Islamic center near ground zero touts first big event as center’s grand opening
The site of the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan.
September 19th, 2011
10:28 AM ET

Islamic center near ground zero touts first big event as center’s grand opening

By Heather M. Higgins,CNN

New York (CNN) - Earlier this month, signs of life returned to what was once a gaping pit, frozen in sadness and rife with emotion, as part of the memorial at the World Trade Center opened on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

This week, another grand opening – this one steeped in controversy – is scheduled for just a few blocks away from the site where the Twin Towers once stood.

The first part of Park51, the planned Lower Manhattan Islamic community center that sparked an international controversy last year, is set to open Wednesday with an art exhibit that features photographs of children.

“It is a huge step forward,” said Katerina Lucas, Park51’s chief of staff. “I hope it shows we are about inclusion, not exclusion.”

The photography exhibit, Park51’s first big public event, comprises portraits of children from 169 countries who now live in New York City. The opening coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.

When plans to construct the high-rise Islamic institution were unveiled last year, a heated debate erupted over whether it was insensitive to build it so close to the site attacked by Islamic extremists.

Though the interfaith center’s leaders said the project was rooted in a spirit of cooperation and coexistence, it provoked vocal opposition from some families of 9/11 victims, politicians and others.

The driving force behind much of this opposition was Pamela Geller, editor and publisher of a blog called Atlas Shrugs.

Geller organized a protest of Park51 on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11 and says she is appalled at the organization’s decision to highlight the photographs of children.

“It is an obvious and cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion and divert attention away from the Islamic supremacist ties, shady financial dealings, and contradictory statements of the mosque organizers,” Geller said in an e-mail.

But Park 51’s photography exhibit is a reminder that the project is quietly moving forward, despite rumors that it had been put on hold.

With $70,000 raised in under two months via KickStarter.com, a funding platform for creative projects, the remodeled space at 51 Park Place will serve as a temporary community center until groundbreaking for the rest of the building.

The project’s developers, led by Park51 Chairman Sharif El-Gamal, have hired a staff of six and continue to hold Muslim prayers at the space, just north of ground zero. But they are not speculating about a timeline for construction.

In June, El-Gamal parted ways with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric who had been the public face of Park51, over a difference in vision.

At a recent interfaith event honoring 9/11 families, Rauf said his vision to build an American-Muslim identity and enhance multi-faith dialogue hasn’t changed in 20 years.

Even though Rauf isn’t associated with Park51 any longer, he continues to focus his energy on establishing a Muslim center in Chautauqua, New York, with the hope it can be replicated in the United States and around the world.

Park51’s planners say they are committed to their original Lower Manhattan location. They are now seeking to raise $7 to $10 million in financing.

“We have broken some ground, but there are still many hurdles,” Lucas said, pointing to fundraising as the biggest one.

Lucas, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 2009, said the upcoming photography exhibition is about showcasing the diversity of New York City, which includes Muslims.

“Islam is not about extremism,” she said. “We can have a meaningful dialogue across religions.”

It’s a message shared by Danny Goldfield, the Brooklyn artist behind the exhibit. He got the idea for his children-focused series while driving from Los Angeles to New York in 2003, right after the war in Iraq started.

“I met Danny Goldfield when Park51 was still a new idea. Danny told me about NYChildren and I said his photographs should be the first event at Park51," El-Gamal said in a statement. "I am proud to say the idea has been realized. Opening this incarnation of the community center is a fantastic accomplishment."

Goldfield photographed children living in New York City’s five boroughs from countries as different as Japan and Zimbabwe and as far apart as Afghanistan and Argentina.

While his pictures have been on display before, this is the first time he has shown them all at once.

The exhibit will be open for approximately three months. Over 700 people have been invited to the opening and Lucas said that others are welcome, too.

“I bring photos together on a wall the same way a space brings people together,” Goldfield said.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Islam • New York

soundoff (1,287 Responses)
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  4. CSX

    The very existence of the new mosque is an insult to America a trophy of victory in your NYC face.

