Mosque supporters rally behind congregation in Murfreesboro

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12:55am
By Steven Hale

Despite being absent from the Rutherford County Commissioners’ meeting agenda, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro — and its proposed and officially approved project to build a new mosque and community center — was the main topic of discussion at the County Courthouse Thursday night. The same day, opponents filed a lawsuit alleging the commission did not follow proper procedure in approving the project. 

Opponents of the mosque, staging a protest at Thursday's meeting, were met and seemingly outnumbered by members of the group Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom, who staged a counter demonstration outside before both groups, each displaying American flags and Bible verses, filed inside, filling the court to capacity.

Though pro-mosque demonstrators believed they had been unheard at a previous meeting of County Commissioners, their presence was not unnoticed this time. Of 10 speakers during the allotted 30 minutes for citizen comments, only one spoke in opposition. Those speaking in support of the mosque raised driver’s licenses in the air as they commented, presumably in response to criticism from mosque protesters saying that many of the congregation’s supporters are being flown in from around the country.  

Both Layla Hantouli and John Green spoke in support of those they called their “neighbors and friends.” Hantouli, a Muslim and self-proclaimed “Southerner through and through,” asked the crowd to consider who the real terrorists are when someone “can’t go to the grocery store in a head scarf without being yelled at to go home.”

Green, an attorney and longtime resident of Murfreesboro, responded to accusations of illegal action by County Commissioners by saying emphatically, “Nothing wrong has occurred here.” He was met with loud applause as he finished, saying that as a fifth-generation Murfreesboro citizen, “The embarrassment I feel cannot be expressed in words strongly enough.”

Though the mosque’s supporters controlled most of the time at the podium, the evening’s lone dissenting voice from the microphone was met with equally loud applause, revealing many in the audience who agreed. Donald Westcott spoke of the Shariah law and called Islam “more than a religion, but a political ideology with a militant agenda. The real issue,” Westcott said, “is not the First Amendment, but political Islam.”

Meanwhile, attorney Joe Brandon filed a lawsuit alleging the commission did not properly notify residents of a public meeting before approving the mosque plans. And, mirroring a legal challenge to a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, the suit also includes a constitutional challenge suggesting the mosque and community center would be a seedbed for radical Islam. 

The legal challenge comes several weeks after excavating equipment was burned at the mosque site in what authorities are investigating as arson. 

While there were one or two collars to be seen among the crowd Thursday night, the town’s clergy, it seems, are not taking to the streets. As Murfreesboro finds itself newly acquainted with national voices from The New York Times to Michael Moore, some local religious voices are treading lightly, hesitant to speak publicly on the matter. While all who chose to comment expressed plans to leave the marching to other parties, the opinions and responses of surrounding churches are decidedly varied.

Several pastors in the area surrounding the Islamic Center expressed their views in the days before Thursday night’s demonstrations.

Pastor Ron Byers of Barfield Baptist Church in Murfreesboro expressed complete opposition to “any kind of vandalism or violence,” and explained his church’s response, one based in peace and understanding. Every Sunday night in September, congregants will have the opportunity to hear from Dr. Raous Ghattas, an Egyptian and Southern Baptist missionary who is presenting what Byers calls “A Christian’s Guide to Islam.”

While Byers said the church’s stance spiritually affirms Jesus Christ as a source of salvation, he and his church wish to share their faith not with signs on courthouse steps, but through understanding and even in Arabic phrases, which he said Ghattas has been teaching the congregation, allowing them to show “a gesture of friendship” to their Muslim neighbors.

“As citizens, we want to live in peace with our fellow citizens,” Byers said. “We’d love to reach out to them and share our faith with them. We want to come to a better understanding.”

Dr. Craig Goff, senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, alluded to a similar goal. “The position of the United Methodist Church is to work toward dialogue,” he said.

Other church leaders described the situation as having little if any effect on their congregations, and some expressed doubts about the benefits of either side’s strategy, affirming constitutional rights on one hand and citing irreconcilable theological differences on the other.

“As far as their right to build, they have every right. If we deny them, someone is going to come along and deny us,” said Pastor James Avaritt of Bellwood Baptist Church. “I’d fight for their right to worship.”

Avaritt spoke of mosque opponents’ tendency to equate all Muslims to extremist groups associating themselves with the faith.

“Not all Muslims are extremists,” Avaritt said. “The Muslims in our county have been here for years, and we’ve never had any problem.”

The congregation has been in Murfreesboro for 30 years. 

That said, Avaritt won’t be found among those trying to bring members of both faiths together. He finds such attempts as futile as those of protesters.

