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.
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.
JimTanker – The abolitionist movement in this country was founded by the northern churches. Oppostion to slavery is in fact a Christian principle. It was the Churches that forced this nation into civil war to end slavery. The abolitionist movement was almost entirely religious in nature. You're a typical hateful degernaterate. You mock and belittle the nation of your birth in order to advocate other cultures that have given you nothing – and never will. If this is the way you feel about America, then you're welcome to leave.
I'm sorry, didn't both sides, Slavery and Abolitionist, use the Bible to support their position?
supporters did indeed use the bible as justification for slavery.
last I checked it was a free country. its not exactly a big, gawdy memorial or anything. to me it just looks like another NY building. Let them do what they want. THese so called Christians need to be tolerant.
Suppose someone does successfully execute some kind of attack on this building. I doubt anyone is going to budge on either side. So then, what will the outcome be?
I cant believe whats coming out of the mouths of my fellow "Americans". Remember the country was founded by those escaping religious freedom. Why sooo much hate out there,the terrorist have won when we cant remember our own principals of fair and freedom.When we begin to fear those around us because of their religion then we have truly lost this war on terror and we are no better than those that hate our freedom of expression and religion and what many have died and served for.
very well said, tan the man. These haters are no better than the terrorists. If ALL Muslims really wanted us dead we would be dead because there are so many of them.
This is offensive to anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11. It is shameful that in order not to offend anyone and be politically correct we trample on those who lost their lives.
How about we honor those who lost their lives by upholding the one of the principles of their country, Freedom of Religion?
I agree with Normon.
Yay, Norman! So many hate mongers!!!! I guess Americans don't care about freedom of religion as long as you believe in Christianity. It seems as though some Americans & Christians are no better than terroists – that's obvious by their thoughts, words, & actions. How quickly they forget Timothy McVeigh, the KKK, and that jerk that wanted to burn the Quran when it's for their purposes. Most Americans are ignorant of the fact that Muslims that were working in the WTC also died that day. It's like Americans killing their German Shepherd & Dachsund dogs during WW II because they were German breeds. Unfortunately, most people of this country believes that if it's not American or Christian it's wrong and they will spew hate. That's the hypocrisy of Christian values (I was raised Catholic and am now of no specific religion because of the hypocrisy of all religions- I am spiritual, believe in God and the freedom to worship all religions that this country was founded on).
@isis- Are you drunk? No one said anything about Christianity in the above comments.
Watch Live! Wall Street Protest! http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution
They will continue to lie, kill, and encroach upon all the countries of the world until they have achieved their goal.
You are talking about the same people who advocate against alcoholism and other unhealthy habits. Lie, kill, and what else?
George – and it slowly happening here in the USA............just like it is happening in Europe. We have to STOP the islamization of our wonderful country by any means necessary.
And Americans will continue to hate them, regardless of whether it is deserved or not.
I'm not saying that Islamic extremists are nice people. It's just that, reading the article, it was clear the enemies of this center have decided it is evil, and have no interest in any opinions to the contrary. Those who close their mind to fill it with hate are the enemy, regardless of what god or ideal they espouse.
I'm going to the exhibit this week to show my support against people like you.
@George- you just described what many other nations in the 1950's and 60's must have thought about the USA.
CMDTruth: If this is your opinion of Christians, then feel free to live in a majorty-Muslim nation as a non-Muslim. Then get back to us. Voicing opposition to a warped project is not hate.
Voicing opposition is one thing, ignorantly placing a whole religion as extremist is another. Most comments here are doing exactly that. Telling Americans they are not americans because they dont follow you line of beliefs.. is well simply un-american.
What is so "warped" about this project?
It will be attacked as previously stated, good luck,,, your going to need it........................
Terro: I cannot determine from your post if you support or oppose the acts of terror you predict will happen to the center. Please let us know.
To Muslims (and any other religious group): Of course you are welcome to practice your religion here. Our country was found on the principle of religious freedom. What you are not welcome to do is to force your way of life on anyone who does not share your beliefs or make welcome extremists who want to change our government by force. Join us and become part of the American dream.......or, just as important, you have the freedom to leave if our way of life is offensive to you.
Steve – dont sugarcoat your words to them – they are ignorant murderers and will stop at nothing to acheive thier goals.
Steve: how many people do you know who have been converted to Islam by muslim proselytizers? Christians force their beliefs on others; muslims don't. Muslims have bad faults, too, but they are not trying to force anything on Americans.
How can you think their desire to build a house of worship in NYC is *forcing* themselves on others? They welcome anyone in, but you are absolutely welcome to stay out.
@ Steve ..."To Muslims (and any other religious group): Of course you are welcome to practice your religion here. Our country was found on the principle of religious freedom. What you are not welcome to do is to force your way of life on anyone who does not share your beliefs or make welcome extremists who want to change our government by force."
You are aware that 'Christian' groups are insisting that we be concerned with what our politians religious views are before we vote for them and they want to elect 'Christian' politians? I'd say THAT's trying to change our government by force.
JimTakner – You are clueless. Could you explain to me whay there are not Churches in Saudi Arabia? If we are to share your values of "tolerance," should not the Muslims show the same tolerance towards non-Muslims? Could you explain? Oh wise one? Or maybe if it is an interfaith building, would they not put a Cross in it? Love to hear from you – since you know, we are the inferior ones who somewhow don't understand your version of tolerance and understanding.
"Could you explain to me whay there are not Churches in Saudi Arabia?"
Not sure what tanker originally said, but what has churches in Saudi Arabia got to do with Mosques in the US? Saudi Arabia also ban alcohol... should we ban it too?
I don't know much about the church situation in a foreign country like Saudi Arabia, but I think that the United States has better laws than that concerning the protection of religion.