    Islam is at enmity with Liberty, just look at what they do in their countries should scare you to death.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Shak

      Yeah because some of things they do couldn't be culturally based in stead of religiously based now could it? Should we say that the US is a war mongering country because a majority here are Christian? Stop generalizing it makes you sound stupid.

      October 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  5. Bud Woods

    Many of the comments are submitted by well versed individuals on the subject at hand. I, on the other hand can only base my comments on what i see,what i hear,and what i read. Muslims consider all other religions and people as inferior. There is no way that the Muslims can live with or among other races or religions. I beleive,like the plauge that war should be raged against Muslim radicals and supporters. they are not be trusted and pose a major threat to all the world. I do not want my children or grandchildren having to deal with these fanatics down the road. GOD BLESS AMERICA AND CHRISTIANITY.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Shak

      Yet here as a Muslim I live in the US, was born and raised here. I work along side people, take my son to day care, watch football with friends and even go to the store as well. I vote in every election no matter how small, pay taxes, ect. I live peacefully here in the US yet when people see my headscarf I am told to "go home" which would be California, I am a traitor to the US and a terrorist. Gotta love that Christian tolerance you show in your post and many show to me on a daily basis w/out knowing me at all.

      October 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  6. InfidelHere

    Told ya, the best way to get rid of this freakin mosque is to walk a pet PIG in front of the place every day!

    October 4, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • rammer

      People give it a rest, there is no GOD in any form. Evolution not creationism brought us to where we are. God didn't create man on the seventh day, if he did, please explain the dinosaurs! Eventually we will find life on other worlds that will not be human, how will Jesus, Budda, Mohammed, etc... explain that. Karl Marx put it best" Religion is the Opiate of the Masses!"

      October 8, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. Jose M. Pulido

    Islamists, especially the ones who claim to be descendants of Abraham Ishmael and Esau are losers since the time they lived; to make life worst for them and for many other countries, child molester Mohammed concocted that horrible ideology called Islam.
    The only way for Islamists to break God's curse against Esau and be forgiven by Him is for them to admit the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and not just a self-styled stand-up prophet like Muhammed. All mankind, including Islamists/Muslims need to accept Jesus as their savior in order to have everlasting life after we die. But Islamists should know that no one will behead them if they reject Jesus as Islamists do to all those who reject Islam and its pedophile guru Mohammed.

    October 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  8. Abdulhaleem Rasheed

    This Islamic Center at Park51 will add to the rich culture of New York City, and really around the world. I rember some years ago in down town manhattan Saudi Arabiyah sponsored an Islamic exhibet which was attended by many different people of all back grounds and cultures. Why hinder the people of New York and the world of the cultural contributions that Al-Islam has made through-out history and can continue to do today.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Abdulhaleem Rasheed,
      Did the Islamic exhibit you mentioned include the fact that Islam was spread by beheading all those who rejected it? Did it include information about how may millions of people in North Africa and many other countries were murdered in order to spread Islam?
      The death and destruction, the chaos and confusion caused by the Islamist ideology outweigh any contribution it may have made.
      Be fair and unbiased when you make an entry here; you are not dealing with ignorant and narrow minded people. Wake up and see reality.

      October 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Capt Nemo

      Mr. Pulido seems to forget how the Crusades "spread" Christianity at the point of a sword...

      October 8, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Allen

      Capt Nemo – You mean how the Crusades were launched to reclaim land that the Muslims had stolen from the Christians? There was very little "spreading" of the Christian faith at the point of the sword. The Crusades were launched to stem the invasion from the Muslims, at that time mainly the Turks who were attacking the Eastern Roman Empire. Emperor Alexious I asked for help from the west and the Crusaders came.

      October 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  9. No pigs in NY City????couldn't just bury a few at Park51 - Islamic center near ground zero touts first big event as center’s grand opening


    Lucas,who graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 2009said the upcoming photography exhibition is about showcasing the diversity of New York City,which (unfortunately and very sad) includes Muslims.

