Supporters come together over Murfreesboro mosque

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 12:21am
M'boro Islamic Center _MG_9474 Ferrara.jpg
Supporters and opponents of a proposed Islamic center clashed at a vigil in Murfreesboro Monday night. (Photo by Jude Ferrara)

Some 200 people gathered as the sun set on the steps of the Rutherford County Courthouse Monday, holding lit candles and signs in support of Murfreesboro Muslims whose planned new facility has brought national controversy to this small town.

“As Americans, we must always act with justice if we are to be peacemakers,” the Rev. Joseph Breen, longtime pastor at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Nashville, said from the courthouse steps to many cheers. “We must speak up for the freedoms and liberties of every person, regardless of their religion.”

Breen was pastor at St. Rose Catholic Church in Murfreesboro for 10 years, and said he had nothing but fond memories of the town, which he added has drawn a bad — if inaccurate — reputation in the national media of late.

Much of that attention came in the wake of controversial comments made by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who called Islam a “cult” several weeks ago, and vocal opposition to the proposed mosque, mostly after the county’s planning commission had approved the facility.

But the national spotlight has shown more brightly on Rutherford County since Saturday, when a fire at the proposed site destroyed one piece of excavating equipment and damaged three others. According to Eric Kehn, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, investigators had gathered evidence and were processing it Monday afternoon. It has been widely reported that the investigation, which also involves the FBI, is focused on arson.

“It’s sad,” James Deane, a 24-year-old Murfreesboro resident who rode his bicycle to the vigil, said of the fire. “There’s been so many people calling Muslim terrorists — that’s terrorism, what happened over the weekend.”

“It’s domestic terrorism,” said Lisa Rung. She drove an hour from Sewanee to attend the vigil, which was organized by Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom and promoted via Facebook. “So you have to stand up against it, you have to say we don’t support that.”

Jamie Smith, an adjunct English professor at Middle Tennessee State University who was sharing a bench with Rung, whom she’d just met, lamented the reputation her town is gathering.

“Of course, if you see yourself on ‘[The Daily Show with] Jon Stewart’ for the wrong reasons, you’re a little bit embarrassed,” she said.

Many at the vigil spoke of the fear over the proposed 52,900-square-foot facility, which will include a mosque, athletic field, playground, pavilions and green space on its 15-acre swathe in Rutherford County. But, according to Camie Ayash of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, the first phase would include just an entryway, a multipurpose room for things like daily prayer, and a smaller side room. The multipurpose room would be three times the size of the current one, which she said is too small to accommodate the congregation’s 250 families (which adds up to about 1,000 members).

It could be another decade, she said, before the congregation raises the money needed to build out more of the proposal.

A construction crew broke ground at the site on Friday, Aug. 20.

Ayash, who did not attend the vigil, said the fire has put everyone at her mosque on alert.

“When somebody sets something on fire, that goes beyond breaking a sign or sending a nasty email,” she said. “Someone could’ve gotten hurt. And so that makes me think that the person just has no respect for human life.”

There have been at least two prior acts of vandalism at the site.

Ayash said the Islamic Center asked Murfreesboro police for additional patrols of the site, adding that local and federal law enforcement officials have been helpful and cooperative all along. A patrol car passes by the site every half hour, she said, and on Monday night after the vigil, a police car sat at the front of the open field with its headlights on.

Imam Mohammad Ahmed Al-Sherif, of the Islamic Center of Nashville, said in an interview Monday afternoon that Metro police have stepped up patrols of his 12South site. There are two guards on the property at all times, he said, and Metro police have dedicated patrol cars coming by more regularly than usual.

“Of course, people are very terrified,” he said. “I have a 6-year-old, she’s afraid to go to school. Some people don’t want to come to congregation.”

Naturally, Monday night’s vigil wasn’t absent a little controversy. A small contingent of 20 people or so stood at the back and argued with attendees about the mosque and, more generally, Islam in America and the breadth of religious freedom here. After arriving in a black GMC truck with a hand-painted wooden sign in the bed that read “No Mosque,” Collier Hopson and three other young men began arguing with a small cluster of vigil-goers.

The most vocal was Cody Donovan, an Army veteran who said he did one tour in Iraq before coming home with injuries. He said he came to the rally because he thought it was over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, although he acknowledged he has a problem with Islam overall.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the fire continues. And on Sunday, officials from the Islamic Center who were at the site reported hearing multiple gunshots in the area. A spokesman for the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that investigators haven’t connected the shots to the site, adding that now is squirrel-hunting season, so the shots may have come from hunters.

The ATF is asking anyone with information about the fire to call 1-888-ATF-FIRE. 

13 Comments on this post:

By: gdiafante on 8/31/10 at 6:03

Welcome to America, land of the free (if you're Christian and white).

The irony is that the people who committed arson have become what they beheld. Now you tell me, who is the greater threat to a peaceful society?

I'm embarrassed to say I live here.

