MosqueIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Residents in Rutherford County, Tennessee are gearing up for a battle against the expansion of a local mosque, which they fear will become a spawning ground for promulgation of Sharia law and ultimately, terrorism.

The people who live in the city of Murfreesboro, a suburb of Nashville, have been fighting the construction of the Islamic Center in their midst since the summer, when plans for the mosque and community center were to get underway.

The opponents to the mosque contend that at least one board member, Mosaad Rowash, is a supporter of the Hamas terrorist organization, evidence of which was seen in postings on his MySpace social networking website page. The mosque’s leaders have not denied the charge, which interfaith groups have said is irrelevant to the issue.

Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which sponsors a newly-formed Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, maintains that Rowash’s political preference is irrelevant from a legal point of view.

Lauter allegedly told the Los Angeles Times that if all the members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro were public cheerleaders for Hamas, it would still be illegal to discriminate against them because the First Amendment protects freedom of worship.

Rowash himself has not been called to testify in court, nor has he commented publicly on the case.

The Islamic Center had been operating for 30 years without incident in Murfreesboro. But as workers began building the new structure, a large “Not Welcome” message was spray-painted on the site, and building materials were torched.

Rutherford County officials approved plans to expand the mosque, but opponents have charged that officials did not sufficiently meet the criteria of the state’s open meetings law, thereby invalidating the approval. The matter has now gone to court, but the question being debated does not really appear to be about whether the mosque should be built, but rather more about what the mosque stands for.

Opponents are not concerned with legal issues as much as with the fear an expanded Islamic Center will promote a culture of Sharia law (Islamic religious law), and terrorism in their community, rather than a legitimate religion.

The Justice Department (DOJ), meanwhile, filed a brief supporting construction of the new mosque. Writing for the DOJ, U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin wrote that Islam is a legitimate religion and thus entitled to freedom of expression. He added that although its construction was a “local matter,” the department wished to “vigorously support” a ruling that would grant the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro its building permits.

Ray Locker, managing director of the Washington-based Investigative Project on Terrorism -- which provided the information on Rowash to a Tennessee resident who had sent a query – commented, “We don’t consider all Muslims to be terrorists. The vast majority of American Muslims just want to worship freely, just like members of other religions.”

However, Frank Gaffney, president and founder of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy testified that Shariah, and by extension the new mosque, poses a threat to America.