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)
  1. Altee11

    Let's just hope this center is not supported by oppressive leaders who shouldn't even be called Islamic.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • may

      Let's just hope the suicide bombers stay on the other side of the ocean, they love to target places with lots of peple and activiy.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • bailoutsos

      Religion - A club for men with women as servants.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  2. George

    I wonder how long it will be until an attack is launched against the site. Its not a question of if but when. I have lived and worked in NYC and I know people who will do such things and be happy about it. Revenge is a dish best served cold as the Italians say.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Unfortunately revenge is also one of the reasons terrorists use to 'justify' their attacks.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Normon

      Well said, Ceder Rapids, well said!

      September 19, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  3. Anna Nwa

    JESUS CHRIST is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Believe in Him for He is coming back soon. No further comments.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Do you promise not to make any further comments?

      September 19, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • ETM

      Sorry. Jesus was a man, he died, and he is not coming back.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • may

      Pity for those who do not believe. He is coming back, as He rose from the dead.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • NOo..oON

      Fine, I'll talk speak with him when He returns. Until then keep your fantasies out of the government. Thanks.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • claybigsby

      "He is coming back, as He rose from the dead."

      PROVE IT! You know, cuz its not likely someone moved his body making it look like he rose from the dead. Use some common sense here.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • AlexK

      You christians have been predicting the coming of Christ for almost 2,000 years now. What makes you think you have more insight then the dozens of generations that wrongly predicted it before you?

      September 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  4. LV

    This is odd. We know the background and the connections of those involved, we know the religious significance of building on conquered lands, yet we let this happen? Why? Political Correctness has blinded us to judging people based upon their actions, not their religion, creed, color or background.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • WK

      Except, uh, the United States is not a 'conquered land' and the people involved are being judged by you solely on the basis of their religion, and the actions of others. So your point again is?

      September 19, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • mathis

      So what are the "actions" you are alluding to that preclude Muslims from building in Lower Manhattan? Is it because some extremists plotted and carried out 9/11? Is that how you judge? In that case, Christians should never build a church anywhere in the U.S., considering how our ancestors committed genocide against Native American Indians. You should think first before you start spewing prejudice disguised as intelligence.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      So true, we should get rid of all those churches then.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  5. kayaker247

    they are still trying to raise money, and they need a lot of it. seems much ado about nothing to me.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  6. may

    This is akin to having a Hitler center open at the scene of the Holocost, and show pictures of children. Same difference. This is an act of supremecy, staking claim to victory over New York.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • kayaker247

      actually nothing like that.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • LV


      September 19, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Chris

      No, not really. It would be like a Catholic Cathedral set up next to a holoclaust site. It would be like a Christian Chapel in the Middle East, near a site where Crusade-Era battleground. Yeah, you could make rather stupid, ignorant claims that relate the two subjects, but in reality, you have no substance to such claims.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      You're so dramatic, you should be an actor.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Art

      Actually it IS a victory thing. Please read up on Islamic history.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • may

      @ Chris, talk to some old timers who lived through the Holocost, you will find that Catholics were also murdered, thus your analogy does NOT work. I stand as stated.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Art – Actually it IS a victory thing. Please read up on Islamic history.'
      Read up on christian history too, the tradition of victory churches is not a purely Islamic idea, not by a long shot. Half of the cathedrals in Europe are built on top of 'pagan' churches.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • may

      And Cedar Rapids is home of one of the largest masonic lodges in the world.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Chuckles


      Take a gander at what some nuns in Poland tried to do by setting up a church next to Aushwitz, it was blocked specifically because of the insult to the memory of people who died there, mostly jews. Unlike this mosque, the church was never built because it was outrageously insensitive. The difference between this mosque and that church however is a lot more nuanced however. That was in Poland, this mosque is in the US, which means they are completely protected to set-up a house of worship whereever they please as long as they use the proper legal channels. It is also wrong to say that since muslim fundamentalists flew planes into the twin towers, any muslim hoping to bridge the gap and teach peace should be regarded as a terrorist and their mosques are an act of conquest.

