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. Mreed

    'The following is my analysis of Islamic invasion of America, the agenda of Islamists and visible methods to take over America by the year 2020," Shorrosh says. "Will Americans continue to sleep through this invasion as they did when we were attacked on 9/11?"

    1. Terminate America's freedom of speech by replacing it with statewide and nationwide hate-crime bills.

    2. Wage a war of words using black leaders like Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Jesse Jackson and other visible religious personalities who promote Islam as the religion of African-Americans while insisting Christianity is for whites only. What they fail to tell African-Americans is that it was Arab Muslims who captured them and sold them as slaves. In fact, the Arabic word for black and slave is the same, "Abed."

    3. Engage the American public in dialogues, discussions, debates in colleges, universities, public libraries, radio, TV, churches and mosques on the virtues of Islam. Proclaim how it is historically another religion like Judaism and Christianity with the same monotheistic faith.

    4. Nominate Muslim sympathizers to political office to bring about favorable legislation toward Islam and support potential sympathizers by block voting.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Joe

      Hate Crime Laws are not violations of Freedom of Speech. Attacking, harassing, and even killing people you don't like is not a form of freedom of speech. So I think you tip your hand as to YOUR agenda right there with your first statement. You are obviously a right wing lunatic foam-at-the-mouth bigoted hate monger. How's that for "freedom of speech?"

      September 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • isaiditbeforeiwillsayitagain

      yoo'd have to be living under a rock t believe what your spewing–the fact is that Muslims are intrenched in the American way of life–its the songs on your radio, the programs on your tv, the teachers in your classroom, it's your founding fathers, they're everywhere–Now What?

      September 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Joe

      I foam at the mouth , the rage in me is telling, just read my commentary, I get mad when people say the truth.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  2. Descarado

    Obama o Akbar! Welcome to the Obama Victory Mosque!

    September 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      ?? Victory over what? Old stupid white guys?

      September 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      Who said anything about Obama?

      Oh, just not enough volatile BS being thrown around, I get it.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  3. aubrie

    They'll be praying the the streets and purposely blocking traffic soon.... Just to mock and intimidate. Just like in France... You wait and see....

    September 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      and wait..and wait..and wait

      September 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Normon

      Yep, that's the important thing, traffic.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  4. f

    I wonder how many posters who are supporting the Ground Zero Mosque have never been to NYC and have no idea how it affected tens of thousands of families all over the tri-state area. to you I say 'DROP DEAD'. Muslims did 9/11, no one else. They deserve NO support ever.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • saywhat

      That is the exactly the top of fear that is destroying this nation. Yes, I have been to 9/11. I have seen the destructive force of what AL-QAEDA did. But Al-Qaeda is not a religiously fanatical group; they are a group of people that hate are ideals and our country and that is why they did 9/11. Stop being fearful of something that you have no understanding of. It is time to understand it and get rid of that fear. All Muslims are not like Al-Qaeda. It is time for your to start realizing that.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • NCLefty

      Well, I lived in New York for 5 years and watched in horror as the planes struck. But these were the acts of a small number of men and women who believe in violence as a way to make their point. Violence only begets violence. Just look at Israel.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Dan

      Muslims died in 9/11 too. Guess by your logic we should ban churches in Oklahoma city.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • SGT J

      A Christian, Tim McVeigh did Oklahoma city bombing, do you say Christians should have no support here in America either?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • bob

      who cares where the supporters are from? NYC is not an island unto it's self. it's part of the united states of america. OUR country. thats why we support the mosque. this is the land of the free and the home of the brave that was founded upon religious tolerance, not bigotry and hate. we could care less how that makes you feel.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Normon

      Wouldn't the terrorists just love to see Americans turning on fellow Americans?

      Fighting Islam lets terrorism win.

      Fighting for America's Freedoms means fighting for the freedoms of all Americans.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  5. Ned Duncan

    We need a special mosque tax for the area around ground 0, 100 times the normal property tax rate if you want to build a mosque

    September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Kevin in Atlanta

      Seperation of Church and State.

