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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The first minarets are about to be placed atop a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But when construction is done, no one will get to move in.

From member station WPLN, Blake Farmer explains why.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Inside the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, workers are patching seams in the drywall as leaders of the congregation make a tough decision on the paint color.

ESSAM FATHY: That's China white.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I know what it is.

FARMER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do what you want.

FATHY: For inside, yes; for the big room inside.

FARMER: Essam Fathy is a physical therapist who moved his family from Egypt to Tennessee decades ago. He's in charge of the building. Paint color has been the least of his worries. He's faced graffiti, arson, and accusation of ties to terrorists.

FATHY: They can say what they want to divide people or scare people, and it will not work.

FARMER: There's been some upside to the intimidation. Mosque leaders say it's helped them raise money from sympathizers around the country, and to fast-track construction.

But now, they're in a state of limbo. A judge says the local planning commission failed to give enough public notice for a 2010 meeting in which the site plan was approved. But county attorney Josh McCreary says the mosque was treated just like any Christian church.

JOSH MCCREARY: There are federal and state laws that prohibit, in our view, the treatment of one religion differently than another religion.

FARMER: Still, the judge says a case that's since created more interest than any in the county's history, needs more notice than a few lines buried in a free newspaper. What has become an open meetings dispute started out as an attempt by mosque opponents to put the religion of Islam on trial.

The main criticism from attorney Joe Brandon Jr. has been about the ancient set of rules laid out in the Quran and followed, to varying degrees, by Muslims.

JOE BRANDON JR.: We don't want Shariah law. We don't want a Constitution-free zone in Rutherford County, Tennessee.

FARMER: Do you really think that's what could happen, is happening?

BRANDON: Oh, I don't think it's what could happen. I think it's a probability.

FARMER: Mosque leaders laugh at the idea, and call the Shariah issues fabricated. But for Brandon, it's a serious matter. And he has own beliefs tied up in the case.

BRANDON: I believe there is only one God, and that is the living God of Israel. With that said, I still do not oppose individuals that don't believe in that capacity. However, Shariah law is not religion. And I am unaware of any situation where you can separate Shariah law out from under Islam. Quite frankly, I see that as a problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

FARMER: In 2010, protesters held signs outside the Rutherford County courthouse, saying: Remember the Twin Towers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Islam is not a religion!

FARMER: The Murfreesboro town square is quieter now, but the concerns still echo.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANJO MUSIC)

FARMER: On a bench under a century-old sycamore tree, Robert Godsey waits for his wife to get off work, plucking a six-string banjo. It's an idyllic scene he fears may slip away with the growing Muslim population.

ROBERT GODSEY: Islam may have a certain religious component to it. But it also has a political component to it that is bent on domination through violence and armed jihad. Can't people see that?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS)

PATTI SMOTHERMAN: It's not anti-Muslim. It's anti-Murfreesboro to be so rude.

FARMER: Patti Smotherman says the Tennessee town's reputation for Southern hospitality has been tarnished by a vocal minority. Polls taken over the last few years show most residents are like Vicki Taylor, and at least indifferent toward the new mosque.

VICKI TAYLOR: That church has been here in our community for many years, meeting somewhere else. And I didn't even know it.

FARMER: They're still gathering for prayers in the back of a nondescript office building, like they have for decades. But they've resolved to finish the mosque, however long it takes, saying that Murfreesboro is a town they still love and consider home.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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