There are 48 approved religious, faith and even non-faith symbols used in United States Army and Veterans Affairs cemeteries. Number 17 is the star and crescent of Islam. Remember that as you read this.
The Islamic community in central Tennessee decided to build a new mosque to replace their thirty-year old, inadequate facility. They acquired a nice piece of land outside Murfreesboro, about 30 miles from Nashville. The plans for the new 12,000 square foot building were approved by local zoning authorities in 2010. The congregation has plans to expand the facility to over 52,000 square feet over time. The last 18 months have been a nightmare.
Among other harassments, the construction equipment was set on fire. Opponents to the mosque filed suit to prevent its opening. They argued that Islam is not protected by the Constitution, the Islamic Center was going to promote Sharia Law, and it had terrorist affiliations. They sued on the basis of inadequate public notice before the planning commission approved the construction. In May, a judge in Rutherford County agreed with the opponents and while allowing the construction to continue, blocked occupancy of the building while his ruling was being appealed.
In response, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, based in Washington, D. C., filed a suit to allow the congregation to use the center to celebrate the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, at sunset Thursday. They were joined in the suit by the Department of Justice, filing in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. At the time of the filing, Imam Ossama Bahloul said, “We have avoided litigation for as long as we possibly could. But this lawsuit appeared to be the only way we could use our new mosque by the start of Ramadan.”
Late this afternoon, District Judge Todd Campbell ruled to allow the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to complete its inspection process, reversing the Rutherford County ruling. If the inspection takes place tomorrow, the congregation can celebrate the first night of Ramadan in their new home. Imam Bahloul told the press, “We are here to celebrate the freedom of religion and that the concept of liberty is a fact existing in this nation.” The congregation consists of 250 families and 1,000 people.
Attorney Joe Brandon, who represents Rutherford County residents opposed to the mosque, cried foul over the lawsuit. The said the residents were “circumvented,” because he was not notified of the filing. “You don’t throw a lawsuit like this together overnight, so, clearly, it’s something they’ve been planning for some time. We’ve been involved in this thing from day one, but I’m sure they’d rather have it with no opposition.”
Well, maybe if Brandon had kept to the legal issue of notification and public hearings, he might be taken seriously, but the group he represents made it clear that they would oppose this mosque if they and the planning commission had dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’ they would oppose it because they oppose the practice of Islam.
Remember the opening paragraph of this essay? That’s the bottom line on any opposition to Islam. The United States Army and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognize Islam as a legitimate religion deserving of recognition in the sacred ground of our veterans’ cemeteries. They honor the sacrifice of practitioners of Islam in defense of this nation. They acknowledge that our nation is open to all religions and all people.
There is no firmer assertion of the rights of Muslims in America than that they are buried in our sacred ground because they served this nation and sometimes died for it.
Ramadan Kareem to all America’s Muslim citizens, and Ramadan Mubarak to Murfreesboro.