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After nasty fight, Muslims get new mosque -- but not for Ramadan

July 19, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson | This post has been corrected. See note below.
  • The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee is awaiting additional inspections.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee is awaiting additional… (Erik Schelzig / Associated…)

An Islamic congregation in central Tennessee will not be able to move into a new mosque before Ramadan begins at sundown Thursday, despite winning a legal battle that cleared the way for occupancy.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is awaiting inspections from additional agencies and congregants can't begin worshiping there until the inspections are complete, lawyers for the mosque said Thursday. That could take up to 10 days.

“It’s a matter of dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's,” Hannah Smith, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Los Angeles Times. “There are just a few more rounds of red tape."

A codes inspector visited the mosque Thursday morning and said two more weeks of construction are needed before occupancy can be approved, a construction supervisor told the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Rutherford County -- just south of Nashville -- to immediately finish the inspection process so the mosque could be occupied before the start of Ramadan, a holy month of prayers, fasting and purification. The Justice Department filed a separate suit the same day that sided with mosque supporters.

A lawsuit filed by local residents had stalled the county’s approval process before occupancy permits were issued.

The Islamic congregation has been in Murfreesboro for 30 years and had outgrown its previous worship space, which lacked ventilation and air conditioning. So the congregation bought land for a new mosque just outside town, and a local planning commission unanimously approved a building permit.

But when construction began in 2010, some Muslims began receiving menacing phone calls, including a bomb threat. A vehicle burst into flames at the construction site. Vandals scrawled messages in violet spray paint on the coming-soon sign.

Then a group of residents filed a lawsuit contending that Islam isn't a real religion, meaning Muslims aren't protected under the 1st Amendment.

Last month, a local judge of the Chancery Court voided the mosque’s building permits and blocked an occupancy inspection, ruling that the county should have given more notice of the public meeting where officials approved construction because of "tremendous public interest."

The mosque should be ready for worship before Eid-ul-Fitr, a religious holiday where Muslims break their fast and celebrate the end of Ramadan, leaders said.

[For the record, 1:46 p.m. July 19: An earlier version of this post said that a federal judge had ordered Murfreesboro County to finish the inspection process. In fact, the judge ordered Rutherford County, of which Murfreesboro is the county seat, to finish the inspection process.]  

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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