msnbc.com news services
updated 5/21/2011 2:44:15 PM ET 2011-05-21T18:44:15

After 16 months of rallies and court hearings, construction will soon begin on a Tennessee mosque that sparked a fierce debate over religious beliefs.

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro obtained a building permit Friday to start the first construction phase and released renderings of the new building.

Imam Ossama Bahloul, the religious leader of the congregation, told The Daily News Journal the mosque will be a place for everyone, even those who opposed its construction.

"It will be a place for everyone," said Bahloul. "We are so pleased. We want to extend our hand to everyone, even the people within the opposition. We don't have a bad feeling in our heart toward anyone. We are so proud to be members of this community at large. I will continue praying that may God watch over our city and bless our country."

Earlier in the week, a Rutherford County judge ruled that the mosque construction does not harm the residents who sued the county over it.

But the judge allowed them to move forward on claims the county violated an open meetings law in approving it.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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