By SAM STOCKARD
The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office is investigating overnight vandalism at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro where someone spray-painted curse words condemning Allah and left bacon at a front door.
ICM spokesman Saleh Sbenaty said the "political climate" is ripe for attacks on the Veals Lane mosque.
"The Muslim community around the United State is experiencing a rise in hate crimes," Sbenaty said.
In addition to the sheriff's office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is involved, and the FBI will be looking into the matter as a hate crime, according to Sbenaty.
Vandals used green paint overnight Sunday to deface two walls, a large panel on the building's east side and the concrete basketball court, according to Det. Sgt. Dan Goodwin.
Some of the curse words found by ICM employees when they arrived at the mosque Monday morning were a direct attack on Allah, the Arabic word for God, according to Sbenaty.
Bacon, a forbidden food for Muslims as part of their submission to Allah, was left at the entrance to the ICM's school, the sheriff's department said.
In a statement, the ICM said it is "deeply troubled and saddened by the expression of anti-Muslim hatred and vandalism" against its house of worship. It expressed appreciation for a show of solidarity from neighbors, interfaith partners and the community as well as the quick response from the sheriff's office. It called on law enforcement to prosecute the case to the fullest extent.
"We hope that this incident is not a setback to all the progress we have made in our community since the opposition we faced when we built our new facility just a few years ago. We are certain that this incident will reinforce our unity and will not negatively impact our beautiful city and county," said Sbenaty, who chairs the ICM's Outreach Committee and serves on the American Muslim Advisory Council.
Construction of the mosque was the focal point of a protracted lawsuit between a group of Rutherford County residents and the county government about six years ago when the group filed a lawsuit contending the county failed to provide adequate public notice for the regional planning commission's consideration of the ICM building plan. Ultimately, a federal judge ruled the mosque could be opened and used by its congregation.
In response to the incident, the ICM is inviting people to the mosque at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We will send a clear message that this type of hatred is absolutely not acceptable, and that there is no place for such hateful incidents in Murfreesboro or anywhere else in the United States of America. We hope this incident will help all of us unite to restore and reinforce our reputation as a welcoming city, which is what truly makes Murfreesboro and Tennessee great," the ICM's statement said.
Sheriff's detectives talked with federal authorities about the vandalism incident, in addition to collecting evidence while going over the crime scene.
"We are looking for anyone with information about people who may have talked about defiling the mosque," Goodwin said.
People with information about the incident or neighbors on Veals Lane off Bradyville Pike who might have seen something Monday night or early Sunday are asked to call Goodwin at (615) 904-3034.
This isn't the first time the mosque property has been vandalized since it was built, Sbenaty said. The congregation has endured break-ins in which money boxes were stolen, in addition to having people scare children by telling them ICM members were going to kill them, he said.
Numerous threats have been made against the mosque, and its members have seen armed demonstrators, as well, he said.
Those incidents, though, weren't as visible as this vandalism, so the ICM "quietly swept it away," Sbenaty said.
The Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini released a statement soon after finding out about the incident.
"The vandalism at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is inexcusable and cannot be tolerated. We're all Tennesseans - no matter who we are, what we look like, or where we live - and everyone who makes this state their home should feel safe to worship as they wish without being harassed," Mancini said. "The Tennessee Democratic Party condemns this and any attacks on people of any religion and calls on all leaders in this state to make it clear that there is no place for this type of persecution in our society."