A Muslim candidate for a Coffee County Commission seat says his incumbent opponent is making false statements about his religious and patriotic beliefs to smear his name in an attempt to appeal to voters.
In a July 16 letter asking District 15 constituents for their vote, Republican Commissioner Mark Kelly made the following claims about his Democratic political opponent, Zak Mohyuddin: “My opponent has expressed his beliefs publicly that the United States is not a Christian nation; that the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol of tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places.”
When questioned by The Tennessean about how he knew the statements were true, Kelly was unable to cite any specific instance when Mohyuddin made such statements. He said he had heard it during private conversations with him.
Mohyuddin, a 25-year resident of Tullahoma, was deeply offended by the statements and is scrambling to assure voters the claims are untrue as early voting began Friday. “That is a very serious allegation. What he is saying is vile and offensive and completely untrue,” Mohyuddin said. “It’s an attack on my patriotism. I have never ever said any words even close to that in public or in private. It is absolute lies. It’s not like he doesn’t know me.”
Kelly, who has known Mohyuddin for 25 years and helped him move into his home, told The Tennessean he is not anti-Muslim and that he stands by his letter. “I am a Christian and have been and will be. Zak isn’t, and he has a different faith and there are a lot of different faiths,” Kelly said. “I am standing on my values and my record. The point of the letter was to encourage the conservative base to get out and vote. It was simply to show the difference in views between two people, not that one is right or wrong, just a difference.”
When asked when and where he had heard Mohyuddin make the statements, Kelly said “I have heard him in our discussions over time. Just go back to the places he represents and you’ll find out. He also denied making another statement about the wheel tax that I can prove he said.”
Mohyuddin, a Tullahoma engineer, holds a security clearance that requires an extensive background check every five years. Among his community service track record, he touts 14 years of putting in at least 100 hours annually to giving free income tax return preparation to residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Speaking to his patriotism, Mohyuddin notes that after that incident, at a rally in Manchester last year held to increase awareness about American Muslims, he led a group of 500 people in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. He is a member of the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee, which sponsored the event.
Kelly also wrote in the letter: “I believe in the Christian values and work ethics that are the foundation of this great nation … Our Founding Fathers prayed to God and established our Nation and its Laws based on the Judeo-Christian principles of the Bible. Because the Bible is foundational to understanding American history and law as well as our heritage; the Bible belongs in public places.”
Mohyuddin said he also has no problem with public prayers or public display of Bibles.
“The Supreme Court made a decision that county commissions or city councils can start meetings with Christian prayers, and that’s fine,” he said. “That’s the law of the land. And I participate. I bow my head like everybody else. I don’t have an issue with it. I understand the intention of it. We have a common creator. We have different faiths.”
“The same with Bibles,” he said. “This is a Christian majority country. That has never even occurred to me about not having them in public places. That’s how absurd it is.”
Kelly said his letter was not about religion but only about voting.