Barry Ward, site superintendent for construction of the Islamic Community of Greater Chattanooga's new Islamic center, points to what will be the entrance of the domed building Friday. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
No one is certain these days how an announcement that members of the Muslim faith will build a masjid — a mosque — will be accepted by the community in which it is being built. The news can stir major protests, as it has done in Murfreesboro, Tenn. In Nashville, it caused no stir at all. In nearby Dalton, Ga., there were initial protests, but the passage of time has prompted acceptance of the house of worship. In Chattanooga, thankfully, there appears be little controversy about the $2-million Islamic Center under construction at the corner of Gunbarrel and Standifer Gap roads.
That is as it should be. The group met all the requirements necessary to build a new and bigger place of worship. Officials of the nonprofit Islamic Community of Greater Chattanooga answered questions from various boards and commissions, and then secured the proper approvals and permits prior to construction. The Muslim community’s quiet willingness to do so positively demonstrates its willingness to meet community building criteria.
Muslims here also reflect community mores. “We strive to embody the ‘middle path’ to which our scriptures call us, a path of moderation, free of extremism and representative of the Islamic version of a healthy community,” said Bassam Issa, a member of the nonprofit board of directors. Though some will try to find fault with that view, the truth is that the Muslim faith embodies the same tenets basic to all religions.
President Barack Obama and his predecessors have reminded Americans over and over again that the overwhelming majority of America’s Muslims are law-abiding citizens whose support of this nation and its policies and ideals is unwavering. Issa’s explanation of his faith underscores that fact. So do his comments that “I have lived in Chattanooga for 38 years; all my children were born here, I feel like I’m a Chattanoogan, a Tennessean and I’m an American.”
As such, he and has fellow Muslims should be able to practice their faith freely and without fear. The quiet acceptance of the center in East Brainerd, which also includes a school and an activity center, suggests that they will be able to do so.
The region’s growing Islamic community wants nothing more than adherents of different faiths would seek in comparable circumstances. It has worked and saved for years to build a larger worship facility in pleasant and commodious surroundings. It is now doing so. The general lack of rancor about the project and the faith that it celebrates indicates a growing and gratifying acceptance of religious diversity in Chattanooga and in the surrounding region. It is, as well, a welcome affirmation of the nation’s long-standing constitutional commitment to religious freedom.