A new mosque in Middle Tennessee opened for services today, after a two-year battle in which opponents tried to connect it to terrorism. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro pushed past vandalism, bomb threats and a court fight before opening.
Murfreesboro has had a Muslim congregation for decades, and member Amirah Fathy says the bigger facility has been a long time coming. Aside from a few vocal opponents, Fathy says most of the community has been supportive.
“Constant emails, constant phone calls. You know, ‘we support your rights to worship, don’t worry about these people, you guys have lived here for a long time.’ We’re in the schools, when people see us in the supermarkets, so we’re not new here!”
Earlier this summer a federal judge slapped down an attempt to block the mosque’s opening in court. And a Texas man was federally indicted for threatening to bomb the mosque.
For the first prayer service held in the newly build Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Imam Ossama Bahloul had a message of unity. He invited even the mosque’s detractors to visit and see that it is not a training ground for terrorism.
“This day is a day of forgiveness. We will all as a Muslim community will say to everyone around us, even to the people in the opposition, we want to say that we have nothing bad in our hearts against anyone.”
The world was watching the first day of prayers held in the facility, which had to overcome court challenges. Live trucks from CNN and Fox News parked outside. After the drama of the last two years, members of the mosque say they hope to soon be out of the spotlight.
“Our closest mosque”
Tasneem Ahmed has been commuting to Murfreesboro from further southeast to worship; she says the new facility makes attending services more practical.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We live in Tullahoma, Tennessee, so this is our closest mosque. Otherwise we have to go to Nashville, which takes an hour and a half. So we were praying in a place that got really small for us over the years, and we really needed a bigger space.”
“Just to come visit us”
Like everyone who attended, Dema Sbenaty was excited that the congregation will be able to come out of the shadows. It has outgrown a secluded office space that served as its mosque for years. Sbenaty says now that the doors are open, everyone is invited – even the skeptics.
“We want them to come see with their own eyes exactly what we’re doing here, exactly what our view is, and just to come visit us as normal people.”
Even as congregants offered prayers to Allah, others were outside praying to God on behalf of the Muslims. In the parking lot of Baptist church next door, men asked that those who follow Islam turn to Jesus.
WPLN’s Blake Farmer contributed to this report.