A Murfreesboro mosque opened its doors to the community in the hopes of opening minds about a new 52,000 square foot worship center in the works.
Muslims, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Agnostics and others checked their religious difference along with their shoes at the door of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Removing your shoes is customary when entering a mosque.
"We feel like the reason for opposition is because maybe they are misinformed; or its something they don't know about," Spokeswoman Camie Ayash said. "So what we decided to do was open the doors and allow them to come in and get to know us."
Around 100 people mingled and ate traditional Muslim foods inside the current worship center on Middle Tennessee Boulevard. Two hundred and fifty families currently worship at the center.
Liz Sodergren wore a blue pin Mosque members gave out to visitors. It said Freedom of Religion for Everyone.
"I really love this button because it really summarizes what I believe as an American is important," she said.
Mosque members plan to build a new larger worship center three miles down the road in southwest Murfreesboro.
But some Rutherford county residents are fighting the new center. They say they are concerned about its 52,000 square foot size and having a Muslim place of worship in their backyards.
Vandals twice damaged a sign marking the site of the new mosque. Thursday protesters disrupted a prayer vigil in support of the mosque. By Friday, two candidates for the sixth congressional district had expressed concerns about the mosque.
Lou Ann Zelenick issued a statement Thursday calling the mosque an Islamic training center.
"This Islamic Center is not part of a religious movement; It is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee," the statement said.
Zelenick's opponent Senator Diane Black said in a separate statement, "I'm very concerned that violent Jihadism is becoming the norm, not the exception in too much of Islam today and American communities have a right to be vigilant in insuring that Islamic institutions in this country do not aid the Jihadist viewpoint."
Jack Zipperer is a retired pastor. He worked in various pulpits around Middle Tennessee for 40 years. He too wore a pin supporting freedom of religion.
"If one religion can't exercise their freedom then we are all in danger," he said. "All religions are in danger."
Mosque members hired security for the open house, but the three hour event was peaceful. Mosque members were glad to see support from the community.
Lema Sbenaty grew up attending the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. The 19-year-old was touched by the crowd of attendees.
"It's really, really heart warming," she said. "It's amazing the number of people who showed up and the support."
The mosque still needs a building permit before construction can start. The development is set to happen in five phases over the next several years. When it is complete the center is set to have a swimming pool, gym and day school.