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Tennessee mosque set to open Friday

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:22 PM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
After years of threats and legal battles, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee is expected to open for Ramadan.
After years of threats and legal battles, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee is expected to open for Ramadan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We're thrilled," says mosque board member
  • First service scheduled to occur during Ramadan
  • The opening comes after two years of legal wrangling
  • Rutherford County issues a temporary certificate of occupancy

Programming note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over a mosque in the heart of the Bible Belt. "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" airs Saturday August 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.

(CNN) -- County officials on Tuesday granted the paperwork needed for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to open -- after two years of legal wrangling and anti-Muslim sentiment that included vandalism.

"We're thrilled," said Saleh Sbenaty, a member of the mosque's board and planning committee.

The first prayer service is set for 1 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) on Friday, before the close of the holy month of Ramadan, he noted.

Controversy over the building erupted in 2010, when planning commissioners approved an expansion project at the existing mosque.

TN mosque critic: Not Islamophobia

Previously on CNN.com: Federal judge paves way for Tennessee mosque to open for Ramadan

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.

Tuesday's announcement comes a day after a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, burned to the ground in a fire that federal agents are investigating as a possible arson, and two days after an alleged white supremacist gunman killed six Sikhs and wounded three others, including a police officer, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In a statement issued Monday, the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques urged state and federal law enforcement officials "to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the arson, and the destruction of the Joplin mosque, and to pursue hate crime charges if appropriate."

Sbetany said the Muslim community has noted the incidents with alarm. "We are very concerned, as many people would be, and we're just hoping for the best and that our community will be spared from any violence in the long term," he told CNN.

But he took a sanguine view about the mosque in Murfreesboro. "We're looking at a brighter future, and a prosperous united community," he said. "We are going to forget all of what happened and put it behind us."

Opinion: An American tradition of bigotry

The approval followed a tortuous path. 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.

Tuesday's certificate, from Rutherford County's Building Code Department, is good for 30 days.

Landscaping needs to be completed before the building can receive a permanent certificate, but Sbenaty said he was optimistic that it could be completed within the allotted time.

Murfreesboro, a city of nearly 110,000 residents, is located 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Belief: My Faith, after my mosque was torched

CNN's George Howell contributed to this report.

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