Regional
4:17 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Date Set for Opening of New Tennessee Islamic Center

A new mosque in Tennessee that had been the subject of a lawsuit, arson, vandalism and a bomb threat will open for prayers for the first time on Friday. Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board member Saleh Sbenaty said Tuesday that Rutherford County officials issued a temporary occupancy permit that will allow use of the building while the final permit is pending.

Construction was nearly shut down after a Rutherford County judge ruled in May that the meeting where mosque construction was approved was not sufficiently advertised to the public.

Last month, federal prosecutors stepped in to protect the religious liberty of mosque members. U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin argued the county judge had illegally created a separate “mosque standard” for public notice that only applied to the Islamic center.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the mosque, allowing construction and permitting to move ahead. The temporary permit is good until mid-October and will allow contractors time to complete the landscaping and some other last details.

“We’re thrilled,” board member Saleh Sbenaty said on Tuesday after learning the permit was forthcoming. “We hope everybody will be as happy and thrilled as we are.”

The new 12,000-square-foot mosque replaces an existing 2,100-square-foot building that serves about 250 local families and many Muslim students attending Middle Tennessee State University. Worshippers regularly have to stand in the parking lot during prayers because the current space is too small.