MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – In response to a large public outcry in Murfreesboro about the site of a new Islamic Center, Muslims in Rutherford County are saying, "Come learn about their religion."
Hundreds of people filled the county commission chambers Thursday night, upset about a new mosque that was quietly approved by the Rutherford County Planning Commission a month ago.
"I found out when the sign came up," said Mark Walker told News 2 Thursday.
He lives just across Veals Road from the mosque site, but he had strong words about the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro moving to his neighborhood.
"We are fighting these people for crying out loud," said Walker, who described himself as a transplanted Indiana businessman.
For the Islamic Center, those kinds of words are still puzzling, because it's been in Murfreesboro for 26 years.
"I respect his freedom of speech, I respect his opinion," said Mosque member Camie Aysh, a Kentucky-born woman who converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim. "I feel sorry for a lot of these people because I feel like they are misinformed."
While sitting in the current Islamic Center of Murfreesboro just before midday prayers on Friday, Aysh talked of reaching out to critics.
"I feel like if they would just take it upon themselves to get on the Internet, go on our Web site, get on the phone, call us, ask us what it going on, maybe they would change their opinion," she said.
Her words were echoed by Dr. Saleh Sbentay, an MTSU engineering professor, who said, "You cannot take the actions of a few and stereotype every Muslim."
Dr. Sbentay continued, "It was really heart-warming this morning when I opened up my email and see the flood of supporting emails from people who I did not even meet."
The Muslim community says it has reached out to its neighbors and plans to do so even more in the future.
"We have been in this community for over 40 years. We are educators, doctors, pharmacists and business men who are all actively involved in the community," Dr. Sbentay said.
He also acknowledged there is a lot of work to do to dispel the fears raised by September 11.
"There are 1.5 billion of us, and really only a few bad apples, like any religion," he said.
To learn more, visit the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro's Web site at ICMTN.org.
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