By 2010, the Muslim community in Antioch had grown rapidly, and they required a place of worship that would be large enough to accommodate the burgeoning population. Antioch is a suburb located just 30 miles from Nashville, but for Antioch Muslims, the four mosques in Nashville were small and cramped, and a hassle to get to because of frequent traffic jams. When addressing Fox News reporters, a spokesperson for the Antioch mosque, Yasser Salah Arafat, stated, “The four mosques that we have in Nashville are very small and are very crowded. If you come on Friday people pray in the street. So, we said 'OK, what can we do to make it better? What can we do to accommodate the growth but do it in a way that will attract the youth?" (Maced0 2010, Aug 9).
The community began to make plans for attaining a new, larger facility. But the congregation of the Islamic Center of Tennessee (ICT) also treaded cautiously, for they were aware that their requests would come in the wake of the anti-mosque showdowns that had occurred in nearby Murfreesboro and Brentwood. However, the ICT still proceeded with their plans to purchase the old 45,000-square foot Bell Forge Cinemas from Carmike in order to repurpose it into a mosque, as well as to accommodate two prayer halls, a convention hall, several classrooms, swimming pool, basketball court, and other amenities. The ICT’s offer of $1.5 million was accepted in August 2010, and the property’s appraisal value was listed as $3.8 million. (Snyder 2010, Aug 10).
However, despite remaining resolute in their purchase plans, the Muslim community did encounter opposition. Karen Johnson started a petition after finding out that Nashville State Community College had also been interested in the old theater complex, and she grew concerned that the mosque would lead to a downturn in business activity in an already-sluggish Antioch (Macedo 2010, Aug 9). Furthermore, opponents launched a smear campaign against ICT, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, and the Memphis Islamic Center, which was then publicized by Fox News. The campaign consisted primarily of conspiracy theories that attempted to link congregants to nefarious terrorist activities. This report highlighted controversies surrounding Awadh Binzahim, an ICT director and Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt University who made controversial comments regarding Islam in January 2010 (ibid.).
Despite the vitriol and animosity, the Islamic Center of Tennessee proceeded with their plans for their mosque and continue to worship there to this day, with Arafat stating in 2010, “We have as much equal rights as anyone else. We are American citizens, we pay taxes… you have a professor, a doctor, an engineer out of every 10 Muslims in the United States; we are an affluent people and we do have the ability to grow as well… The place [new mosque] is big. It could accommodate a lot of activities inside of it. It'll have a mosque, it'll have a library, a movie theatre, lecture halls, it'll have a coffee stand for people to sit down and do their homework, it'll have a gym, it'll have day care… it would completely create an environment for our kids, for our youth, and for our families to come, enjoy and have fun, but at the same time worship as well." (ibid.).
While the Muslim community of Antioch and surrounding areas have been able to worship at the renovated mosque since 2010, the Islamic Center of Tennessee again made headlines in 2017, when Imam AhmedulHadi Sharif made controversial comments in a Friday sermon which were not condoned by ICT. He had stated, “We do not hate the ethnic Jewish rather we do hate the oppressors of this Zionist because the Prophets of Allah some of them were from Bani Isra’il so we do not have as a problem ethnically with them but politically the Zionist politic that they come and take the land of the people claiming that this is the Promised Land and they call themselves from all over the world, West and East so that they can take over people’s land and after that they say let us have the peace and still they blocking the roadway to the peace and this is what we are opposing my brothers in Islam” (Alto 2017, Nov 20).