“Theologically, I’m opposed to Islam,” he said. “Christianity itself doesn’t have anything in common with Islam. I don’t see any point in trying to unite with the Muslims.”

Don Morris of Fellowship Church expressed a similar sentiment.

“Islam and Christianity are totally different,” he said. “My worry, my fear, is that a non-Christian will say, ‘Wow, if all these people are holding hands together, maybe there’s no difference between Jesus and Muhammad.’ But there is a difference. They’re miles apart.”

Despite personal opposition on theological grounds, Avaritt expressed a fear that was clearly on the minds of officials Thursday night as police officers lined the streets and even rooftops.

“I’m afraid before it’s over with,” Avaritt said, “if these people don’t calm down, someone is going to get really hurt.” 

26 Comments on this post:

By: boomerdoodle on 9/17/10 at 4:09

I have no idea how many of you may or may not have seen the photos of the traffic jams caused by muslims praying in the streets between 2 an 4 pm in New York City. Their were literally thousands kneeling in the streets praying unmindful of the traffic jams they were causing during rush hour. They didn't care.It was supposedly cause they had no place to pray. Of course this wasn't happening until the big controversy over building the new mosque at ground zero. Seems they had a place to pray until this all became news.
They're gonna do whatever it takes to get their way. Just as they have done in so many other countries. And yes, they plan on doing it in Murfreesboro too. So get ready for it. When you can't get to your children in time to pick them up cause of a traffic jam due to muslims praying in the streets, then think back to this. Murfreesboro is in trouble if they let this mosque be built. Mark my words.

By: TITAN1 on 9/17/10 at 5:04

At least they aren't setting things on fire. I think those who feel threatened by the mosque feel threatened by anything they don't believe in. If the " Chicken Little sky is falling" protesters were not so paranoid, there would not be a problem.

By: boomerdoodle on 9/17/10 at 5:20

The radacals will do a lot more than set things on fire when they take over. And no, I am not saying ALL muslims are terrorists. I believe that most are peaceful people. But, they wont do anything to stop the radacals when they come an start taking over. You'll see, especially if you remain blind. As you seem to be.

By: gdiafante on 9/17/10 at 6:39

For once I agree with Titan.

The interesting, or pathetic, thing is that Mosques have existed in this country for years. Suddenly, 9 years after 9/11...and during an election year, people are concerned.

It's not really that hard to figure out, yet the sheep fall for it every time.

By: bororez on 9/17/10 at 8:04

boomerdoodle -

"Radacals", really? You couldn't have picked a harder word to misspell?

By: Nash19 on 9/17/10 at 8:06

A scorpion was trying to figure out a way to cross the river. Meanwhile, a neraby otter shows up ready to cross when the scropion begged to the otter, "Please let me ride on your stomach while you cross the river. You see, I cannot swim across." The otter responded, "Oh no! You will surely sting me and I will die." "No, no, if I sting you we will both drown and both die," said the scorpion. The otter thought about that and decided to allow the scorpion onto its stomach and they began to travel across the river. Halfway across the scorpion stung the otter! The otter cried out, "Why did you do that?! You promised and now we will both die." The scorpion said, "Yes, but you forgot I am a scorpion. That is what I do."

A story that relates to the direction this country is headed, read George Orville's Animal Farm.

By: pswindle on 9/17/10 at 8:36

I thought that Tennessee was the "Bible Belt." What has happened to all of these out-spoken ministers on loving thou neighbor?

By: oldhickorytony on 9/17/10 at 8:43

I'm just thrilled to see that most of Murfreesboro has no problem with this Islamic Center being built. It's been a long time since I lived in M'boro and was worried about the direction this seemed to be taking.

And I was triply thrilled to see that the Senior Pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist has the open attitude and perspective that he has. It would seem to me that the Senior Pastor O'Bannon at First Church in M'boro who has "questions" about the Islamic Center being built needs to be closely looked at by the Tennessee Conference. I'm thinking that the days of Michael O'Bannon's political promotions within the UMC may be at an end. What can I say? I'm intolerant of intolerance within my own church denomination.

By: Obediah on 9/17/10 at 10:10

Islam is a "religion" with a horribly bloody history from the days of it's creation to the present, these mosques are funded by the monied Saudi's who fund the infiltration of their "peaceful" agenda and peaceful religion. We'd be a nation of fools to accept or tolerate this religion in US ,it is not a matter of freedom of religion at all, this "religion" is a religious political one that is ALL about conquest!