      With all of that being said, I hate to do it, but I side with you on the principal that because this has created so much controversy and it has angered so many people. I actually fear for the mosque itself however and the muslims who attend because they are going to be targeted by hateful people like you who think that any muslim who attends this site is doing so in victory and may feel you are absolutely justified in causing harm to them in anyway.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'may – And Cedar Rapids is home of one of the largest masonic lodges in the world.'
      Cedar Rapids, Iowa is also home to the longest standing Mosque in the US.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • may

      @Cedar Rapids, thank you for connecting the dots. Exactly, freemasonry and islam, same worship.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "may – @Cedar Rapids, thank you for connecting the dots. Exactly, freemasonry and islam, same worship."
      ok, first off......lol, thats too funny.
      secondly, what are you basing the lagest lodge comment on? my research suggests its the 23rd largest in the US alone in terms of membership.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Unless you are claiming that the largest masonic libraries means the largest masonic lodge?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • footnotegirl

      Nothing of the sort. But are you saying that churches shouldn't be allowed to open near abortion clinics that have been bombed? Because I'd be all for that.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  7. Steve

    Reminds me of Mars Attacks! Martians: We come in peace! We come in peace!

    September 19, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • may

      Then all those Mars movies did have some justification. They were warning us of what was to come.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Their Holy Book, "To Serve Man"

      was really a cookbook......

      September 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  8. LB Colorado

    I just can't believe New Yorkers would allow this, I truly am speechless.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • puckthecat

      Why, what ever to your beloved FREEDOM! Not every muslim is a terrorist. Open your mind, you'l find you may find yourself being less 'speechless'

      September 19, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • frespech

      I know, what is wrong with those New Yorkers Anyway? Imagine people having the right to worship as they choose. How ridiculous is that? A catholic school for reformed child molesters surely. A synagogue maybe, but a mosque, uh, uh no way forget it. welcome to the new America. Freedom for all(almost).
      Have a nice day everyone.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  9. DoUntoOthers....

    I wish them well and hope that they spread a message of love and peace, unlike the extremest followers from every religious sect that instills violence, hate, or any other negative message.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  10. marge

    you dont kill people just because you dont agree on the same issues

    September 19, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  11. no romance

    where do I throw up ?

    September 19, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • mk

      Swallow it. That's the flavor of ignorance.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  12. KJ

    I wish all the best and success for Park51

    September 19, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  13. SCAtheist

    They have as much a right as anybody else.

    How about a Humanist Free Thinkers Organization next door.

    September 19, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Art

      Yes they have a right but they are wrong in so far as they are rubbing our noses in their victory. Read up on Islamic history please. Why there and not mile away? There would be little opposition to that.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • may

      Thank you Art, at least a few people are informed and knowledgeable, pity the rest.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Art – Yes they have a right but they are wrong in so far as they are rubbing our noses in their victory. Read up on Islamic history please. Why there and not mile away? There would be little opposition to that."

      Because they were already using the building as an overflow site for prayer before they even bought it, and it makes sense to build where people are already praying?

      September 19, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  14. mattmchugh

    Freedom of religion should only apply to religions I like!

    September 19, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Militant Atheist


      September 19, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • DoUntoOthers....

      That seems to be the commonly accepted mentality today. Sad state of affairs.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  15. Baman

    After 9/11, I made a large contribution to NYC relief efforts. If I had known they would put up with this sickening "in-your-face" gesture, I would have kept my money. Absolutely unbelievable!

    September 19, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Joe

      Your tolerance, grace and acceptance of others' beliefs is inspirational. You represent the best of America. Thank you for lending your support to this important interfaith project. Christians, Muslims, Agnostics – working together, building America! Brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Matthew

      Yeah... Because all Muslims are terrorists and all...

      September 19, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  16. Buck Ofama

    What's the over/under on how long that building is going to remain standing before someone parks a truck full of explosives in front of it???

    September 19, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  17. Colin

    The youngest child-$ex victim of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the "Yearning for Zion" fundamentalist cult, was 12 years old.

    The youngest child that David Koresh of the Branch Davidians in Waco had $ex with was 10.

