Murfreesboro Mosque Officially Gets Building Permit afher 16-Month Struggle

First phase calls for 12,000 square feet of space

MURFREESBORO — After sweating through 16 months of fierce and even violent opposition, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro will soon start erecting its future mosque on Veals Road.

ICM leaders obtained a building permit Friday from the Rutherford County Building Codes Department to construct the first phase of the facility off Bradyville Pike southeast of Murfreesboro and released renderings of the proposed building.

"It will be a place for everyone," said Imam Ossama Bahloul, the religious leader of the Muslim congregation. "We are so pleased. We want to extend our hand to everyone, even the people within the opposition. We don't have a bad feeling in our heart toward anyone. We are so proud to be members of this community at large. I will continue praying that may God watch over our city and bless our country."

The building permit comes on the heals of a court decision this week supporting the group's right to build its mosque after opponents challenged their intent and argued against the possibility that the mosque could be used as a terrorist training ground.

Bahloul said news of the building permit was shared with the rest of the ICM's congregation at its current location at 862 Middle Tennessee Blvd. at Friday's prayers.

"It was a moment of joy because the community went through a rough year," said Bahloul, who grew up in Egypt before becoming an American citizen who moved to this country by at least early 2004. "Members of the Islamic Center wish everyone the very best, and we all consider this moment as a new beginning. It can unify our community."

The congregation of around 250 families and about 1,000 people overall feels it has outgrown its current 2,250-square-foot location. Some people have had to pray in the parking lot because of the crowds.

The ICM hopes to complete 11,777 square feet of inside space and 12,300 square feet overall at its new site within a year, said Essam Fathy, the chairman of the congregation's planning committee working on the new building.

"It's going to be a multipurpose building for prayer and other social events," said Fathy, a founding member of a congregation that dates back about 30 years.

The congregation acquired a land-disturbance permit from the count in August to excavate and grade the property. A parking area has already been paved over and officials indicated work could begin on the mosque building in the next month.

"I hope that it's going to be a good positive step for all Muslims and non-Muslims to unite and keep Murfreesboro moving forward," Fathy said. "We wanted to extend our deep appreciation for the huge number of supporters in Rutherford County and elsewhere. These people really gave us the fuel to keep going."

The past 16 months have been hard, he said.

"Without the help of God and those supporters, it would be hard to continue," Fathy said.

In addition to the recent legal challenge, the congregation has endured harsh criticism and even violence directed toward it over the last year.

A sign advertising the site of the new mosque was vandalized with spray paint last year, another sign was broken in two and vandals set fire to earth moving equipment on the construction site. Federal agents launched an investigation and continue to offer a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Several hundred people marched on Main Street to the Courthouse last summer to protest the mosque before the County Commission, culminating with a lawsuit against the county.

Chancellor Robert Corlew III, in his ruling this week, said plaintiffs failed to prove that argument or show any harm as a result of the county's approval of a site plan for the facility last May.

Opponents Kevin Fisher, Lisa Moore, Henry Golczynski and 14 others represented by attorney Joe Brandon Jr., have vowed to continue the fight, specifically on the contention that Rutherford County failed to provide adequate public notice about the site plan.

In addition to the current construction project, the long-term ICM building plans call for adding classrooms for religious study, a gym, indoor pool and a cemetery.

The exterior of the building will include traditional Islamic architecture, such as a dome and a couple of columns that resemble church steeples. The building, though, will mostly resemble a YMCA, said Fathy, who grew up in Cairo, Egypt, before moving here in 1981 and becoming an American citizen.

"We actually meant to have it blend with most of the buildings in the county," said Fathy, who works as a physical therapist. "I believe this building will add to what's around the area. It should be a plus. We will work hard to make the addition of the ICM a plus for everyone." Fathy said he's not sure when construction will start.

"There is no exact cost yet," Fathy said.

The congregation paid $3,948 in total fees to obtain Friday's building permit, county Codes Department records show.

County Building Codes Director David Jones had left his office by early Friday afternoon and was not available for comment.

The ICM hired Trigem LLC of Knoxville to be the contractor on a project that's valued at $1.4 million, according to the building permit.

The ICM has also acquired plan approval from the state Fire Marshal's office May 6 for meeting sprinkler regulations and other standards and from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for its septic tank plan for sewage.

May 21, 2011, Tennessean

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