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. Illinois

    Thank you, Ohio for your post. And to those of you who are using Christianity to defend your views on other religions, let me just remind you that Jesus not only taught pacifism, he taught tolerance. This center is devoted to ALL faiths and to the gathering of people from a diverse background. Shame on anyone who lumps all of those who practice the Islamic faith into one group–terrorists. I know many wonderful people who practice this faith and they are some of the most peaceful people I know. It is time that we learn to embrace differences and get along as a nation.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • dreama

      wake up Geoffrey – stop name calling when you don't get your own way. the koran dictates hate and killing – read it!!!!

      September 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Sean

      You talk about what Jesus taught to shame Christians for their views. Yet you say nothing about what Muhammad taught… I wonder why that is.


      September 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • busted

      islam peaceful really? ofcourse in islam and peace live together peacefully in a sentence .period.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  2. Ace

    In response to Jerry McSlapBalls: Every single Muslim person is a terrorist.

    You views is just like a terrorist, small minded and not much thought, they could use a person like you in Pakistan.

    You would fit right in.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  3. Muhammad

    I wish to sincerly thank everyone for this victory mosque.....

    September 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Jerry McSlapBalls

      All Muslims are terrorists....

      September 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • KK Denver

      Jerry: and all people named Jerry like to slap balls against male azzes

      September 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • imam

      your welcome, and we preach what you taught us about the infidels o holy one! piece be unto u!

      September 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  4. test

    Ohio....what if you are wrong? What if there is an inherently deceptive approach here...
    Didn't you read about the "Trojan Horse"? What if they want to convert your children to Islam...
    Do you think there will ever be churches open in middle east without treat of burning?
    Do you know that in Turkey they put your religion to your birth certificate?

    If you answered NO to any of these questions...than think again. Threat is real!

    September 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Ohio

      This isn't the middle east...this isn't Turkey...We came to this land for one reason, RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE. If you were intelligent, at all, you would be more concerned with our potential presidential candidates holding giant prayer services, or saying that evolution is a myth

      September 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • imam

      what quacks like a duck must be a duck

      September 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Sean


      Puritans where anything but tolerant. Please learn a little more about your history before using it as the foundation of your argument.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      The puritans are irrelevant. The Const.itution is what matters.

      So do YOU hate the Consti.tution? Many on here seem to. THEY are the un-American ones.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Paul B

      The masque isn't being threatened ? At least indirectly ? I can't believe how easily frightened so many of you are. In Christianity and Islam, all prayers include 'God's will be done'. I keep forgetting that people of all faiths, colors, ect., are xenophobic. Grow up !

      September 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • OHIO

      So Sean, you are saying that the original settlers did not come here because they were being persecuted? Their strict conservatism is irrelevant. Please, make a god point next time

      September 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Charms

    Can the westerners build a Church in Saudi Arabia? lol

    September 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • test

      That Church will be burned down to ground and all of its members will be either stoned or machine gunned or ARMS and LEGS will be cut off...

      September 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Gabe

      So you're comparing the USA to Saudi Arabia?

      September 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • nick rymond


      September 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Steve

      That is exactly the point, they will not let anyone build churches in Saudi.

      But, in the name of freedom they will claim it is their birthright to build mosques all over the globe.

      In saudi they will not let the infidels have any freedom.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      How man mosques in the Vatican?

      This is America. Comparing us to other countries is a joke. If you do not like living in the U.S., go find a less tolerant Christian nation.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  6. sparky91

    Tolerant? What a bunch of political correctness crap! That's our outward appearance. Inside, we are ALL keeping an eye on anyone who looks middle-eastern. If a bunch of white men in high end suits steal a bunch of money through investments, guess what, we don't trust white men in high end suits.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      Actually, some of us are bright enough to realize that the thieving white men in suits are in the very small minority, and to realize that almost every other white man in a suit we meet means us or our money absolutely no harm.

      See that? That was a METAPHOR.

      September 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  7. Sarah

    Wonderful! We need more centers like these that serve to bring together people of various backgrounds, and foster the kind of brotherhood we've been lacking throughout the nation for many years...

    September 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Sean

      This ‘center’ as brought much more division than it has togetherness. Please step out of your bubble. They do not love you.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  8. Eileen

    Watch out! This is their trophy. Don't believe the facade for a moment. They laid low during the hot controversy, but here they are again. DO NOT BE DECEIVED. Look at what happened long ago in Spain and how they conquered them. THEY ARE TRYING TO TAKE OVER!!!!! Remember how Hitler started too – always a "nice guy" at first....

    September 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ohio

      Hitler was a Christian...you troll

      September 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • evan

      Hitler was athiest. In fact he made a Nazi religion. He is not a troll and you are stupid!

      September 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Sean

      Hitler was actually catholic Evan. He later became obsessed with the occult and groups like The Knights Templar. His interest in the occult was to be use to support his war efforts and prove his assertion of a superior race. He took many aspects of the Knights symbolism as his own. This nonsense about him being an atheist was started by Christians to distant themselves.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Normon

      Who cares what Hitler was! He used nationalistic pride and fear of outsiders, i.e. Jews, blacks, ga.ys, to coalesce a support base and further his own psychotic goals.

      Fear mongering toward perceived outsiders, sound familiar?

      September 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Normon

      Demonizing and dehumanizing the arbitrary "enemy" is the most effective and most often used tool of Totalitarian despots.

      September 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    STANDING UP TO CAIR......Friends

    Fair Report on KOMO Channel 4 in Seattle on CAIR's attempt to brainwash the local school district of Puyallup a suburb of Seattle. But local people are standing up!