      If you can tax a Mosque, might as well tax churches, synagogues, and any other holy land in the US you can think of.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  6. Ken

    I don't necessarily have a problem with this, but in the interests of fairness we should open some other businesses next door...like a gay disco we'll call "the Turban Cowboy" and a gentleman's club we'll call "you mecca me hot", we can offer a place to eat, a open pit pork BBQ joint we'll call "Iraq-O-Ribs" and a bar/liquor store called "Mohammered".

    September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Ned Duncan

      Also lets open an art gallery next store, with only painting depicting Mohammed, also carry Mohammed voodoo dolls.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jason

      then stop talking about it and do it. There is no law prohibiting you from doing so.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  7. NCLefty

    In the face of ultimate evil, we can respond as the Israeli's have done by forming a closed society enveloped in fear – or we can choose to live our American ideals, which include religious tolerance and freedom of peaceful expression. I vote for the latter – otherwise Bin Lauden won.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Um.... what?

      You're right I guess,

      I mean, the israeli's, who were constantly having rockets rain down on them, people driving trucks along the road to run over as many people as possible, and many more people going into malls with bombs strapped to them to blow up highly populated centers are just being paranoid.How dare they create security permimeters to make sure that their neighbors, who have vowed to kill every last one of them, to keep them from committing acts of terrorism.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • f

      I see your point. However, the big difference between Israel and the US is that Israel is surronded by hating Muslims and they keep a very close eye on all of them, including the ones living inside Israel. In the US, they are already here infiltrating this country from the inside and no is watching them.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • VR13

      And speaking of "closed" Israel, their Arabas and Jews, Muslims and Christians all live in the same country.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Normon

      I'm sorry, "Ultimate Evil"?

      I mostly agree with your position, but there is no ultimate evil, or ultimate good for that matter, just seriously disturbed people.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  8. Ms

    The First Amendment is there for a reason.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jason

      to be trampled on?

      September 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Can'tStandIt

    OregonTom – The U.S. was not founded on multiculturism. It was founded on assimilation – Meaning many itnto one. We don't have that now. We have "diversity." This is why the country is dying. A "diverse" society canot survive. A nation needs to have common bonds via blood, language and religion in order to survive.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • f

      Correct. France has found that out the hard way. France used to be only French people. Now it is French and Muslim.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Michael

      I could not agre with you more. I wish that most people saw this point of view. I say assimilate or get the hell out. NObody is making these people come here. If they come here, they should assimilate to the american way or go back to where they came from. If their way of life is so important to them, then why come here in the first place. I say get out. We will be like western Europe inside of 20 years. It will be a sickening thing to witness. Even Europe is growing tired and in some instances passing legislation against the intrusive islamists and their culture. At least that is a good sign.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Alan In Windsor CT

      If our ancestors had assimilated when they first came to America, we'd all be living in teepees.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Normon

      "[US] was founded on assimilation – Meaning many itnto one."
      I have never seen a more twisted interpretation of E Pluribus Unum in my life.

      "A nation needs to have common bonds via blood, language and religion in order to survive."
      This country was founded with people of different "blood, language and religion."

      September 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  10. Agnostic Jew

    Funny how a fan of Ayn Rand (who was secular/athiestic) decided to hang her hat with a bunch of jesus freaks

    September 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      I think it would be more accurate to say they sort of posthumously stole her hat, and displayed it in their homes.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Normon

      Yes! I always find it fun to point out to "supposedly" libertarian leaning conservatives, who tout Ayn Rand, that she was a staunch Atheist. It messes with their 'Separation of Church and Business' philosophy.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  11. saywhat

    There is nothing wrong with this type of mosque near ground zero. The Republicans have spread the fear of religion so far through the ranks of Catholics and other religions that they now believe that all Muslim's are to blame for the 9/11 attacks. It is time to stop that fear. Fear is what destroys nations and fear is what destroys the truth.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Judy

      I have one question: Can we have a christian church built in the middle east? I don't think so...."they" won't allow it.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • saywhat

      Judy there are Christian churches in Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Syria (surprisingly), and several other countries. Care to try again with that question.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • TN

      @Judy: Yes.

