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Show of solidarity at ICM

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Tuesday night hundreds showed up to condemn the vandalism and support members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. CAT MURPHY

Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists, children, parents and grandparents, doctors and veterans, students and teachers all stood in a circle in the parking lot of Murfreesboro's only mosque to say, "not in our town."

Monday morning it was discovered that vandals again targeted The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Tuesday night hundreds of people from all walks of life showed up at the place of worship with signs, hearts and hugs.

"The Muslim community has been one of the biggest supporters of our organization," said Murfreesboro Cold Patrol Director Jason Bennett. "They always have been, and I just think that we should be here to return the favor."

"We (had) a chapter meeting, and decided this was more important than our chapter meeting, so here we are," said Joey King of Veterans For Peace, carrying the organization's flag.

"I think the spirit of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County is represented here tonight," said Gayle Jordan, looking around her at the diverse crowd of neighbors and friends.

At the microphone, ICM spokesperson Dr. Selah Sbenaty prayed for strength and courage.

"Dear God of infinite mercy and wisdom, we are all Your people, so help us know one another," said Sbenaty. "Help us find purity in hearts and minds, and make sense of the senseless... the magnitude of our collective pain has brought us together."

The MTSU engineering professor has built his life and raised his children in Rutherford County for the past 25 years.

"The last -- ," Sbenaty paused to collect himself. "The last vandal was really hurtful. It was really painful. Why? The ignorant who did this, they did not know that Allah is the name of God for Arabs whether they're Christians, Jews or even following other religions."

Law enforcement are still looking for the perpetrators, who scrawled in green spray paint "f--- Allah" on two exterior walls and the concrete basketball court. They also appeared to have wrapped bacon around door handles and attempted to spell out the same message in bacon on the ground.

"When they wrote 'f Allah,' on the basketball court where our kids play, those kids were born and raised and educated here in Murfreesboro, and they're asking us, 'why do they hate us?' What are we going to say to them?" asked Sbenaty.

"Well this is what we are going to say to them. We are going to say them, the people of Murfreesboro, the people of Rutherford County, the people of Tennessee, the people of the United States, are way above hatred, are way above racism. They are heartwarming, welcoming. They are the volunteers."

"It's so nice. It's so nice knowing that we have that support and that we're not alone," said Dima Sbenaty, Selah Sbenaty's daughter. Monday morning she woke up to photos of the damage.

"I looked at my phone, I saw the pictures and I had no words. I just felt my tears on my face," she said. "I walked down and, you know, seeing my dad, who's been here since day one, see the pictures -- that was the hardest thing, was seeing the my dad's reaction."

It's not the first time Murfreesboro's Muslim community has been victimized.

While the mosque was under construction in 2010, equipment was set ablaze in an arson at the building site, and last July $4,000 was stolen from the ICM. Members at the center have talked about their children being teased and harassed, called terrorists, girls' hijabs pulled off.

"Our doors have been always open and will be always open," Sbenaty told the crowd.

"If anybody has any problem, we're more than happy to sit down and talk. Let's talk civilly. Let's talk, people to people. And let's build bridges in our community. Let's not build walls. You know, I am an engineer... Building bridges is even more profitable than building walls."

Anyone with information or who may have seen something Sunday night or Monday morning is asked to call Detective Sgt. Dan Goodwin with Murfreesboro Police at (615) 904-3034.

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Tags: 
HATE CRIME, ISLAM, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MURFREESBORO, MURFREESBORO, MUSLIM, SOLIDARITY, VANDALISM
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