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. George

    They are raising money to build a mosque, while a million fellow Muslims die of starvation in Somalia.

    September 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • JTO

      So no more churches either? Think there's a few Christians over there as well.

      September 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  2. The pope

    Guilt is the opiate of the masses..........................................K. Marx

    September 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • PY

      Was not it Religion opiate for masses?

      September 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  3. augustghost

    This country has ZERO BALLS

    September 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Randy

      I wish I had lots of money, I would build a rib joint right across the street, and a bar next door.

      September 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  4. The Doctor


    September 19, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  5. Martina

    God Bless all Christians

    September 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  6. justan opinion

    I will be there eating bacon bits and pork rinds dropping crumbs all around.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Sure you will.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Billy

      I heard a guy talking the other day saying that we should support this center with open arms. He wanted to start a fund to build a statue of Mohammed to go right in front of the building to prove how much they supported the center.

      September 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  7. Patriot

    "Pamela Geller" she is the primary atagonist is this issue. In fact she and her group is making it an issue. The rest of America wants peace and harmony with others on this planet. She and her group shamelessly seek otherswise. If you do the research you'll see she is funded by and wholly acts on behalf of Zionist organizations. If zionists want to battle against muslims or christians, they should do it on their own turf in Israel and leave the rest of us alone.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Rick McDaniel

    A travesty on this country.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  9. Socal

    Christian Kool-Aid is being drunk in abundance today.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  10. AsUsual

    Now I remember why I read FoxNews...

    September 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • OHIO

      why? there isn't enough hate and anti-muslim rhetoric?

      September 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      I used to think that CNN was bad and then I made the mistake of venturing onto ABC's turf. After reading some of their foolishness I about decided that CNN should be awarded a medal for Patriotism. Of course, this comarison between two evils still doesn't say much for Commie News Network-CNN, the most scurrilous name in propaganda.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Kelly

      Right on. Fox News is the best news on the air!!!

      September 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  11. Karin

    Peace in NYC – Hope Obama comes to visit the Mosque that he endorsed – it would Help pull together all the Muslims who live in NYC –

    September 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Christian Gonzalez

    I don't understand why atheism even exist.... Aren't they scared of hell? What will happen to them if they believe in God? Why afraid of religion? Just believe in God and don't do anything else... you might go to heaven instead of hell

    September 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • J.W

      How do you force yourself to believe in something that you do not believe in?

      September 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • gager

      God does not send atheists to hell. Where did that nonsense come from. God sends suckups to hell.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • nostra

      @Christian Gonzalez
      "I don't understand why atheism even exist.... Aren't they scared of hell?" No. it doesn't exist.

      "What will happen to them if they believe in God?" They would waste years of their lives worshiping something that isn't there.

      "Why afraid of religion?" They aren't afraid of Religion, but have seen the damage it can do to people and societies when absence of thought is a virtue.

      "Just believe in God and don't do anything else... you might go to heaven instead of hell" Won't go to either.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • StupidComment

      Basically your saying we should purchase a lottery ticket in the name of God, but which type of ticket? Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Hindu?

      September 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Billy

      "just believe" – how do you do this? I once had a conversation with a baptist minister about this place he calls heaven. I asked, "if i lead a good life, obey all of gods laws, treat my neighbor as I would treat myself, give to the poor, share my blankets and food, build homes for elderly, but I just can't figure out how the trinity is supposed to work – If I am not convinced of a giant powerful man somewhere out in space with a son who died and was reborn, and a ghost in the shape of a firey dove that can enter anyone and give them the word of god, would that still be ok to get me into heaven? He said nope, it wasn't enough and that I would spend an eternity in hell made to regret my sinful life.

      Just believe... Not as easy as you may think.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Patriot

      Early Christion church created a "hell" based on norse goddess "Hel's" domain in an underworld. It wasn't a bad place for folks to go (others who died, particulary in battle, and where chosen by Odin (Woton) went to Valhalla in an upper world).

      September 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • PY

      what about freedom of choice? Did not god got people common sense to decide for themselves in what to believe?

      September 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  13. NYC resident

    BTW do atheist carry U.S. money since it says "IN GOD WE TRUST" on it? They don't believe/trust in God, so why carry money?!

    America is a religious country, that's why no seperation of church and state please.
    Whoever don't like it, move to Scandinavia lol

    September 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • nostra

      Why would anyone trust in a god that allowed His name to be put on other people's money?