The concept of our Founders of freedom of religion was not the broad dystopian one we have been conditioned to embrace today, rather it was the freedom to worship the One True God (Jesus) as one sees fit & not according to how the State may may see fit to enforce by law(s).

Oh Islam is satanic. Mohamed heard a voice in the cave but saw no form speaking to him, this in Arabic is called a "gin" the root of our word "genie", the Greek word for the Arabic is "deamon" which is translated to English is a "DEMON", which is what spoke to Mohamed in the cave! Yeah they can kill me but truth is truth, so help me God!

By: Obediah on 9/17/10 at 10:20

The "Bible Belt" is a myth that history does NOT support. The South was run by the Democrat Party which when it gained control of the Supreme Court made laws declaring Blacks not even human.
And tolerance of error is NOT a sign or mark of love.

Pro 27:5 Open rebuke is better than secret love.

By: susevastra on 9/17/10 at 3:20

Thanks for the great article.

@Obediah: I'm glad to see that you have taken the initiative to fluently learn a foreign language as part of your vast research into the Islamic faith. Thank you for also mastering your grammatical skills (especially the appropriate use of commas) of your own native language as a prerequisite for learning another language.

Or am I mistaken, and did you just read a pamphlet, go to a lecture, or find a misinformed website to give you all of these fabrications?

@boomerdoodle: Thanks for the disclaimer about not all Muslims being terrorists. It reminds me of "Oh, I'm not racist BUT..."
So... I'm a Murfreesboro Muslim, and no one has informed me of the secret plans to take over Murfreesboro. I feel like maybe you know more about that than I do, so do you want to share? I guess I'm just blind, right?

Come on guys, get of your high horse of religious superiority. You're making other people who follow your religion look bad. And now they know how it feels for extremists and ignorant fools to ruin it for everyone else.

By: SargeE5 on 9/17/10 at 3:58

Islam has no secret plans to take over Murfreesboro, they have no secret plans to take over the entire world. However, they do have plans to do just that, and it is NO secret. All one needs to do, is observe the UK, the Netherlands, and France, and Germany. Then one needs to read the book, "Son of Hamas", and then go to a couple of Geert Wilders lectures. Then if you are still convinced that Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion, and not a way of life, a government unto itself. Well, then there is no hope for you, or this nation. One day you will awaken to the call to prayers by the Mosqes loud speakers, and then you will be told, if you are Christian of Jew that you must bow and submit to Allah. If you don't the you will be made a slave (dhimmi) of Islam. Obviously that is okay with you Mosque supporters. As for me and my house "we will serve the Lord" the only Lord. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. And you Mosque supporters will be serving Mohammad the dead savior of Muslims, and you'll be worshipping a false God, know to Muslims as Allah. These Gods are not one in the same. Just as a warning, arm yourselves, because when the fatwa comes down, your friends the moderate Muslims will become jihadists, they will want to kill you, they want to control this nation, and you supporters are allowing it to happen. If you get what you want, remember, as some moderate Muslim is cutting off the head of your wife or child, you got what you asked for, and you did not heed the warning signs.

By: Obediah on 9/17/10 at 7:53

No religious superiority here, in fact I HATE religion they are all frauds including the Christian ones; there is but one God and His name is Christ Jesus. And yes I have read parts of the koran- it encourages deceit, making friends with enemies of islam until the numbers are in favor then they are to rise up & KILL the infidels.

I do love to study language in the Biblical sense as they are all related & reveals His light as far as understanding goes. And one has to be either a fool or a total delusional liar to believe islam is not a threat to US or for that matter any land they become a majority in.

You are a very caustic & demeaning individual, very stiff necked & belligerent, suspect truth has no place in your worldview susevastra . As pointed out look at islam's bloody history from the day it was created to today's news- death murder & mayhem are part and parcel of it.

By: Obediah on 9/17/10 at 7:54

Ay, ever wonder why they do not tell you the meaning of the word HAMAS in Arabic(?), it means VIOLENCE; the Hebrew word for violence is CHAMAS.

By: TITAN1 on 9/17/10 at 10:10

These chicken littles make up all kinds of crap and make themselves look stupid. They are afraid of anything they are not a part of. Those who are against this mosque look like a bunch of rednecks.

By: Obediah on 9/18/10 at 7:03

TITAN1, why do you have to belittle people & their positions rather than look at the FACTS?
Allowing these mosque's to be built is NOT a good thing; for one it is a FACT they are funded by for most part Saudi's, those who have a koranic vision of conquest; show me just one country that is not or has not been oppressed by this barbaric religion- we have fought wars with them since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

By: Obediah on 9/18/10 at 7:05

Oh and TITAN1 the derivation of that word "titan" is from the ancient Chaldean language, it is used in Greek mythology and represents satan and his demonic element- a fitting use might add to by you.

