A Fight To The Finish For Tennessee Mosque | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

A Fight To The Finish For Tennessee Mosque

Play associated audio

The first minarets in Murfreesboro, Tenn., are about to be placed atop a new mosque. But when construction is complete on the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, located about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, no one will get to move in.

An ongoing court battle has stalled the project, one of several Islamic centers around the country that, like the so-called ground zero mosque, have encountered resistance from local communities.

On Thursday, federal authorities charged a Texas man with threatening to bomb the mosque and violating the civil rights of mosque members.

Legal Disputes

Among the decisions involved with constructing the building, choosing the paint color for the interior walls has been the least of the worries for Essam Fathy, a physical therapist who heads the planning committee for Murfreesboro's new mosque. He has faced graffiti, arson and accusations of ties to terrorists.

"They can say what they want to divide people or scare people. And it will not work," says Fathy, who moved his family from Egypt to Tennessee decades ago.

There has been some upside to the intimidation. Mosque leaders say it has helped them raise money from sympathizers around the country and to fast-track construction.

Now, though, the leaders are in a state of limbo. A judge says the local planning commission failed to give enough public notice for a 2010 meeting in which the site plan was approved. But county attorney Josh McCreary says the mosque was treated just like any Christian church.

"There are federal and state laws that prohibit, in our view, the treatment of one religion differently than another religion," McCreary explains.

Still, the judge says a case that has since created more interest than any in the county's history needs more notice than a few lines buried in a free newspaper.

A Case Against Islam

What has become a dispute about open meetings started out as an attempt by mosque opponents to put the religion of Islam on trial. The main criticism from attorney Joe Brandon Jr. has been about Shariah law, the ancient set of rules laid out in the Quran and followed to varying degrees by Muslims.

"We don't want Shariah law. We don't want a Constitution-free zone in Rutherford County, Tenn.," says Brandon, who considers the implementation of Shariah law in Murfreesboro "a probability."

Mosque leaders laugh at that idea and call the Shariah issues "fabricated." But for Brandon, it's a serious matter tied up with his own beliefs.

"I believe there is only one God, and that is the living God of Israel," Brandon says. "With that said, I still do not oppose individuals that don't believe in that capacity. However, Shariah law is not religion, and I'm unaware of any situation where you can separate Shariah law out from under Islam. Quite frankly, I see that as a problem."

Concerns In The Community

In 2010, protesters outside the Rutherford County courthouse held signs saying "remember the Twin Towers" and shouted "Islam is not a religion." Today, the Murfreesboro town square is quieter, but the concerns still echo.

Plucking a six-string banjo, Robert Godsey waits for his wife on a bench under a century-old sycamore tree. It's an idyllic scene he fears may slip away with the growing Muslim population.

"Islam may have a certain religious component to it," Godsey says, "But it also has a political component to it that is bent on domination through violence and armed jihad. Can't people see that?"

But Patti Smotherman, another Murfreesboro resident, says the Tennessee town's reputation for Southern hospitality has been tarnished by a vocal minority. "It's not anti-Muslim," she says. "It's anti-Murfreesboro to be so rude."

Polls taken over the past few years show most residents are indifferent toward the new mosque, or they may not have known it even existed.

"That church has been here in our community for many years meeting somewhere else, and I didn't even know it," says Vicki Taylor.

And the congregation is still gathering for prayers in the back of a nondescript office building as it has for decades. But the congregants have resolved to finish the mosque, however long it takes, saying that Murfreesboro is a town they still love and consider home.

Copyright 2012 Nashville Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wpln.org/.

NPR

'Passages' Author Reflects On Her Own Life Journey

Gail Sheehy is famous for her in-depth profiles of influential people, as well as her 1976 book on common adult life crises. Now she turns her eye inward, in her new memoir Daring: My Passages.
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Go To The Border To Court Voters

Republicans have won every statewide office in Texas for 20 years, but the growing Hispanic population tends to vote Democrat, and the GOP's survival may depend on recruiting Hispanic supporters.
NPR

In San Diego, A Bootcamp For Data Junkies

Natasha Balac runs a two-day boot camp out of the San Diego Supercomputer Center for people from all types of industries to learn the tools and algorithms to help them analyze data and spot patterns in their work.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.