London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The project to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center close to Ground Zero in New York City has raised a sense of hope in a city whose Muslim population want to move on from the terrible 9/11 attacks.
Construction is yet to begin at the site where the mosque and Islamic center are set to be located, which is the former Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan, which was closed down in 2001 after the landing gear from one of the planes hit the building. This building is located approximately 200 meters from the former site of the World Trade Center, where 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The mosque will be part of the Cordoba House project, which will include a 13-storey Muslim community center that will include a theatre, a swimming pool, and sport facilities. However, the announcement of this project caused mixed feelings among local residents and families of 9/11 victims.
For his part, Nihad Awad, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that “there is controversy and there are parties that have a political agenda and want to intimidate the American people against the mosque project which has not yet begun [construction], and this includes Republican Congressman Peter King, and his opinion should not be considered because his ideas are extreme.”
Awad added that “the Muslims should reassure the American people by disseminating correct information about Islam, which is a religion of peace and love.” He also said that “there are supporters and businessmen who are overseeing the [mosque] project, and they are also concerned with putting forward a culture of dialogue.”
Awad confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone that “building this mosque is the solution not the problem, because Islam calls for rapprochement with other religions and…a culture of moderation.”
Awad also told Asharq Al-Awsat that we must recognize that there is a fear of Islam in American society due to its lack of knowledge about Islam, and that any non-Muslim might share these fears because of what s/he sees in the media every day and the image that is portrayed of Islam and Muslims, which is an incorrect and offensive portrayal of Islam. Awad added that this will result in incorrect impressions being formed about Islam and Muslims, and that those who are unaware of true Islam are not to blame for this.
The project was put forward by the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement to the New York Community Board which approved the plans. These two organizations are working to improve understanding of Islam and increase interfaith dialogue.
Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a New York Imam and head of the Cordoba Initiative told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is no other project like this in the United States. It will be a centre for everybody and will not be limited to just Muslims.”
According to Abdul Rauf, the construction of a mosque and a Muslim cultural center in the heart of Manhattan may contribute to achieving rapprochement between the Islamic world and the West. Abdul Rauf also said that he wants to “put forward the American-Islamic cultural identity which is built on tolerance and moderation.”
Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf is the son of an Al-Azhar envoy, and he was born in Kuwait although he is of Egyptian origin, and lived in Kuwait, Malaysia, and England, before moving to the US in 1965. He has been the Imam of the Al-Farah Mosque in Manhattan for the past 27 years, and is known as a leader in the American Muslim community. He is the founder of both the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, and he has written a number of books on Islam.
Imam Abdul Rauf, who also speaks Arabic fluently, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Islamic centre will be financed through contributions from Muslims in the US, as well as by donations from Arab and Islamic countries. He also acknowledged that the location of the mosque, which will be able to hold over 2,000 worshippers, is the subject of much controversy and criticism from families of 9/11 victims. Reports indicate that a number of 9/11 victims families have objected to the proposed mosque. Evelyn Pettigano, who lost a sister in the attacks told the Associated Press, “I’m not prejudiced…it’s too close to the area where our family members were murdered.” While the mother of a fire fighter who died on September 11 said, “I think it’s despicable, and I think it’s atrocious that anyone would even consider allowing them to build a mosque near the World Trade Center.”
However Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf responded to such criticism by saying that “the project will bring life to the abandoned streets of New York and change the way Americans view Muslims.”