What other countries do is their business. What we do is ours, and our business is to respect the right of recognized religions to have gathering places.
Thumbs up to Norman and Edwin. Exactly...who cares what other nations do. Last time I checked..the US was suppose to be different than the other nations and serve as an example. We don't look to other nations to know what is right. We search it out within our own ppl.
Its offensive, getting the ground ready for next generation of terrorist so close to 9/11 site, we've lots of poll to support that still some percentage of Muslim in America have favorite view of those terrorirst, even if that percentage is .001%. What all those open mind will say if next attack comes from someone from this Islamic center from someone from that .001%. Many of us are totally against of this mosque or whatever they called it and Govt. should take into account before giving approval on this project.
well said ... well said.
This is the US, we don't go by group think or knee jerk reactions Shane.
The 9/11 site is not holy or sacred. It's where something horrible happened that had NOTHING to do with the ppl that are wanting to build this place blocks away.
What if the next big attack comes from someone other than those ppl? Will you go to NYC and apologize to the Muslims then?
Man from are the comments I see one would think christianity is filled with hateful extremist... maybe it is.
You are making a huge assumption that everyone commenting in a manner you do not like is a christian.
Yes it is! Every time you turn around, you are reading about one flying a plane into a building or strapping on dynamite and killing innocent people. Yes, I'm really worried about Christianity and the danger it poses. And as Christian churches spring up on every street corner in our ally nations of Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, I am just certain that they are going to overrun the other religions there.
Yes, you must be right. They are fearful people.
hey im christian
I believe the KKK is an christian extremist group who murder countless of thousand throughout their years. Timothy Mcveigh was christian who blew a grovernment building...... yes there are extremist in every religion.
I predict that this place will be a place that eventually , people who agree with the terrorists that killed 3000 will come
to worship and scoff at the dead of the Twin Towers .
ITS THEM GAWD DAMN AL-QADER
I predict that people like you will never become educated about the real conflict here and will continue to make ignorant remarks about the matter.
Sure I be an ignorant little media sheep and believe muslims because their doctrine of " TAQIYYA" says they can lie to all non-muslims to further their their agenda [world islamislamization],...ooOps that's not being actually reported anywhere I just spilled all the beans.
P/s and non-muslims in Koran are called subhuman/inhuman [i.e. Christians and Jews are called Swine and Monkeys]
TAQIYYA means they can conceal their religion if under threat or persecution. It does not mean they can lie to further their agenda. You better pick up those beans.
You dear replier better inform yourself on HISTORY,... and TRUE definitions.
I wonder what the reaction would be if they had displayed photographs of the children who were murdered on 9/11 ?
...and then I would like to ask, why didn't they show those pictures of the murdered children? I would also like to ask the people putting up the mosque if we non-Muslims are infidels.
... and i wonder if i can come to their church and ask if gays are going to hell, or if people are evil because they like to sip alcohol...or if your one of the churches that doesnt let women become pastors because they are women
Or maybe photographs of the many Christians, BUDDHISTS, HINDU, AGNOSTIC AND MUSLIM people that also were killed. Maybe they could also put up pictures of the Muslims killed that used the prayer room inside the Towers too. Or the strip club that's closer to the Towers than the center is, you know, since it is apparently in your eyes Christian hallowed ground.
I wonder if we will see any Christian suicide bombers?
you already did, his name was Timothy McVeigh.
We all remember the story of the Trojan horse. Beware. This is only the beginning. Take a look at Europe and the UK..it tells our future.
The future where only idiots who omit their names post garbage on news websites? Oh wait, too late.
So true – we are slowly being Islamized.......its going on now in Europe. Its time to STOP them !!!!!!
Show true tolerance, Muslims. Build a Cathedral in Saudi Arabia that shows Christ nailed to the Cross dying for your sins because he loves you. Then we'll talk.
Take down ALL the churches and temples and mosques in Jerusalem and make it a PARK.
The, and ONLY then might I believe peace is possible between the cults of Abraham
That was just a terrible, terrible post.
First, not all muslims are restricted to Saudi Arabia the same as not all catholics are restricted to the Vatican. There are many different types and I can promise there are a fair amount of muslims out there who agree that religious freedom should be granted in Saudi Arabia just as much as you do.
Secondly If you think that your intolerance is ok because there is someone out there that is more intolerant, I think you need to probably rethink your values.
Lastly, to tell someone to learn tolerance and then demand they choose your way because you believe some guy 2000 years ago died for them and they have to accept him as god is not true tolerance, that's just you being intolerant in a different way.
After you reconfigure your idea of what tolerance is (religious or otherwise) then we'll talk.
That's ridiculous. They never claimed to be the "land of the free". If that is what we truly are, then WE need to set the example.
"First, not all muslims are restricted to Saudi Arabia the same as not all catholics are restricted to the Vatican."________________________________________________ Find a country like Saudi Arabia that is Christian majority that acts like those animals? You can't.
See my second point to understand that regardless of what Saudi Arabia does or does not do in no way justifies why you are allowed to block a mosque in America. Whether you feel Saudi Arabia is a land full of animals or just people who believe in something different in no way gives you carte blanche to take your anger and agression out on people who are in no way connected with Saudi Arabia other than sharing the same general religion, or should I start going after churches, any churches, whenever the vatican, or really any country with a christian majority does something I disagree with?
Sari, and Chris,
Both of you are an insult! Maybe you should go to Saudi Arabia and get your fill of their version of "tolerance"
If you have a REAL argument, I'd love to hear it. Right now, you are just married to your ideology for better for worse, and I have no time for that. You seem to be one of those flag-waving "Americans" who doesn't even know what this country is about. Sad.