Mosque Building a Hot-Button Issue in Many Towns

Salim Sbenaty, a 13-year-old Muslim American from Murfreesboro, Tenn.
There are 2.5 million Muslims in the United States - and about 1,900 mosques around the nation. But building a mosque has suddenly become a hot-button issue in many communities, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

That's certainly the case in the middle Tennessee town of Murfreesboro, where -- like most 13-year-olds -- Salim Sbenaty says he's proud of his school, his soccer trophies and his country.

"I'm as American as you get, I'm as patriotic as you get," Sbenaty said. "I'm American all the way."

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He's also proud of his religion. Sbenaty is Muslim, and nowadays the Tennessee town that has been his family's home for nearly 20 years doesn't feel the same.

"I'm always afraid for my mom because there are always a few stupid people out there and you never know what they're going to do," he said. "And my mom wearing that scarf - is a symbol of saying, 'hey, I'm Muslim.'"

About 250 Muslim families live in Murfreesboro. They've lived in peace and prayed at a small mosque. Then trouble started brewing over the site where they want to expand and build a bigger Islamic center.

In June, residents packed meetings in protest.

"If construction begins I would encourage contractors to boycott it," said one resident.

And what some call a "vocal minority" got louder.

"They want to make this instead of one nation under God - America," said Larry Anderson, a Murfreesboro Tennessee resident. "They want to make this one nation under Islam."

A few weeks ago, construction equipment at the site was set on fire. With that, the arsonist set nerves on edge too.

Salim's dad says even after 9/11 he didn't see hatred like this.

"If you cut yourself, in a while everything is going to heal and go back to normal," said Salim's dad Saleh, a computer engineering professor. "But it's very hard for me to forget what I've heard, directed toward me, from people who don't know me."

Nationwide more than half-a-dozen proposed Islamic centers have run into roadblocks from Temecula, Calif., to Sheboygan, Wis., to the high profile one near ground zero.

It's about more than just a building.

"It's about the growing hatred of Muslims," said Salim's 20-year-old sister, Dima.

She says for the first time she's scared.

"It is very disappointing, it really is, because this country was founded on freedom of religion," said Dima.

Across town, 10-year-old Zaid Abuzahra probably had more on his mind than just going back to school.

Last week at recess, some bullies learned that he was Muslim.

"This group comes and starts calling me terrorist," said Abuzahra. "This is America. It made me feel awkward, sad. It was surprising."

A surprise to many here who watch the news and wonder.

"It makes me feel sad cause the First Amendment - ever since I was little and had to memorize it," said Abuzahra. "Freedom of religion - it says it."

In that First Amendment, another right - freedom of speech - which for some, just harder to hear.