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. ReligionOfPeace

    Mark 16:16
    Jesus says that those that believe and are baptized will be saved, while those who don't will be damned.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • ReligionOfPeace

      Luke 3:17
      John the Baptist says that Christ will burn the damned "with fire unquenchable."

      September 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Good try

      This is what the passage means, keep trying and we will keep educating you with the truth

      He that believeth. Believeth the gospel message; believes in Christ as his Savior. And is baptized. These are the conditions of pardon; faith in Christ and obedience to his command. If any one has not faith enough in Christ to obey him he has not faith enough to be saved. He that believeth not. Remains in a state of unbelief. Such have no promise

      September 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • TROLL


      September 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • ReligionOfPeace

      Revelation 14 14:18
      Jesus sits on a white cloud with a sharp sickle in his hand. When the angel tells him to reap, he kills all the people with his sickle.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • AGuest9

      @ReligionOfPeace, how else do you get people to whom death would be a release from the harsh lives they lived to listen to a threat? Oh, after you die, you will actually live forever and burn during that entire time. That's how.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  2. bailoutsos

    All religions - Clubs for men with women as servants.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Normon

      Don't say that to you neighborhood Wiccan.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  3. Juliett

    And stop listening to these so called American Muslims cry about being persecuted. Their beliefs in the ongoing murder of "the infidels" are no different then the Muslim citizens that danced in the street celebrating the murders of all those innocent people on 9/11!! Again I say that If they were such a Religion of Peace, as they like to call themselves, they would not attempt to step on the feelings of others by choosing a site so close to where so many died in the name of that very so called faith of Islam. It just proves to me that they don't care at all about others suffering and selfishly chose that site simply to cause controversy, draw more attention to themselves then crying about how they as Muslims are being singled out etc. and to prove that they could get away with it.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Wake Up

      Juliette, you are an idiot. Rick Perry will appreciate your vote.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Juliett

      To quote Rainer Braendlein:
      The historical Muhammad was an Arabic warlord. He made-up the Koran or Islam, in order to unite the Arabic tribes for a war against the Christian Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). The most Arabs had ever been bandits, yet before Muhammad had emerged. They lived on raiding caravans of more civilized countries like the Roman Empire and some husbandry. After Muhammad had united them by his wicked new religion, they didn't merely raid caravans, but whole countries like Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, etc..

      The Koran is not a holy book like the Holy Bible, which shows a way to God, but an evil strategy of war. Muhammad degrades all people of the Western World to infidels (apostates, renegades). It had been to crude to tell the Arabs, just let us go to the Roman Empire and rob their riches and make them our slaves. Muhammad had to wrap his base intentions more beautifully. By designating the Romans (today, this are the people of the Western World) as infidels, Muhammad facilitated it for the Arabs to assault and to kill the Romans. Finally infidels are garbage, which has to be disposed of.

      By the way, the German Federal Minister of Interior prompted a survey about the religious atti-tudes of Muslims in Germany, called "Muslime in Deutschland". This survey was made 2007. According to the survey, 40% of the Muslims in Germany would favour Holy War (Jihad) and 6% would immediately start to fight with weapons, when a Jihad would be declared.

      In Germany live 4 Million Muslims. Thus 240,000 of them are ready to fight right now. 1.6 Million Muslims would at least cheer the fighters. Isn't that outrageous?