By: TakePrideInNash on 8/31/10 at 7:25

I am not embarrassed to say I live here because this is my home and I love it here. Those few rednecks do not speak for the majority. Whoever started the fire are cowards.

By: Cookie47 on 8/31/10 at 8:34

I don't agree with the fire being started anymore than I would have agreed with the fire bombings of a Jewish synagogue years ago. Both are travesties and should never be tolerated. However, perhaps things would be different if Islam policed its own and fought against the terrorist that have high jacked their "peaceful" and "tolerant" religion.

Cookie47

By: pswindle on 8/31/10 at 9:01

American was founded on religious freedom. Period! All of this started when the white man and woman cannot stand to have a black president. Shame on us, and the reason that I know this, you should see the emails that I receive about our president.

By: BEOWULF on 8/31/10 at 9:40

BEOWULF: The fire was childish; there are much better ways to voice discontent. That said, look at some facts that many ignore:
>Our "leader" bows and scrapes before their kings and leaders.
>We are the infidels they vow to erase.
>Their women are chattel.
>They disfigure their young girls.
>Their "good" mosque leaders have repeatedly snubbed US officals when asked to turn over known subversives in their midist who recruit and train young followers for cells.
>Not all muslims are bad, but the bad cast a large, dark shadow.
>The fires of 911 will never cease to burn in many minds.

By: GUARDIAN on 8/31/10 at 11:22

Sharia Law proves Islam is not a religion.

By: TakePrideInNash on 8/31/10 at 12:01

People of all religions commit crimes everyday in this country. Should there be no places of worship? The Muslims here just want to worship, not kill anyone.

By: Cookie47 on 8/31/10 at 12:51

TakePrideInNashville,

A lot of people thought the same thing until about 8:00 (CST) September 11, 2001.

Again, perhaps things would be different if Islam policed its own and fought against the terrorist that have high jacked their "peaceful" and "tolerant" religion. They sit back and do nothing as if to condon the actions of a few then wonder why some are hesitant to want them around.

Cookie47

By: TakePrideInNash on 8/31/10 at 1:39

So, you want to lump all Muslims together because of cowardly acts of some? I don't think it would hurt anyone for Muslims to have a place to worship. If you condemn all the Muslims for what some have done, then condemn all religions and and all races because all have bad among them. As for myself, I will leave the judgement for each individual on this earth to God. Thank goodness he does not lump everyone together.

By: Cookie47 on 9/1/10 at 5:39

TakePrideInNashville,

I'm not condemning anyone nor lumping them together. I'm just saying public opinion would turn in their favor if they made a concerted effort to rid their religion of the terrorists.

No, it can't hurt for Muslims to have a place to worship provided that's all they do there. Given the events of September 11, 2001, you'll have to understand why some may be skeptical.

I, too, shall leave the judging to God but as an American I think it would be prudent to do as Ronald Reagan - trust but verify.

Cookie47

By: yucchhii on 9/1/10 at 10:11

When it comes down to it...Those who believe in the word of God out of the KING James bible know the TRUTH! BUT God did not make us to be robots! He gave us freedom of will to make choices. Yes, we do have a choice as to what we believe and THAT comes from GOD! NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THAT AWAY FROM US.. no matter who we are! If people CHOOSE to believe in something that is NOT right, THAT IS THEIR CHOICE! The biggest thing about making a choice, it's best to make in INFORMED decicision. God said in 2nd timothy 2:15 "STUDY to show thyself approved unto God. A workman needth not be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth! The first word here is "STUDY"...STUDY what? STUDY GODS WORD and then it says A "WORKMAN" needth NOT be ashamed. A "WORKMAN" is not just a person who goes out to a job, but a person who APPLIES what TRUTH he has learned in his or her life! SO, this is HOW you make an "INFORMED" decision on who and WHAT you believe spiritually! There is NO arguement with Gods word, Put the bible down ALL you want, BUT the bible is it's own defense, I need not argue with ANYONE about the TRUTH! You either accept it or you don't. BUT let me remind you, their is a serious consoquence for making the WRONG decision! America has been about the freedom of religion to practice what you believe...even if it's WRONG! The country was FOUNDED on biblical princapals and that means that the politicians seperating church and state are WRONG for what THEY are doing!!! PERIOD!

By: shef2 on 9/1/10 at 7:02

This arson was shameful. It was said earlier on this post, but I'll say it again:
This country was founded on Religious freedom. What part of that = denying Muslim followers of theirs-? Ummm, nothing.
If your idea is that Muslims are "extremists", then what do you call "arson"-?! Arson is "extreme", in my opinion-! Whoever DID do this probably thinks it was the "Christian" thing to do. Well, it was not. My, my, how very "Christian" of you-!

By: localboy on 9/2/10 at 11:01

">Our "leader" bows and scrapes before their kings and leaders."
A presidential function since the 50s.
"The country was FOUNDED on biblical princapals and that means that the politicians seperating church and state are WRONG for what THEY are doing!!! PERIOD!"
NOW WE KNOW!