    September 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  10. Roger C. Taney

    Make no mistake; the Islamists have won. New York City has been conquered. In their misguided naivite, New York's Government is thinking just like pacifist English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did when he returned from visiting Hitler with a 'promise' that Hitler would 'be good now' and stop invading his neighbors and killing their populations.

    The Islamists have murdered over 3,000 innocent Americans and now build on 'top of the ruins' so to speak.

    How could you let them do this, New York?

    New York's Government: As Joseph Welch said at the Army-McCarthy Hearings in the 1950's, "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

    Islam should be closely watched and strongly regulated in America, and we need to stop being so nice to everyone and finally get ahead on the body count for 9/11. I guarantee they've still killed more of our innocent population than we have of theirs.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ohio


      September 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • KK Denver

      "How could you let them do this, New York?" Because we're not scared little wussies like you

      September 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  11. Jerry McSlapBalls

    Every single Muslim person is a terrorist.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • nick rymond

      statistically speaking if even 1 percent of Muslims were terrorists this whole planet would be human-less. so basically you're an idiot. there are 1.5 billion muslims. the cia estimates only .0003% as terrorists. in other worlds there are more murders right here in america EVERY YEAR than all the muslims terrorist killing in the last 10 YEARS. CONGRATS YOU HAVE WON THE IDIOT OF THE YEAR JERRY.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

    Many of these posts that are anti-Islam are being written by trolls posing as conservatives or Christians in order to spew hatred. Be careful. Left-wing bloggers are everywhere.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • PeytonManningIn Europe

      True. I am Catholic and my faternity brother is Muslim. Most Christains and Muslims I know get along just fine. There are cretainly trolls on here.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • JimMiller

      true. tom is the prime example.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Sean

      The evil lefties are all posting against their views in an attempt to make conservatives and Christians look bad.
      Maybe not all Christians and conservatives believe the way you do. Moron.

      September 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  13. Jerry McSlapBalls

    and flight training school. They don't teach you how to land though.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  14. Jon


    Everyone seems to forget the fundamental differece between Christianity and Islam is the TEACHINGS. Christ teaches pacifism. If would be followers of Christ disobey and commit atrocities in his name (Crusades), then they are not, in fact, Christians (which translates to "Christ-Like").

    On the flip side, the followers of Islam are OBEYING Muhammad the Prophit when they commit their atrocities against "non-believers". This is the fundamental difference. One teaches peace while the other teaches war. I cannot be responsible for what someone else did in the name of a religion they did not truely believe in (or they would have followed Christ's teachings and would have been peaceful). Another person who CHOOSES to follow a religion that DOES teach violence can be guilty by association.

    Finally, I am a man of science as well as faith. The Earth is 4.7 Billion years old, and as best we can tell the universe is just over 14 billion years old. This is not incosistsent with my faith. I cant prove God exists any more than you can prove that He doesn't exist. Until either of us can prove anything, why don't we choose to respect each other? Don't assume your choose to believe in nothing is the correct one 🙂

    September 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Ohio

      Why would anyone respect you if you shell out derogatory statements about a group of people that number at about 1.4 billion. I thought YOUR religion taught tolerance, you bigot

      September 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Sean

      You say bigot, I say standards of behavior.


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


      Forgetting about the Old Testament, aren't we? I know, I know, Jesus totally apologized for all that stuff his dad did/commanded back in the angry days; the way I see it, omniscient, omnipotent deities shouldn't really get do-overs or take-backs.

      I'm sure I could find some dirt in the New Testament, too, but why bother when the old one is just so darned easy?

      September 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm |

    AmericanPatriot: The scribe on the base of the SOL is not code language for letting poor Muslims in. In fact, that scribe written by Lazarus was added as a scribe of passion and pride, not sympathy. It's true context is that of a prideful yell..."Give me your tired, your poor, those yearning to breathe free." It's message is to bring in people who have been denied opportunity to in their homelands. What lady liberty is saying is come here...Live to your potential...take your risks and follow your dreams...It is for you I life my lamp. It is not meant to advocate the importation of impoverished millions to take care of. Although your heart is in the right place.

    September 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  16. Jerry McSlapBalls

    Islamic shoe bomb and explosive vest factory.

    September 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  17. richunix

    Now were did I leave my matches and gas can......

    September 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  18. tom

    I just want a hot chick.

    September 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Sarah McBustypants

      You can have me.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  19. Jerry McSlapBalls

    Islamic terrorist training facility.

    September 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • tom

      I'm always glad to see that the American Education System is working to its fullest capacity.

      September 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ohio

      People like you are exactly whats wrong with our country. We are supposed to be the moral voice of tolerance and inclusion. Your ignorant ideologies put you on par with religious extremists and bigots everywhere

      September 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • boring

      I sure hope you are trolling for attention and this is not really what you believe.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • test

      Ohio....what is you are wrong? What is there is an inherently deceptive approach here...
      Didn't you read about the "Trojan Horse"? What is they want to convert your children to Islam...
      Do you think there will ever be churches open in middle east without treat of burning?
      Do you know that in Turkey they put your religion to your birth certificate?

      If you answered NO to any of these questions...than think again. Threat is real!

      September 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • steven harnack

      @test, I always make it rule never to take advice from illiterates.

      September 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Sean

      S-teven H-arnack

      September 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |


    September 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • tom

      And to Jesus. And drugs...and little boys....

      September 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • nick rymond


      September 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Billy

      Why drugs? I thought this was America! 🙂

      September 19, 2011 at 2:22 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.