      Do U really think Muslims in America are so different from Muslims in Germany??
      How about The Muslim woman who entered the Miss America contest and was told by her brother and father that they would have to kill her for offending Islam if she continued on with her entry?? Those 2 men don't belong to any terrorist fraction do they? It;s just that the Islamic belief is to kill anyone they dont agree with. But that's not dangerous now is it?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  4. nokoolaidcowboy

    The problem here is that the Imams and Clerics have to come often and publicly denounce what the radicals are doing. Who is the face of Muslim in America? We do not know because your leadership is weak. Stop hiding in the Mosques and tell the world that all religious fanaticism is a cancer on society. And then out those in your religion that are NOT representative of the Koran's message. Show humanity that you care.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  5. gh0st

    Like my mom used too say muslims worship a chicken wing I don't like the idea of a god being food but then again when you blow your self up to kill pthers in the name of your god and get burnt to a crisp I can see the connection there religion of peace my ass ima say it over and over religion is a bad idea

    September 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      "chicken wing"?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  6. reader 2010

    Religion is THE problem.There will and always be pro and con.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Wake Up

      Preach! We need to worry less about this mosque, and more about potential presidential candidates holding giant prayer services and dismissing evolution as a theory

      September 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  7. ReligionOfPeace

    There is no compulsion in religion! If you do not submit to the will of Allah, you will be removed from the face of the Earth, and burn in hell forever!

    September 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      everyone is going to someone else's hell.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • nokoolaidcowboy

      Ok, you first!

      September 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples, cultural centers and synagogues.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Kenneth

      I'm sure that made sense in your brain.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  9. ReligionOfPeace

    Matthew 10:34-36
    Jesus says that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. He has "come not to send peace, but a sword."

    September 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Reality

      Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would do or say?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Good try

      Another misquote from the Bible, keep trying and we will keep educating you on the truth.

      Jesus was again teaching his disciples about the worst we can meet with in his service; The strongest bonds of love and duty, have often been broken through from enmity against Christ. Sufferings from friends and relations are very grievous; nothing cuts more. He was referring to the conversion of individual members of the family that would cause variance.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • jesusWasaBastatd

      Funny how a nation of religious freedoms forgot what freedom means. Hate to rain on your hypocritical parade Christian America but just because the acts of a few bad apples doesn't mean it represents the entire bunch.

      You know killers clowns like David Koresh Jimmy Swaggart Jim Baker and the rest of the liars cheat and thieves.

      I laugh at how lame the religious hate is slanted to be acceptable but only to Muslims. Really if we were to simply play the stereotype game then that would mean all Christian Americans are believers that paying over science is an effective means of medicine. Or did you Jesus bible Thumpers forget about the parents that killed their child with the "power of gods prayer" over a simple visit to the doctor's office.

      If you crazy hateful Christians can spawn such things as the KKK and get away with it so can Muslims. After all if any of you morons had any common sense you'd know how religion is the greatest threat to a world full of peace.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Shadowflash1522

    Someone earlier likened this issue to bringing ice cream to a Weight Watchers meeting. To continue their analogy:

    Ok, how far away from the Weight Watchers meeting do I have to be in order for my ice cream to be considered not "there"? Not in the room? Not in the building? Not in the city? Am I allowed to open an ice cream parlor next to the gym? How bout two doors down? I know, let's just ban all ice cream inside the state borders so nobody gets upset!

    Seriously, though, that's my problem. I agree, the proximity is kind of crass, but how far away would it have to be to be acceptable to you? I can't in good conscience oppose it until that question is satisfied, otherwise it's just an emotional knee-jerk.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Dan

      It should be at least a respectable distance so it doesn't offend the families of those that died that day. Common sense should dictate how far that is. Why put it there in the first place? Agenda?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • GalaxyGlued

      Dan – what you're not considering is Manhattan is a very small island. If we New Yorkers could never again build anything by the former World Trade Center the whole of lower Manhattan would forever be untouched. What you also might not know is that area is really trashy: dark, stinky and lonely. I think having a clean building with lots of people coming and going is way preferable to what it is now.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Dan, define respectable.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  11. Fuyuko

    Just another business. Time to cut tax breaks for religious organizations and stop giving them a free ride.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • THIS


      September 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  12. ReligionOfPeace

    Matthew 15:4-7
    Jesus advocates child abuse.
    Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before eating. He defends himself by attacking them for not killing disobedient children according to the commandment: “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death

    September 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • BronzeBind

      Maybe if you bothered to read the few verses before it you would've gotten what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees.

