MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Muslims in the Tennessee city of Murfreesboro said Friday they hope the opening of their new mosque after more than two years of controversy will be a new beginning for relations with the community, particularly their opponents.
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro members include immigrants from Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other countries, as well as American converts. Many of them said that before the opposition to their building they had always found Murfreesboro to be a welcoming community.
If it were not, the congregation would never have grown to the point where they needed to build a new mosque, they said.
They have had to deal with public protests, vandalism, arson of a construction vehicle and a bomb threat. Opponents of the project held a protest rally and then sued the county to stop construction.
Their attorneys claimed in court that Islam was not a real religion deserving First Amendment protections. They also claimed that local Muslims were part of a plot to overthrow the U.S. constitution and replace it with Islamic law.
They were unable to prove those claims, which were thrown out by the judge, but construction was nearly halted anyway when that judge ruled in May there was not sufficient public notice for the meeting where mosque construction was approved.
Last month, a federal judge granted the mosque’s request for an emergency order that would open the building in time for the holy month of Ramadan, which is still under way.
Matt Miller had just converted to Islam and begun worshipping at the mosque when the controversy erupted. He said all of his friends, whom he describes as “regular American bar-hopping citizens,” support the new mosque and are happy for the congregation.
He does sometimes worry that opposition to the mosque could turn violent, but said a friend told him to think about it this way: “If the way you go is praying in the masjid (mosque) during Ramadan, what better way is there?”
Miller said he thinks the opposition will die down after the mosque holds an open house and people “see that there are no underground tunnels. We’re not here to take over the world. We just don’t want to worship in a shoebox anymore.”
Fathy’s daughter Amirah Fathy drove up from Atlanta on Friday to celebrate the mosque opening with her parents.
She said she never felt hostility because of her religion while growing up in Murfreesboro. When the controversy over the new building started it was “so strange,” she said. “I think we just got too much attention and people got nervous. People fear what they don’t understand.”
She remembers the congregation meeting in a one-bedroom apartment when she was a child. “It was such a mess,” she said.
Surveying the spacious, 12,000-square-foot building with its high ceilings, tile hallways and numerous windows, she said, “The feeling is just overwhelming, the feeling of joy, happiness.”