The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, opened in August 2012 after enduring two years of controversy, perhaps bringing to a close the vandalism and violence that has roiled both the structure itself and people of this middle Tennessee city of 100,000 citizens. While the center was being built a construction vehicle was set afire and bomb threats were left on the center’s answering machines. A vocal minority of residents feared that the mosque’s members are terrorists and claimed the mosque isn’t protected by the First Amendment because Islam isn’t a religion.
A review of the mosque’s website describes “our endeavor to continue building bridges of tolerance and respect”; one hopes this is being lived out in middle Tennessee. Murfreesboro’s official city website identifies Murfreesboro as the Most Livable City in Tennessee, though it is not apparent whether this title was bestowed before or after the expressions of intolerance and fear.
Murfreesboro isn’t the only screen on which this drama is being played out. The Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, a wealthy community with at least 11 synagogues, is enduring the same struggle now that Bloomfield Muslims plan to open that community’s first mosque at the site of a former public school.
That proposed mosque has also been met with hostility and lawsuits. A Christian legal group (The Thomas More Law Center) distributed a flier in West Bloomfield claiming that “Stealth Jihad is being waged against America.” Two men filed a lawsuit to overturn the sale of the school over a year ago. That suit was dismissed last week by the Michigan Court of Appeals, who agreed with the lower court that nothing in the sale was illegal or improper.
It is heartening to read (Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2012) that many citizens of West Bloomfield, including a cross section of religious leaders, stood up for the right of the Muslims to purchase and build a mosque in their city, identifying opponents as hysterical bigots. An assistant superintendent of the school district observed that the opposition “falls into what people would call Islamophobia.” Strong words on both sides, to be sure.
Freedom of religion gives persons of all religious persuasions freedom to identify other religions as heretical, dangerous or misguided. There is no law against phobias, religious or otherwise. But those who are the most fearful of somebody else’s religion must come to terms with the constitutional guarantees to practice our religion unhindered by government intervention.
According to the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) there are now 2,106 mosques in the United States and an Internet search indicates a couple of mosques or Islamic Centers in Albany, too. CAIR also notes a recent spike in mosque violence in the U.S. I can’t tell from the Internet how vital these mosques are or what role they play in the Albany community, but one hopes these religious bodies are accepted as part of the rich religious fabric constituting our nation.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.