    "Islam is not about extremism” she said. “We can have a meaningful dialogue across religions.”? – really?

    Let me put here few Sura's from Qur'an to point you that every Muslim reading Qur'an and praying to it...--------–>

    "In Islam all non-Muslims are called unbelievers or infidels. The treatment of the infidels in Islam is divided into two categories. The polytheists,pagans,idolaters and heathens have the choice of converting to Islam or suffer death.

    The Jews and Christians,whom the Koran calls people of the book can retain their religion but on the sufferance of accepting humiliation and subjugation to Islam and payment of Jizyah (poll-tax) to the Islamic rulers [For more detail read this article: Unfettered Religious Freedom in Islam – A Fact or Fiction? – by Alamgir Hussain]."

    Now let us have a closer look at what the Koran says about the infidels:-

    Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them(2:191)
    Make war on the infidels living in your neighborhood (9:123)
    When opportunity arises,kill the infidels wherever you catch them (9:5)
    Kill the Jews and the Christians if they do not convert to Islam or refuse to pay Jizya tax (9:29)
    Any religion other than Islam is not acceptable (3:85)
    The Jews and the Christians are perverts,fight them (9:30)
    Maim and crucify the infidels if they criticize Islam. (5:33)
    The infidels are unclean,do not let them into a mosque (9:28)
    Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire,hooked iron rods,boiling water,melt their skin and bellies

    Do not hanker for peace with the infidels behead them when you catch them (47:4)
    The unbelievers are stupid,urge the Muslims to fight them (8:65)
    Muslims must not take the infidels as friends (3:28)
    Terrorize and behead those who believe in scriptures other than the Qur’an (8:12)
    Muslims must muster all weapons to terrorize the infidels (8:60)

    September 22, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • Totally out of context

      Sura 2 section 191 refers to self defense. Islam considers Muslims, Christians and Jews as brothers but once one performs an act of hostility towards Muslims then that is when they will be considered an infidel. Once one performs an act of hostility towards a Muslim then that is when retaliation is granted, even to go as far as death. Here is the complete translation:

      Sura 2.191: And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.

      Sura 9 is about Muslims living in a land controlled by Polytheists. When living in any land it is instructed by the Quran to live by the laws of the governing body, but when you are not offered kinship, subjected to disgrace and disparaging acts/words, and openly expel your religion, then it is afforded to Muslims to revolt against that governing body and those who support it's oppression. How is this not a reasonable human reaction when being subjected to discrimination and acts of hostility?

      Sura 9 does not instruct Muslims to fight Christians or Jews. This is where the main difference between them and Islam is introduced and it states that Christianity and Judiasm is flawed because they idolize what Islam considers as men and prophets but not more. Monks, scholars, and the Messiah are put at an equal footing with God... in Islam this is a fundamental flaw.

      Sura 5 states that if one person is killed, it is like all mankind has been killed. Islam vehemently opposes killing anyone who does not attack you first. It does NOT say maim or kill who criticizes Islam, it says to kill or maim those who wage war against Islam. There is a large difference and I could not see any religion who preaches a different idea... any transgressor waging war of corruption and harm against believers should not be tolerated.

      Sura 22:19 is not an instruction to Muslims, it is the worst pains imaginable that will be endured in Hell. It is not for any human to act upon another, but an idea of what to fear in the eternal damnation.

      I don't have time to counter every snippet "brought to light" out of pure ignorance, as it is obvious all you seem willing to do is distort the true word of the Quran.

      It wouldn't hurt to remove yourself from darkness and seem less like a propaganda fueled bigot by comparing the lines you mention to the full context and meaning of each sura. http://www.quran.com has every sura tranlsated completley in English for you to educate yourself a little before making yourself out to be so simple minded.

      September 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  10. Johnny

    What happened to the "Mosque at Ground Zero"? Are you feeling alright CNN? Wait I'll get you a glass of water, sit down you look terrible.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  11. Chris

    Freedom of religion nothing. This is simply Irony. Muslims destroy the Towers and then thier place of worship replaces the rubble? Complete junk , Its the Irony that s offensive. All other arguments are invalid.

