After two years of construction and controversy, a Tennessee mosque plans to open its doors to worshipers Friday in time for the final days of Ramadan.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro passed its final building inspection Tuesday and was granted a temporary occupancy permit by county officials. The official approval came in the same week as other religious institutions across the country suffered violent attacks, including the deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and a suspicious fire that burned down a Missouri mosque. Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, the imam of the mosque, says the approval presents an opportunity for people to come together and demonstrate that different religions can peacefully coexist.
“We have a chance as a people to help each other,” said Bahloul. “I tell my congregation that when a person doesn’t understand our religion, we have to try our best to understand that person and reach out. We can do something about it.”
While mosque leaders had hoped the center would open in July before the start of the Islamic holy month, public opposition and a court order stalled construction.
“This has been a long process,” said Bahloul. “It was a painful process, so the permit means a lot to me and the congregation. It shows that freedom of religion and the equal rights of individuals are fundamental principles in America.”
While building plans for the mosque were approved at a planning commission meeting in May 2010, some local residents filed lawsuits to stop construction soon after, arguing that the public had not been given proper notice of the county meeting. Throughout the court battle, opponents of the center also testified that Islam was not a religion, and that the mosque would be part of a plan to replace the Constitution with Sharia Law.
As court proceedings progressed, the mosque construction site suffered repeated vandalism and threats, including a 2010 arson attack and a bomb threat in 2011. In May of this year, Chancellor Robert Corlew confirmed that Islam is a religion, but ruled that the public had not been given adequate notice of the meeting where the site plan was approved, and consequently ordered the mosque to stop construction.
While the county appealed Corlew’s ruling, the case has yet to be resolved and could stretch on for months before it is decided. So in July, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to allow the Islamic Center to begin operating once the proper permits had been issued. After passing inspection on Tuesday, the Murfreesboro mosque was granted a temporary occupancy permit which allows the facility to function for up to 30 days while work is completed on the landscaping, parking lot, and other minor details. Bahloul expects all work to be finished by Friday, and hopes to attain a permanent permit soon after.
Due to highly publicized opposition, the mosque has implemented heavy security measures to ensure the safety of its worshipers. Yet, Bahloul says that those who are confused or opposed to Islam are always welcome to speak with mosque leaders and congregation members to better understand their beliefs and facilitate harmony within the Murfreesboro community.
“We are happy to accommodate anyone who wants to learn more about Islam and what we believe,” said Bahloul. “I have an open policy and would love to chat with anyone and am happy to answer any questions. The people need to understand that there is nothing to be worried about.”