Nashwa Elsayed helps Sarin Chamdlin with her hijab before the opening ceremony of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Sunday. / Helen Comer / Gannett Tennessee
By Samantha E. Donaldson / Gannett Tennessee
More than two years of a rocky path behind it, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro celebrated its opening Sunday with food, fellowship and special guests.
Each guest was greeted and offered a tour of the facility before being ushered to the main assembly hall for a program with several speakers, including Jerry Martin, U.S. attorney for Middle Tennessee, and Thomas Perez, U.S. assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice.
"Today, Sunday, Nov. 18, marks the occasion of the opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro," said Essam Fathy, ICM chairman. "I don't know if you can tell how truly proud I am to say that.
"It was a long and bumpy road, a journey like no other. It was rough," Fathy said.
The mosque remains the focal point of an open meetings lawsuit filed by a group of residents against Rutherford County contending the county failed to provide adequate public notice for the meeting when the ICM's site plan received approval.
A federal judge's ruling enabled the mosque to receive its occupancy permit after the U.S. attorney argued that federal law required the county to issue the certificate.
Fathy welcomed everyone Sunday and shared his gratitude with those who supported, not just the mosque's opening and the local Muslim community, but freedom of religion.
Attorney John Green, the Rev. Joseph Breen of the Diocese of Nashville and the Rev. Bryan Brooks of Blackman United Methodist Church also shared remarks.
"I don't know about you, but I like walking around in my socks," said Breen, referring to everyone having to remove their shoes before entering the hall.
"If we really believe in that God of love, how can we not love our neighbors? If one does not have the freedom to practice their religion, then before long none of us will," he continued.
Imam Ossama Bahloul closed with words of gratitude to those who supported his congregation and its right to worship.
"The building of the ICM has showed us the importance of believing," he said. "Yes, we received hundreds of hate (emails), but we received thousands of supportive ones. It reminds us that the majority of people are good."