New Islamic center response to growth

Sam Stackard

Sbenaty: Misinformation, fear behind protests

The local Muslim community began worshiping in the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, an office suite off Middle Tennessee Boulevard, in 1998 after nearly two decades of gathering in apartments and any available buildings they could afford.

The community was small, a handful of students from MTSU and a few Muslim families who lived in the region, according to Saleh Sbenaty, an MTSU engineering professor who moved to Tennessee in 1982.

Their membership has grown to some 250 families, and like many other churches, they now pan to expand. The center has purchased property on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike to build a larger center for worship and activity areas, as well as recreational outlets such as a gym, swimming pool and ball fields.

They believed the community would be excited, but that belief was short-lived when several hundred residents packed the County Courthouse in June in opposition to a Regional Planning Commission vote to approve their site plan. A march against the vote is set for Wednesday.

Sbenaty sat down with The DNJ to discuss the building plan and community response.

Q: After you all got approval for the new site, it ran into a firestorm of protest. Have you all had any problems with local government or public opposition before?

Sbenaty: We never had any, actually, and we enjoyed a really peaceful and open (relationship). This community has been so good to us. We have friends and family who have lived here for a long time. My kids, for example, have their friends and we know their families. Everybody was so good to us and we did not have a problem with anybody before. The problem started actually after we got approval for the site plan. Somebody instigated fear, probably because of the name Islam as a religion, and started something like a chain letter and sending e-mail and gathering some momentum. They thought this is something new to the community, which is totally not true. We’re here, and we have been here for over three or four decades without any problems. (click full article)

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