MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The imam of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was joined by a number of Rutherford County clergy Friday morning who have pledged their support for a new mosque, but once during the gathering and later at the mosque construction site, there were confrontations showing the issue is far from resolved.
A brief face-to-face debate first came as 20 clergy members attended a brunch at the current Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Middle Tennessee Boulevard to support Rutherford County's Muslims and religious freedom in wake of recent opposition to building the new facility off Veals Road and Bradyville Pike.
The clergy were invited to learn about Islam and to show their support for the Islamic community and its building project.
Catholic priests, Methodist church pastors, two Buddhist monks, and a pagan were among those who signed a statement saying that they condemn violence against the Muslim community, and will encourage others to do the same.
Standing alone was Rev. Patrick Burnett who engaged in a passionate discussion with the imam and another islamic leader.
He said he was there as "an ambassador of God...who loved everybody in the room."
When mosque leaders next to him said "they loved him, too," a brief debate broke out when Rev. Burnett wondered "how far does that love go?"
He pointed to the words "dead babies, dead soldiers" on the back of his white T-shirt and told mosque leaders it has happened in Iran and throughout history "fighting about religion."
Later at the site of the mosque construction, a group called the Patriot Alliance of Rutherford County (PARC) led by former 6th congressional Republican candidate Lou Ann Zelenik, asked the imam Osama Bahoul to sign what was called a "A Pledge of Friendship."
It was a list of 10 items (PARC) wanted the imam to publicly renounce--like Islamic Sharia Law which critics say allows things like violence against women.
"Male and female share the same right and they are equal before the law, there is no room for doubt for this, but people have the right to say anything they want," said the imam after receiving the pledge.
The planned construction has been a source of controversy since the Rutherford County Planning Commission approved plans for the mosque in May.
While some in the community say they oppose the center because it would create traffic problems, others have implied that the mosque could be a haven for terrorists.
Last month, someone set fire to construction equipment parked at the construction site and the sign marking the future site was vandalized twice this year.
The mosque has also received harassing phone calls and emails.
Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed seeking to halt construction of the new building.
The investigation into the arson continues and a $20,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.
Bahoul said Friday's events came after so many clergy contacted him "expressing support for the Islamic Center and in support of religious freedom."
He said more than 200 invites were sent to churches across the city and county. All clergy in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County were invited.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has operated in its current facility downtown for the last 30 years without any problem.