Official: Tennessee mosque doesn't get final OK, though it may come soon

Story highlights

  • An Islamic center's expansion has been beset by legal wrangling and vandalism
  • Last month, a judge ordered county authorities to do a final inspection of the building
  • The fire marshal needs more time to inspect the mosque's fire alarms, a board member says
  • The hope is to have the mosque open for the end of Ramadan, he adds
The opening of a Tennessee mosque -- beset for years with legal wrangling, vandalism and anti-Muslim sentiment -- won't happen until at least next week, a board member said Friday.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro had hoped this week to get its official certificate of occupancy, the final inspection needed for it to welcome worshipers for services during the holy month of Ramadan. According to the Fiqh Council of North America, Ramadan on the continent began July 20 and will end August 18.
But the final certificate has not come through, said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member and planning committee member for the Islamic center.
The mosque passed a fire inspection, but the local fire marshal needs more time to inspect its fire alarms, Sbenaty said. Authorities plan to return Tuesday to complete the inspection.
If the certificate is occupancy is granted after that final inspection, mosque leaders hope to hold a prayer service August 10, the second-to-last Friday of Ramadan.
And that would mean worshipers could be at the Islamic Center for Eid al-Fitr, the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan.
The controversy erupted in 2010, when planning commissioners approved an expansion project at the existing mosque.
The construction site has been vandalized several times, including an arson attack in 2010 and "not welcome" spray-painted on a sign announcing the project. Federal authorities have charged a Texas man with calling in a bomb threat to the center before last year's anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In July, a federal judge in Memphis set aside a local judge's ruling from the previous month that voided a planning commission's approval and ordered Rutherford County authorities to conduct a final inspection of the building.
If the structure had failed to comply with inspection requirements, U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell ordered the county to immediately notify the Islamic Center of any deficiencies and "promptly reinspect the building" after the center informed the county that it has corrected the problems.
Sally Wall, one of the leading opponents of the mosque, said then that she wasn't surprised by the ruling and never thought her group would win the court case. She said she just wanted to show Muslims that they are not welcome in Murfreesboro, a city of nearly 110,000 people 30 miles southeast of Nashville.
Acknowledging the fact the mosque will probably open soon, Wall said she hopes it doesn't bring "1,000 to 2,000 Muslim families here." And if it does get its final certificate of occupancy, she vowed to keep fighting, believing that many of her neighbors are behind her.
"Everyone else feels the same way I do (about the mosque) except the 5% who moved here the day before yesterday," Wall said.
Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic Center said the congregation has a three-decade history and has not caused any disruption in the city.
"No one can come to say the Islam community is radical," he said. "What did we do?"
A municipal worker who lives near the mosque said most of the residents in her neighborhood are more concerned about the traffic caused by an expansion than the presence of Muslims. But for many in the town, it's the term "Muslim" that counts, she said.
The 69-year-old, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue and her connection to local government, said she thinks any religious group has a right to be there and she doesn't feel threatened.
"It's just the way Muslims are perceived because of the terrorist attacks and the war," she said. "We have Buddhists here, and they have their place of worship, and I don't think anything's ever been said against them."
Bahloul has said he hopes the opening of the new mosque will be an opportunity to extend "hands of peace" and thank supporters.
"I believe we are all related. We all came from Adam and Eve," the imam said. "We might have some disagreement, but we must find a way to sit at the table, have a discussion and respect each other."