Islamic cultural center open in N.Y.
An NYPD officer keeps watch during the Wednesday grand opening of the Park51 Islamic cultural center in New York City. It’s near Ground Zero, and the project has drawn criticism from opponents who say they don’t want a Muslim prayer space near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
opened Wednesday evening near the site of the terrorist attacks that
leveled the World Trade Center says the biggest error on the project was
not involving the families of 9/11 victims from the start.
People crowded into the center, where a small orchestra played traditional
Middle Eastern instruments and a photo exhibit of New York children of
different ethnicities lined the walls. The enthusiasm at the opening
belied its troubled beginnings.
“We made incredible mistakes,” Sharif El-Gamal told the Associated Press in an earlier interview.
The building at 51 Park Place, two blocks from Ground Zero, includes a
mosque that has been open for two years. El-Gamal said the cultural
center is modeled after the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper
West Side, where he lives.
“I wanted my daughter to learn how to
swim, so I took her to the JCC,” said the Brooklyn-born Muslim. “And
when I walked in, I said, ‘Wow. This is great.’ “
The project has drawn criticism from opponents who say they don’t want a Muslim prayer
space near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The center is open to all faiths and will include a 9/11 memorial, El-Gamal said.
He called opposition to the center — which prompted one of the most
virulent national discussions about Islam and freedom of speech and
religion since Sept. 11 — part of a “campaign against Muslims.”
Last year, street clashes in view of the trade center site pitted supporters against opponents of the center.
When the center was first envisioned, several years ago, activist Daisy Khan
and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, played a major, vocal role.
But they soon left the project because of differences with the
developer. El-Gamal, 38, confirmed Wednesday that they parted ways because “we had a different vision.”
The couple said they had discussed plans for Park51, as the center is
known, with relatives of 9/11 victims, first responders and others. But
El-Gamal said he wishes victims’ families had been involved earlier —
before the center became a point of contention. “The biggest mistake we
made was not to include 9/11 families,” El-Gamal said, noting that the
center’s advisory board now includes at least one 9/11 family member.
El-Gamal also noted that the featured photographer in the “NYChildren” exhibit is Danny Goldfield, who is Jewish.
Goldfield said he didn’t want to pass judgment on the center’s opponents. But he
said he’d like them to see the show “more than anyone.”
El-Gamal said that fund-raising is under way to complete the 15-story building
that also is to include an auditorium, educational programs, a pool, a
restaurant and culinary school, child care services, a sports facility, a
wellness center and artist studios.
The mosque is needed in lower Manhattan, he said, because thousands of Muslims either work or live in the area.