      September 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • StupidComment

      I don't give a rats behind what it says on the money I carry as long as the dollar has value, being an atheist words like in god we trust has no meaning to me whatsoever, it's a useless and stupid comment.
      Thankfully we do have seperation of church and state, and this isn't a religous country...in fact less and less Americans are professing any faith at all and more and more people are becoming Agnostic or Atheist (Thank God)

      September 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Ohio

      Good point! Why would atheists use money? *cough cough (sarcasm) you are an idiot. Please make a point that doesn't make you look like a moron.

      Ps. Separation of church and state is one of the foundations of our country

      September 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  14. NYC resident

    America is a Christian country... I don't need to cite it because you know it is. Since 4/5 people are Christians, nobody would vote for an atheist, muslim or jewish presidents lol. Christmas Day is a federal holiday, NOT Yom Kippur or Eid whatever.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Please point in the direction where I can find where anywhere it says that America is a christian nation?

      Oh right, you asked not to be cited, because it bolsters your argument.

      It's shmucks like you that make people believe America is full of as.sholes

      September 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Stupid Comment

      I'm an American, a Veteran, and thankfully not a Christian...

      September 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • America

      right on chuckles! America is a nation where religion doesnt matter. Keep the religious nuts out of politics!

      September 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Blahman

      Ok guys, you do realize you are getting trolled by a strawman sock puppet right? His first comment was convincing, but the second "America is a Christian country... I don't need to cite it because you know it is..." is clearly provocative and shows his true intent. Don't be so easily fooled.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • PY

      4/5?Care to show some prove of this statement? Or you simply decided that it is a good number?

      September 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  15. Ben


    September 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  16. America

    I am embarrassed that any of you are from this country. What happened to our ideals? What happened to tolerance and equality? Uphold America's values! There is no room for hate. The KKK killed numerous blacks in the name of Christ...does that mean all of you Christians are murderous bigots?

    September 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • bulfrog5

      Everyone talks about how their religion is tolerant. Or how America was founded on the principal of religious tolerance.
      In my studies over the years and in my personal experience I have yet to find any religion that is indeed tolerant of any other religion. Furthermore, those that make claims of America being founded on the principal of religious tolerance, I ask you to refrain from spreading misinformation. Many of the first colonist that landed in what is now Massachusetts were as far from tolerant as you could get. They were known to hang people of their own faith that would question religion. As a country, we are a lot closer to religious tolerance today than we have ever been in the past. Tolerance will take effort from all religions not just Christians, Muslims, or Jews.

      September 19, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  17. Kenneth

    This has to be the biggest nonsense issue ever. Did anyone whine when they rebuilt the church next to the Murrow building in OKC?

    September 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Steve

      Really, Timothy Mc Veigh was agnositc! Spreading lies much?

      September 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  18. ReligionOfPeace

    2 Peter 3:10
    When Jesus returns, he'll burn up the whole earth and everything on it. Yeah!

    September 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • TROLL


      September 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Good try

      religion of peace

      You are getting a good study of the Bible today aren't ya.

      This verse is talking about the day of the lord that will come. For better comprehension read these passages alongside Matthew. 24:29-30, Revelation. 1:7

      September 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  19. Earnest Angley

    stay out of western new york, we HATE you too.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Wake Up

      we hate you, earnest. BIGOT

      September 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. jbmar1312

    To respond to those who only took what they wanted to from my earlier comment made at 12:46, They danced in Dearborn, Mi and celebrated the destruction of the towers. As to me stating that just as many ascribe to a strictor form of Islam "Shariah law", most of the muslim population of theworld lives under that law. I did not say it makes them terrorists, I said it was a more harsh and militant intrepertaion of Isalm. You really shoud study Islamic history and learn something about the various Islamic cultures. I been to the middle east and asia both as a civilian and with the military. I think I have a better understanding of Islam than the average American citizen becasue of that. You couch potatos need to get out more.

    September 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Blahman

      You know, there are people in the Middle East stating the same exact thing but about Christianity and the West (Crusaders) and they've got history to back it up too. Try to keep an open mind and do not cherry pick what you read.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      ". I been to the middle east and asia both as a civilian and with the military."
      That's disheartening. You write like a 5 year old, and are a poor example of either civilians OR the military. Please tell people you are Canadian from now on!

      September 19, 2011 at 7:14 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.