Supporters, opponents face off over proposed new mosque


From the Tennessean. MURFREESBORO, USA — Debate over whether a mosque should be built just south of Nasvhille, TN (USA) packed 1,000 protesters into that city's public square on Wednesday, police estimated.

Fewer than half marched in from Central Middle School, a half-mile away, to deliver petitions to the county courthouse — 20,000 names, organizers said, of people opposed to the mosque. But the majority of the crowd was already waiting, bearing signs that said, "I love my Muslim neighbors" and "Freedom of religion."

County Mayor Ernest Burgess accepted the petitions, and both sides dispersed quietly after less than two hours, many with their clothing soaked in sweat from the midday heat.

Burgess said officials won't take action to stop the mosque, and he doesn't believe Wednesday's demonstrations will affect Rutherford County's reputation for good or bad.

"It's two opposing views," Burgess said. "It's a healthy debate. I don't think it affects us now or down the line."

But the Muslim Student Association's faculty adviser at Middle Tennessee State University said anti-Muslim sentiment expressed in the course of the protest makes people believe Rutherford is inhospitable.

"This, in return, could discourage Muslim students as well as faculty members from choosing Middle Tennessee State University for their education or as a place of work," said Saleh M. Sbenaty, an engineering professor.

Delivering the petitions was largely a ceremonial gesture. The Board of Zoning Appeals held a late afternoon meeting, but the mosque wasn't on the agenda.

Those who oppose the planned 52,000-square-foot Islamic center off Bradyville Pike say they fear traffic congestion and feel the site plan approval for the mosque was hurried through government. Some wore T-shirts with the word "Infidel," the word Muslim extremists use to characterize Christians and Americans. One woman held a sign that read: "Stop TN homegrown terrorism."

Ashley Harris held a thick stack of petitions and continued collecting signatures during the march.

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