Celebrating Religious Freedom: Murfreesboro Mosque Opens Up
by John Shaheen
There were two victories recently for many in the Muslim American community. As we know a significant percentage of Muslim Americans voted for the incumbent Democrat President Barack H. Obama, with some estimates showing the number to be as high as 90%. The other victory was the opening of the Murfreesboro Mosque after a long battle with anti-Muslim activists who among other things wanted to ban Islam.
The Murfreesboro Mosque’s grand opening was attended by interfaith leaders who were joined by both local and national government leaders, a welcome sign highlighting the communal effort that grew and became necessary to combat a pervasive intolerance that seeks to marginalize and stigmatize Muslim Americans.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has celebrated its official opening with food and fellowship.
The Daily News Journal reports (http://on.dnj.com/10fAHZZ) guests on Sunday included U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin and U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office intervened in federal court in July to protect the religious freedom of mosque members after a Chancery Court judge ordered the county to halt work on the building. The order stemmed from a finding that there was not adequate public notice of the meeting where the mosque was approved. That suit is still under appeal.
The Rev. Joseph Breen, a Catholic priest from Nashville, also joined the celebration and spoke to the assembly.
“If we really believe in that God of love, how can we not love our neighbors?” he asked. “If one does not have the freedom to practice their religion, then before long none of us will.”
Imam Ossama Bahloul, the mosque’s religious leader, told those gathered, “The building of the ICM has showed us the importance of believing. Yes, we received hundreds of hate (emails), but we received thousands of supportive ones. It reminds us that the majority of people are good.”
The lesson to be learned from this is that while we all must realize that when hatred rears its ugly head and focuses on one group and solidarity across confessional lines becomes necessary it is also vital to pre-empt such hate. The other lesson is that support for religious freedom and the value of religious tolerance is a bi-partisan issue.
There is also an important lesson for Muslim Americans in this episode as well and one that must be put into practice. As Imam Magid of ISNA has noted while “religious intolerance” is a significant issue for Muslims in the US and one that they have experience of first-hand as a community such violations “pale in comparison to the challenges faced by minority communities in other countries, where religious freedom is far less supported by the government and far less cherished as a societal value.”
Some of these nations are Muslim majority and have seemed to have lost the avowed tolerance that was a hallmark of Islamic history. It is vital that Muslim Americans participate in actualizing “there is no compulsion in religion” by joining in discussion and dialogue with fellow Muslims in Muslim majority countries, sharing their experiences in regards to religious liberty and helping to strengthen civic society groups focused on communal harmony and religious liberty.
It is a matter of a consistency with the ethics and essence of Islam, which at the end of the day is the practice of righteousness through good deeds and wanting for others what you want for yourself.