After an infamous two-year battle to open the Murfessaboro Mosque where Islam itself was effectively put on trial, the only thing left for the Muslim community to do is turn on the lights and water.
Tennessee Muslims have only recently won a court battle to occupy their new mosque. However, they learned Thursday they would not be able to begin worshipping there for the start of Ramadan because it needs about two weeks more of construction work.
While the claims about Islam were eventually thrown out, the opponents still won their case when Judge Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled the county had not provided sufficient public notice of the meeting where the mosque's construction plans were approved. He ordered the county not to issue an occupancy permit.
Corlew stated the county could simply hold a new meeting, with adequate notice, to correct the error. However, this would have mired the case in courts for another six months to a year
On Wednesday, both the mosque and federal prosecutors sued. In an emergency hearing, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell found the denial to allow occupancy of the mosque violated constitutional right of mosque members to the free exercise of their religion. He ordered the county to proceed with inspections and permitting.
Judge Campbell determined that the state courts had held the mosque to unfair, unreasonable and unprecedented standards of notification that other religious houses of worship were not held to.
This federal intervention forced Judge Corlew to stay his previous rulings that would have prevented the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from moving into its mosque upon completion.
"The court learned today that a federal district court has determined to accept jurisdiction with regard to those issues herein, and under the doctrine of federal pre-emption, this court then finds that all matters of issue in this court should be stayed indefinitely," Corlew wrote in a court order Thursday.
"This cause then will be subsequently dismissed except to the extent that the federal court remands or otherwise refers issues to us,â Corlew concluded.
Following the federal intervention, a codes inspector visited the site on Thursday morning, determining that it would take about two more weeks of work for the mosque to be ready. That includes connecting the water and power.
Still, members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro were celebrating their legal victory after being buffeted for two years by a lawsuit in which they had no say.
"I think it was a very good day yesterday, and thank God!" mosque Board Chairman Essam Fathy said. "It surprised all of us. It was an unexpected joy!"
Mosque opponents sued Rutherford County in September 2010 to stop construction of the new building. Their suit included claims that Islam is not a real religion and that local Muslims wanted to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and replace it with Islamic religious law.
Mosque member Kimberly Abu-Shanab, who was raised as a Christian but converted to Islam many years ago, said the hostility she has seen recently toward her religion had her "dumbfounded."
"I really had that idea in the back of my mind like they could start rounding people up," she said. " ... The ruling about the mosque is just wonderful."
Another member, Tahira Ahad, said she was never discouraged by the setbacks.
"I always knew it would turn out well for us because I believe in a higher power," she said. "God â He chose us to get this job done."
Eric Rassbach, an attorney for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which now represents the Islamic center, said the case was unusual because normally opponents of a new religious building will express concerns about noise and congestion, even if that is not their real concern.
"The remarkable thing about this case it the fact that people are so open about their anti-Muslim hostility," he said.
Attorneys for the mosque opponents did not return calls seeking comment.
Fathy, who is in charge of the mosque's construction committee, said everyone in the congregation is asking him how soon they would be in the new building.
He expects it will be well before the end of Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr in mid-August,
Fathy said he was very happy that federal prosecutors stepped in to defend their rights.
"The good thing is that the U.S. Attorney said, 'We represent the U.S. and our job is to make sure everyone is treated equally, that their constitutional rights are preserved.' It's good to know somebody is watching."
Kristin M. Hall,"Tenn. mosque not ready to open for Ramadan's start" San francisco Chronicle July 21, 2012
"Fed judge went right to heart of the issue" Greenville news July 21, 2012
"Corlew stays his mosque rulings" Greenville News July 21, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today