NASHVILLE - Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey's recent suggestion that Islam may be a cult has a national Muslim group worried that his view represents part of a "disturbing trend."

Ramsey, the state's lieutenant governor, made the remarks during a July 14 Chattanooga campaign stop, according to a video.

In response to an attendee's stated concerns that "we've got a threat that's invading our country from the Muslims," Ramsey noted a recent controversy in Murfreesboro, Tenn., over the proposed building of an Islamic center and mosque.

"You can even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion or is it a nationality, way of life, or cult, whatever you want to call it," Ramsey said.

While he said he believes in freedom of religion, "you cross the line when they start trying to bring Sharia law here into ... the United States. ... We live under our Constitution and they preferably live under our Constitution. It's scary if we get there."

Sharia is the sacred law of Islam.

The video of his remarks has ignited a controversy on the Internet.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Tuesday the "problem" with Ramsey's remarks "is it seems to be part of a trend nationwide in which there are those who are seeking to delegitimize the faith of Islam so that Muslim civil and religious rights can somehow be restricted."

In a subsequent e-mail, Ramsey said 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."

In an interview, Ramsey said has "no problem with peace-loving, freedom-loving Muslims" who live in the United States.

But he said, "I do believe that there's been a portion of their religion that's been co-opted by a faction that advocates violence and especially against Americans. And that's what I have a problem with."

Bassam Issa, a member of the board for the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said he believes that "at the end of the day, this country stands for freedom of religion."

And "when you have one-third of the population of the word following that religion, how could you deny" it as a religion, Issa asked.

He said the Muslim community is "right in the middle path in the way we think. ... We abide by the law. We do love our country just like anybody else."

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