By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - A new mosque in Tennessee that has faced fierce community opposition was granted permission by county officials to open on Tuesday, in time for the final days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been the subject of protests and court action by groups opposed to the mosque since construction began two years ago. Opponents objected to the mosque, saying Islam was not a legitimate religion and it would have unspecified "terrorist" ties.
The facility, about 30 miles south of Nashville, did not receive the go-ahead from building inspectors to open in time for the start of Ramadan, when Muslims fast daily from dawn to dusk, but Rutherford County Codes Director David Jones said Tuesday his office and the fire marshal have issued certificates of occupancy.
"We are very excited, thrilled, happy," said mosque board member Saleh Sbenaty, a professor of computer engineering technology at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Sbenaty said congregation members will begin moving furniture into the building and that the mosque will be used for the first time for prayers on Friday.
He said the congregation hopes the "years of suffering are behind us and the community will unite again. And we look for a brighter future."
The certificate from the fire marshal and the permit from the county are both temporary, pending fire marshal requirements, landscaping, signage and parking lot striping, Jones said.
"It is ready to occupy and it lacks a few little items," he said.
Sbenaty said he expects that the mosque will complete the outstanding requirements and obtain permanent permits within a week or so.
"Praise be to God. It's about time," said Ibrahim Hooper, national communication director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It's a success for tolerance and mutual understanding, and I hope they are just left alone to worship as they intended."
The approval came on the same day that the council issued a warning to mosques nationwide to take extra security precautions after the burning of a mosque on Monday in Joplin, Missouri, and the shooting on Sunday at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order last month for worshippers to begin using the Murfreesboro facility pending an inspection. A county judge barred the congregation in May from using the facility because he said the local planning commission had not given the public enough notice before it met in 2010 to grant a building permit.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Stacey Joyce)