By: TITAN1 on 9/18/10 at 8:20

Wow, you really are paranoid AND warped.

By: Hotshoe17 on 9/20/10 at 6:30

Stan H.
In Seville, Spain, the City Council authorized the construction of a Mosque
on one of the empty pieces of land. The citizens did not want the mosque
built in their vicinity and found a brilliant solution. They buried a pig in
the land, and made the news public. The Islamic law prohibits the
construction of a mosque on lands desecrated by remains of pigs,
therefore the Muslims had to renounce the construction on this desecrated

Astute Sevillans,,,The commentaries of the Civil Guard (Police) are very
interesting. Maybe it is the solution needed by New York to avoid the
construction of a mosque in the vicinity of the twin towers.

The Israelis are using a similar strategy since 2004. They placed a box
containing pig lard on the buses in Israel and made it public that any
kamikaze suicide bomber who tries to assault a bus, risks the prohibition of
entering the heaven by getting the pig lard on him. There are no suicide
bombers on the buses in Israel any more.

Y'all have a great day

By: localboy on 9/20/10 at 8:10

So, if the proponents for building were to take out a loan from BofA (no Saudi nationalists allowed) with full disclosure- then it would be ok to move forward?

By: GUARDIAN on 9/20/10 at 12:03

Sharia Law proves Islam isn't a religion so the Koran is not a religious instrument. Islam is a political origination like the Nazi that wants to control the world.
Muslims have used Islam and Sharia Law for over 1300 years to try and
take over the world. Muslims burn Christians/Jews, our bible, the cross and
Christian & Jewish churches and have done so recently in the middle
east. Mohammad was an evil pedophile who married a 6 year old child and consummated the marriage when she was 9. He had followers murder all those that opposed him and evil book known as the koran tell believers to murder or enslave all those who are not followers of islam. Cry racist or whatever you want but the truth is the truth. If you support them because you are afraid of them then get a back bone because sooner or later you are going to need one. If someone wanted to send a message to Muslims they would use General Black Jack Pershing's solution for dealing with Islamic terrorism because terrorist is what they are.

By: budlight on 9/20/10 at 1:22

TITAN1 on 9/17/10 at 6:04
At least they aren't setting things on fire. I think those who feel threatened by the mosque feel threatened by anything they don't believe in. If the " Chicken Little sky is falling" protesters were not so paranoid, there would not be a problem.

Titan, many a home owner has set his/her own house on fire for insurance purposes. Many a business has done the same. And there have been some self-inflicted fires on churches.

So it is Possible that a pro-muslim set these fires. Just sort of like the 21 year old, pro-mosque, pro-muslim, drunk college student who knifed a muslim taxi driver who just by "chance" (?) didn't get seriously wounded and ended up in a photo op with the mayor, bloom(ing idiot) burg!

Who's to say this fire was not for self-indulgence and publicity? After all, percentage wise, the muslims have set fire to more in the world than anyone else. Just ask the survivors of 911 and their families.

NO mosque. It's a political movement started by one man - moo-hamm-ed! And he and he alone dictates the political strategy. Divide and conquer. Kill and tame.

By: budlight on 9/20/10 at 1:23

P.S. Women are 2nd class citizens in muslim countries; children are property, like cows and sheep.

And men who aspire to sleep with 72 virgins? Perverts.

By: TITAN1 on 9/20/10 at 1:28

Wow. the sky really is falling for some of these people. All Muslims are NOT alike! You are being narrow minded and paranoid.

By: budlight on 9/20/10 at 5:05

All Muslims who honor, obey and live by the Koran are alike. Can you tell me the name of one moderal muslim who has protested 9-11? Who has stood up for the constitutional right of anyone to burn the koran? Who has marched for women's rights in muslim countries (in the US)?

None. ALL muslims who honor, obey and pledge their allegiance to the Koran CANNOT pledge allegiance to the US, it's flag or anything the US stands for. Titan did you just come into being yesterday? Have you not read the muslim doctrine/koran? Conquor the infidels isn't just some fly by night mantra or publicity stunt. It's their mission for being born.

I"m not paranoid. I'm educated and realistic.

By: budlight on 9/20/10 at 5:07

Your research assignment Titan: Google: vanderbilt emam homosexual. He says that the koran is correct and he honors the killing of homosexuals. He's a chaplain at vanderbilt. Please read it for yourself.

Hope you don't have any gay friends.