      The Pharisees, which were against Jesus from the start, were criticizing the prophets because they "transgress the traditions of the elders" (Mathew 15: 2), to which Jesus replied, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?".

      He quoted God's commandment for men to honor their father and mother, for if they did that, "Thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exodus 20: 12). Basicaly, honor your parents, longer life. Rebel against your parents, your life is shortened. Stop trying to confuse people.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Good try

      Quoting the message of Jesus out of context? keep trying and we will keep educating you on the Truth.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Good try, you quoted a piece of a quote of a quote that a roman emperor pieced together out of context.. blasphemy!

      September 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  13. BronzeBind

    I do wonder in my humble opinion, why the Muslim community in New York was so adamant about building their community center/Mosque/whatever it is, so close to Ground Zero. I try to be as un-biased and tolerant as possible when it comes to other religions, but I think that they, just out of courtesy and decency, could've found somewhere else for their Community Center. Maybe I just don't get it.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Jamie from Riverside

      No. you don't get it.

      September 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      The primary problem is, how far away is far enough? If this location is crass, how about next door? A street over? A block? A state?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      OK, so take every single religious center withing a 5mile radius out of there because they are all equally guilty.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Sorara22

      BronzeBind, I think you are looking at it from the wrong angle. The Muslim religion is like any other religion, as a whole and a majority they are peaceful people who believe in a God. Why should we be offended that they now have a mosque? I realize that extremists of that religion were responsible for 9/11 but thats what they were....extremeists. They did not reflect the true beliefs and values of the Muslim community. So why shouldn't they be allowed to pray near that site, they (as people who are of Muslim religion) had NOTHING to do with 9/11.....

      September 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Normon

      It is my understanding that the site was already owned and operating as an informal Mosque well before 9/11. I don't think you can just relocate your plans a few blocks in NYC.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  14. ReligionOfPeace

    Matthew 19:12
    Jesus also promoted the idea that all men should castrate themselves to go to heaven: "For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

    September 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Scott

      No, no, no. Your suppose to use that quote when the topic is pedophile preists. It would solve the repeat offender problem and besides they shouldn't mind loosing something they’re not suppose to be useing anyway

      September 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  15. ReligionOfPeace

    Deuteronomy 13:7-12
    If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • bikemonkey

      Yea yeah it was written. But how many people actually do these things today? Unlike the muslims who are still killing and stoning people. Plus their koran says to kill all who leave islam.

      September 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • ReligionOfPeace

      Islam is the relgion of Peace! see our actions!!!!

      September 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  16. lloyd roberts

    Only in this country. Hey religionOfpeace, try opening a church in saudi arabia or opening a jewish temple in pakistan. Islam is so tolerant, I bet there wouldn't be a problem. Yeah right, give me a break

    September 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Normon

      First, I think @ReligionOfPeace was a sarcastic screen name to indicate that it was anything but peaceful.
      Second, who gives a crap what other countries do? Shall we ban alcohol like the Saudis do? Shall we have nationalized health care just because Cuba does? Should we have a caste system just because India does?

      September 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Shall we ban alcohol like the Saudis do?"

      Based on the number of people it kills on a yearly basis, we should.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Normon

      First, I should have specified "because the Saudis do." My bad.
      Second, didn't we already try that back in the 20's?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  17. The King


    September 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Down with all religions, up with FREE THOUGHT

      September 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  18. danny

    Are these children that have been kidnapped and brainwashed as is a Muslim tradiction.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • IKanThink

      Just like in the christian tradition – they are told what to believe from their first consciousness.

      September 19, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  19. ReligionOfPeace

    Sura 4:89 They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  20. ReligionOfPeace

    Sura 5:51 O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.

    September 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Incognito

      yeah yeah we get it. U have nothing better to do.

      September 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
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.