      I'm guessing you've never been to the middle east... It seems like a different "they" have taught you to ignore the facts.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Marc

      To Judy: What is your point? Is it that American laws and morality should be equivalent to
      those of Muslim nations? Personally, I think we should set our standards of tolerance a little bit higher.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  12. Me

    Am I the only one who thinks this may be a weee bit insensitive? Nevermind religion nevermind who is right or wrong when the planes hit the towers (I was two blocks away) it was reported that the hijackers were saying spiritual things referring to the Koron. Extemeists or not, this is incredibly insensitive. It would be like taking ice cream to a weight watchers meeting.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      To continue your 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 with you, 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 4:00 pm |
  13. so long

    was wondering before how long Crescent News network(CNN) was going to start singing the glories of islam again

    so there they go again, come ye to worship all ye we are singing the glories of islams this morning.

    send your contributions to the mosque!

    allah u islam!

    September 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  14. Truth Tellerz

    Lets build a Seventh Day Adventist Church next to the Vatican !

    September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • adam

      That makes no sense. Ground Zero is not some holy place. Stop your ignorance.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  15. OregonTom

    One of the great things about the US is the opportunity to live in a multicultural society 🙂

    September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • NCLefty


      September 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Michael

      Sure. It's such a success everywhere else it's taken root See England, France and various other western european countries. Wake up you freak liberals. My goodness, you're blindness or stupidity is striking and pathetic.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Kelly

      You are an idiot! if we AMERICANS wanted to live in a different society, we would move to that particular country! Why don't you people get this concept? Why is it that you seem to hate the American values, traditions, and way of life? If you don't like it in America, then GET OUT!!!

      September 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  16. Mark

    From Rainier:
    "I am a Christian. I am ready to discuss the Holy Bible and ecclesiastical history anytime. I know that the ancient Israel conducted war against some countries. But this wars were indeed commanded by God and thus righteous. In contrast the aggressive wars of Muhammad and the caliphs were pure crimes, never ordered by God."

    Just wow....

    September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • chris

      yeahm simply wacked out of their minds. i am glad this is happening. fear and intolerance breeds hate and contempt, which breeds even uglier things, like pointless stupid violence.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  17. NoTax

    American people against neo-marxist and islamicterrorists

    September 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • godsmacked

      As opposed to all the pro-terror, pro-Marxist Americans? Stop living in fear.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  18. Mreed

    @Lady A
    Talk about extremist! I think everyone just read your post and then had to go change their underwear.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  19. cadman1

    Here's an idea. Let's build a Baptist Church right next to Mecca. I'm sure it wont be a problem since we are so kind hearted to allow them an Islamic center right at ground zero. Yeah Right

    September 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Mark

      And Cadman, we don't legislate Mecca, we live in the US and have laws for our citizens. You should be proud that we can build churches in this country for all faiths, not assume we should be as intolerant as the Middle East.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • rd

      Ground zero is not a "chistian" shrine.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • lastbastion

      There are over 3000 christian churches in the Middle East. Even Iran has quite a few, although since 911 that number has dwindled.
      The one country of exception: Saudi Arabia, our "ally", does not allow churches. They do allow services, but they do not allow the construction of Christian churches.

      Before you spout off and display your ignorance, you might want to do 3 minutes of research on the internet.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Franky

      Mecca is a city you dumbo

      September 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """There are over 3000 christian churches in the Middle East."""

      Lastbastion, your argument is disingenuous at best. Can you tell us how many of these churches operate freely? My neighbors were Christians who fled Egypt because of Muslim oppression. I'm sure they'd love to tell you about THEIR church.

      September 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  20. Mark

    Plus this is on a "liberal" news website. Just imagine the sentiment on Fo* News, much less something like the Drudge.

    September 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • chris

      why is everything but fox news considered liberal? i dont see it that way. i see it as normal. everything else is normal, and then there is fox news, crazy right wing rhetoric

      September 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Terry

      I am sure if you a christian applies for a church near Mecca , it will be allowed. Yeah right

      September 19, 2011 at 12:28 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.