Controversy Surrounds Construction of Mosques Across U.S.

They're separated by thousands of miles, but they share a common controversy: Mosques.
Murfreesboro, Tenn., has joined a growing list of midsized towns in the U.S. that are embroiled in conflicts over proposed mosques being built or bought in their neighborhoods.

Including Murfreesboro, residents have risen up against mosques in two other Tennessee towns; in Staten Island, N.Y.; Sheboygan County, Wis.; and the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, as well as the proposed mosque and Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero, which has garnered some of the most heated battles.

A new Quinnipiac Poll shows that well over half of New Yorkers – 52 percent oppose building a mosque near the 9/11 site. Only 31 percent support it.

Among ethnic groups, Hispanics show the greatest opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, 60 to 19 percent.

Among religious groups, Jews and white Catholics expressed the greatest opposition, both at 66 percent.

Those who support building the mosques say the opposition comes from growing Islamophobia, racism and ignorance.

Those who oppose adamantly deny that bigotry is involved.

In Murfreesboro, Republican congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik says she's not against the building of a mosque, but she does oppose the construction of an Islamic cultural center, which she says would be an Islamic training facility. "This has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a radical agenda," she says.

But in Staten Island, fears that a mosque will become a breeding ground for homegrown terror are rooted in reports about who's financing the deal.

Residents of the heavily Catholic neighborhood are in an uproar over a Muslim group's plans to buy a shuttered convent and convert it into a Mosque. Besides concerns about increased traffic and little parking, there are disturbing reports surrounding the organization, the Muslim America Society, which is funding the purchase.

According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, MAS has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a 100-year-old movement that is widely regarded as one of the most influential Islamic fundamentalist groups in the world. Its stated agenda has been to spread Islam and Shariah law throughout the West. Some of its members also reportedly created Hamas.

"The Muslim American Society was created in the early 1990s as the de facto arm of the Muslim Brotherhood," says Steve Emerson, IPT's executive director.

He says the MAS and Muslim Brotherhood claim to oppose terrorism, but "behind closed doors they support terrorism and have defended various terrorists that have been convicted in the United States since 9/11."

But Ibrahim Ramey, the human and civil rights director for MAS Freedom, adamantly denies any connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas or terrorism.

"There are people who don't like Muslims and don't like Muslims in their neighborhood who have been vociferously and consistently trying to link MAS with foreign organizations and movements, but that simply isn't true," Ramey says.

"We are not agents of Hamas nor do we answer to them, nor do we provide money for them, nor are we part of any conflict that they have with the U.S. Government, or any authorities in the United States."

Emerson says his group has documentation linking MAS with the Muslim Brotherhood. He also says MAS has been on a spending spree in the last two years, either buying property to establish mosques, as in Staten Island, or taking over existing mosques, like the huge Dal al-Hidrah in Northern Virginia and the very prominent Islamic Society of Boston in Massachusetts.

"The way to gain influence among the Muslim community is to control the mosques," Emerson says. "The way to control what people think in the Muslim community is to have the right imam preach the right message. So by acquiring these mosques the Muslim American Society gets the right to appoint the imam and distribute the message they believe is necessary to spread Islam around the world."

Ramey says the Muslim community simply is growing and needs more space.

"Our interest in establishing mosques," he says, "is simply to provide for members of the organization and members of the larger Muslim community."

"The allegations that MAS is somehow pushing for the implementation of Shariah laws is an absolute lie. It is not founded in fact. It is not part of our agenda."

He says open dialogue is the key to quelling any fears a community may have about mosques.

But for Zelenik, dialogue doesn't seem to be in the near future. She says she's received threats for her comments, but she won't back down. She vows to continue fighting against the mosque in Murfreesboro.

"We are focusing on the positive," she says. "We are not going to let threats stop us for one moment, have not and will not."