Most Tennesseans back Muslims’ right to build houses of worship

Murfreesboro mosque supportersThe recent battle over plans to build a mosque in Murfreesboro put tensions about the meaning of Islam in high relief, generating noisy denunciations of Muslims’ faith. But the people making the most noise were outnumbered, a recent poll found.

The statewide poll by Vanderbilt University revealed that 62.6 percent of respondents believe Muslims should have the same rights as other groups to build houses of worship, while 37.4 percent believe local communities should be able to prohibit construction of mosques.

Eric Bell, a Murfreesboro resident and filmmaker who is working on a documentary about the mosque controversy, said he wasn’t surprised by the poll results. “I have found that a lot of your everyday, mainstream people in Murfreesboro are afraid to speak out against the more vocal, xenophobic people,” Bell said.

Bell said he was troubled that the percentage of people expressing tolerance for Muslims wasn’t higher. Conversely, Rebecca Bynum, publisher and managing editor of the Nashville-based publication New English Review, was “encouraged” to find more than one-third of respondents “are wary of having a mosque built in their neighborhood”. “They’re correct to be concerned about the teachings of Islam,” she said.

The Tennessean, 9 February 2011