    One of Mohammed's wives was 9 years old. That makes him a worse pedophile than either of the above.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • DoUntoOthers....

      Mohommad was alive centuries ago. Back then women had children earlier, marriage within families was accepted, and people lived much shorter lives. You can't compare him to two disgusting men living in modern times with a completely different set of rules and variables.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • thatsanegativeghostrider

      I love the simplicity – the younger the victim the more evil the evil-doer. absurd, but simple

      September 19, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • mk

      Warren Jeffs and David Koresh both started off as fundamentalist Christians. That's two versus one. Where's your logic now?

      September 19, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Herb (12th Apostle)

      In most Islamic countries, it is still lawful to marry a child bride. After marriage, $ex with the child bride is lawful.

      For most of the modern Western-world, marriage/$ex between an adult and a minor is an unlawful, scornful act. But for many societies throughout the world, it remains the lawful norm. The value judgement differs based on societal norms, mores, and laws.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Leo

      And the youngest victims of Catholic priests were 2nd grade boys (7 years old) getting ready for their First Communion, which makes Catholic priests (Catholic = Christian) the worst pedophiles, and the Catholic Church is STILL defending them!

      Chew on that.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • bob

      how old were the female virgins that moses told his people to 'have for themselves' after they massacred the midianites?

      September 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Really???

      Mohammed's wife was 6 when he married her. He was able to use her like a boy until consummation at 9. It is so commonly known in some Muslim countries jokes are told about it.

      September 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  18. Sam I Am

    I suggest putting up a BBQ Pork Rib restaurant on one side and a Hooter's on the other.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • UraCulo

      Sweet! The gentle wafting aroma of some pulled pork. They'd get some closet pig lovers. Kinda like Baptists not recognizing each other in the liquor store.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Aceoaces

      Dude, there is already a strip club a block away and plenty of non-halal restaurants all around it.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Well if you want to apply for permits then go for it, nothing stopping you.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • jason47

      thats the best idea i ever heard ... i sure many donations would come in from around the country .. hog heaven .. or pigs in paradise

      September 19, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  19. gerdbaby


    September 19, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • AmazingSteve

      I trust you'll be first in line to protest if a Catholic church is built anywhere in the vicinity? This is hallowed ground, after all, and no place for religious extremism, especially religious extremism so closely associated with pedophilia.

      September 19, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • DoUntoOthers....

      Hey now. Followers of Catholocism do NOT support or engage in pedophelia. We can't be held responsible for the church leaders failure to address this. Believe me, there are PLENTY of us who are very mad at the church and are very actively working to get the church to address this and turn in priests who broke the law.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • John in NY


      This site isn't AT ground zero and in fact there are strip clubs closer to ground zero then this center is, yet that doesn't seem to be a problem.

      Your right, religious extremism doesn't belong at ground zero, but neither does anti-religious extremism.

      It's pathetic how so many seem to want to use ground zero, and the memory of 9/11, to spread hate and fear.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • itsjustme

      DoUntoOthers: Some of us who are angry responded....by leaving the Church.

      The abuse has been going on for centuries. That is my take on it.

      They won't address the abuse but they address whether or not you can play "Evergreen," "The Prayer," or "THe Wedding Song(There Is Love)" at a wedding or whether or not you can eulogize your deceased loved one at his or her funeral Mass. Give me a break. it is all ambulance chasing with them.

      September 19, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • AmazingSteve

      @John in NY
      You're sort of missing my point. I used Catholocism simply because it's been in the news lately, and at least a few of the folks who are so strongly against this Islamic center are probably Catholic. I don't have any more of a problem with Catholocism than I do with any other religion – they've all got their fun little life-destroying quirks. I also know most Catholics don't support pedophilia, just like I know most Muslims support terrorism. My point was more that it's silly to protest one when you'd be perfectly fine with the other.

      Religious extremism, heck, lets just say extremism in general, destroyed the towers, not Muslims in general. It makes no more sense to blame your Muslim neighbor for it than it does to blame your Catholic neighbor for pedophilia.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  20. Eric

    All religion is about extremism. Extremists are the only ones who could believe in these spin offs of bronze age myths.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:51 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
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.