CAIRO – After years of threats, attacks and court action, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s new mosque has opened its doors, as 300 worshippers sought a “day of forgiveness” to open a new chapter with Rutherford County residents who opposed the center.
“We want to say we have nothing bad in our heart against anyone,” Imam Ossama Bahloul told The Daily News Journal.
“This is a place where we can express our love for God, nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
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Since instruction began two years ago, the mosque, about 30 miles south of Nashville, has been the subject of a legal fight by groups opposed to the Muslim worship place.
Opponents have argued that Islam is not a religion protected by the US Constitution, and that the mosque would promote Shari`ah.
In May a county judge barred Muslims from using the mosque on the ground that the local planning commission had not given the public enough notice before it met in 2010 to grant a building permit.
But a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order last month for Muslim worshippers to begin using the new mosque pending an inspection.
And on Tuesday, the Rutherford Country Code office and fire marshals have issued certificates of occupancy for the new mosque.
The certificate from the fire marshal and the permit from the county are temporary, pending fire marshal requirements, landscaping, signage and parking lot striping.
“We’re all humbly enjoying the right to worship, an American tradition that a small minority tried to eliminate out of ignorance and misunderstanding,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Bahloul confirmed that Muslims believe in “institution of America,” which supports the rights of the Muslim community to worship.
Ending two-year struggle, the imam said he would speak out against all “evil” regardless of what faith breeds it.
“We are against radicals of any kind coming from the Muslim community or any community,” he said, noting Muslims have worshiped here more than three decades without causing problems.
Entering the new mosque, worshippers felt excited to see the facility open after two years of legal battles and criticism.
“It’s really exciting to see this day after all the circumstances that happened,” said Basin Ezzair, an employee of Kwik Mart at the corner of Maple and Lytle streets in downtown Murfreesboro.
Ezzair said he believes opposition stemmed from only a small number of people in Murfreesboro and that the majority of local residents support the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).
ICM Board Chairman Essam Fathy was ecstatic shortly before prayers began, simply saying, “It’s happening.”
Dima Sbenaty was overwhelmed by the $2 million building, which replaces the ICM’s cramped quarters in an office building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard.
“It’s like nothing I imagined,” said Sbenaty, a 22-year-old MTSU graduate who is set to work on her master’s and the daughter of ICM spokesman Saleh Sbenaty, an MTSU professor.
“It’s gorgeous. I can’t believe how beautiful it is,” she added.
“We’ve come a long way to be in this moment right now,” Sbenaty said.
Mosques have been facing fierce opposition across the United States recently.
At least 35 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.
Even more, some mosques were vandalized including a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case for which a $5,000 reward is being offered.
“Today marks a triumph not just for the Muslims of Murfreesboro, but for people of all faiths,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund.
“No house of worship should be kept from meeting just because the neighbors dislike their religious beliefs,” he added.
Facing vandalism, intimidation, arson and bomb threats, the mosque congregation were ready to open a new sheet with the society.
“We want to say we have nothing bad in our hearts against anyone,” he said.
“We are against radical of any kind, coming from the Muslim community or any community.
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