Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey is being criticized by a national Muslim advocacy group for questioning whether Islam is more of a cult than a a religion.
At an event in Chattanooga earlier this month, Ramsey said: "You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it?"
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Ramsey's comments are a sign of "a disturbing trend in our nation in which it is suggested that American Muslims should have fewer or more restricted constitutional rights than citizens of other faiths."
Hooper urged Ramsey to meet with members of the Muslim community in Tennessee, "who can offer him balanced and accurate information about Islam."
Ramsey issued a statement in response saying he's concerned that "far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion."
"It's time for American Muslims who love this country to publicly renounce violent jihadism and to drum those who seek to do America harm out of their faith community," he said.
Ramsey faces U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in the Aug. 5 primary.
Ramsey's original comments came amid heightened emotions over a planned 52,000-square-foot mosque and Islamic community center in Murfreesboro that has led to protests and counter protests.
Ramsey said at the Chattanooga event that he had not been asked about Islam on the campaign trail until the controversy erupted over the Murfreesboro mosque.
A Tennessee Republican candidate for Congress previously called the mosque a threat to the state's moral and political foundation.
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