Leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro are opening their doors to their Middle Tennessee town in the wake of an ongoing controversy that turned violent two weekends ago.
With the deliberate burning of excavation equipment at the site of the proposed mosque and community center on Aug. 28 came renewed calls for calm in a debate that has turned Murfreesboro upside down, revealing a strain of bitter anti-Islamic sentiment.
“It’s a mixed feeling of fear, worry, some people thinking, ‘Are we going to get hurt in this?’ ” said Essam Fathy, a project coordinator for the new mosque who has lived in Murfreesboro for 29 years. “You’re trying to calm everybody as much as you can, knowing that anything can be happening. If somebody allows themselves to go that far and do something like this, you don’t know how far they can go or how far they would allow themselves to go. They’re delivering a message … and I’m sure that message is, ‘Watch out.’ ”
Last Monday, some 200 people gathered at the steps of the Rutherford County Courthouse and held a candlelight vigil in support of local Muslims. Despite disruptions from about 20 dissenters who stood at the back of the rally, the sentiment was one of tolerance and togetherness.
“I think Murfreesboro is getting the image, and it’s getting all over the country and all over the world, I guess, that we’re a bunch of haters, and we’re certainly not,” said Bud Harmon, who said he’s lived in Murfreesboro for 40 years. “This community is not about that. So I think us folks that believe in religious freedom need to stand up, do something about it.”
Fathy said the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, in operation for close to 30 years, is inviting anyone with questions about Islam or the congregation’s plans for a 52,900-square-foot expansion to simply come by and ask.
The congregation’s current facility is too small, leaders say. There are about 250 member families, which — including children — adds up to some 1,000 people overall. According to spokeswoman Camie Ayash, the first phase of construction includes an entryway and a multipurpose room for activities like daily prayer, for a total of about 7,000 square feet.
A construction crew broke ground at the site on Friday, Aug. 20.