard professor Noah Feldman, what is Sharia law? What are some statements made by different individuals in the program about Sharia law? In your opinion, what should be the relationship, if any, between religious law and government law in America?

9. What statements are made in the documentary about having Muslims assimilate into American society? What is your reaction to these statements? Which do you think should be the priority for Muslims in the United States: cultural assimilation or cultural preservation? In your opinion, is it possible to preserve one's cultural or religious heritage and assimilate at the same time? Explain.

10. If you lived in Murfreesboro, which side do you think that you would choose in the debate over the building of the Islamic center? What would be the rationale for your position?

Research and Learning Activities

Investigating building and zoning processes

What is the approval process for zoning and building in your area? Direct groups of students to conduct research about the specific steps that need to be taken before building can begin through the completion of the structure. Ask groups to note the different kinds of zoning and what kinds of structures occupy each. Have groups share their findings. Discuss the ways in which the public is allowed to voice approval or denial of building permits, and why this is also an important step in the process. Point out that, in some places, those seeking to build religious structures have different zoning and building procedures to follow. Do students think that this is reasonable? Why or why not?

Video opinion essay

Generate a class discussion about how both sides in this documentary are leaning on elements of the U.S. Constitution as foundations for their arguments. Challenge students to read/review their knowledge of the Constitution, then write and produce video essays in response to this question: Which argument do you believe has the strongest constitutional basis? Why?

Religious tolerance in America

Divide the class into groups. Direct each group to choose a specific time period in American history, beginning with the establishment of the first permanent, English-speaking settlement at Jamestown in 1607 through the present. Have groups conduct research to learn more about religious tolerance in their chosen periods. Direct each group to create a timeline of its period, citing religious groups, significant political events and any other information that presents a profile of religious tolerance in America in that era. As a class, review all of the timelines and ask students to consider what lessons can be learned.

CNN's Belief Blog

CNN's Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. For more perspectives on Islam and other religions, you may want to check out these Belief Blog stories:

Why do Muslims pray five times daily?

Muslim women who wear the hijab and niqab explain their choice

Opponent of NYC Islamic center becomes advocate for mosques nationwide

California school aims to be country's first accredited Muslim college

Curriculum Connections

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: The Themes of Social Studies


Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.


Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.


Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

The National Curriculum Standards for the Social Studies are produced by the National Council for the Social Studies.