    September 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Shak

      Close minded much.

      September 21, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Replaced it?? Did you see the new memorial park this past 9/11? I saw no Islamic nothing there.

      September 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  12. Shak

    Those of you who call the new Islamic Center a "Victory Mosque" just show how ignorant you really are. As a born and bred American and a Muslim to boot I am glad this is being built. I would have no issue if it was a Church or Synagogue as well. Last time I checked Freedom of Religion was still part of America, or am I wrong about that?

    September 21, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Johnny

      You're wrong, you know you are. Living in the US is a constant uphill battle for Islamists. You know it, I know it.

      September 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      You said you would not have any objections if a synagogue or a church were built near ground Zero; why would you? Were Christian and Jews the idiots who murdered 2756 people on the WTC on 9/11?

      October 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  13. Jose M. Pulido

    Even though the only way to salvation of the soul for eternal life is through Jesus Christ, as it written in the Bible 600 years before pedophile and child molester Mohammed came to disturb and confuse them, Islamists will never allow Christian churches to be built in their God forsaken countries. Islamists fear Jesus Christ because He is the Way the Truth, the Life and the Son of God; Jesus is not a regular human neither a pedophile stand up prophet like Mohammed.
    If Islamists really had faith in their ideology, they would allow Christian churches to be built and Christianity to be taught in Arab/Muslim countries to prove that Islam would prevail against it; but Muslims know their Islamic ideology does not stand a chance against Christianity, that is why they do not allow it in their countries.
    Islamists have been losers since the beginning. Ishmael was not in ancestral lineage of the Messiah, Esau was abhorred by God for neglecting his inheritance, then Esau marries the daughter of Ishmael, Then, their descendants chose to follow child molester Mohamed instead of Jesus Christ; therefore, Islamist are messed up and the only way to break their vicious circle of rejection by God and by many nations of the world, is to embrace Jesus and accept Him as their savior. No one is going to put them under the threat of being beheaded if they do not accept Jesus as their savior. Mohammed beheaded all those who so rightfully rejected the Islamist ideology. But Jesus does not want anyone to accept Him by force or under duress

    September 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Shak

      Were the Crusaders told that conversion by force was wrong when they slaughtered Muslims when they took Jerusalem or how about the Spanish Inquisition when the Catholic Church killed people who were not Christian enough.

      September 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      From M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

      The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..Religions or Groups involved*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Pagans)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

      A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

      Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

      A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

      In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

      September 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • RossTrex

      Shak – You might benifit from reading about the history of the crusades and that the Knights Templar had Muslims praying in thier midst after they took over Jerusalem. The Sultans had just as much blood on their hands and converted Christians, Jews and Pagans by the sword for 463 years prior to the Christian Knights taking over Jerusalem. ALWAYS Muslims Twist the truth and ignore history. Try looking up how much blood was in the streets when the Muslim (Ottoman) army took Constantinople years later. Or the murder of the Spanish Christians by the Moors. Try looking at all of Muslim history not just the good parts that fit your narrative.

      September 24, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • star37

      Thank you for your excellent telling of the truth! To SHAK's response re:"Christian" crusaders...read the Bible for truth not what a political "religious" group under the name but not living the relationship with Jesus Christ may have done...and you speak of defense versus aggression....did Islam not take over parts of Europe by aggression and Europe then defended??
      Likewise, Israel = Palestine?

      September 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      The Crusades were designed to free the Land of Israel from the opression of Islam, not convert anyone to Christianity. The Spaish Inquisition was designed to punish Spaniard criminals but not the native people of lands conquered by Spain.

      October 14, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  14. Muneef

    As it seems all will be in the picture to the smallest detail and no one will be able to escape questioning if joined any demonstrations;

    Gigapixel Technology…!!!


    September 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Reality

      The gruesome picture of Islam without the need of Gigapixel Technology:

      As the koranic/mosque ("cultural centers' ") driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) – Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.