The Islamic Community Center in New York City
Park 51, also controversially known as the “Ground Zero Mosque”, is an Islamic community center planned to be built at 45–51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan. It will be a 13- story center consisting of a 500-seat auditorium, sports and fitness facilities, a childcare area, a bookstore, a food court, a September 11th memorial and a prayer space fit to accommodate 1,000–2,000 people. The builders envision a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly facility that will serve to promote the involvement of Muslim-Americans in the community, as well as to provide services for children, women, families and seniors. This center is to be a sanctuary where everyone is welcome to learn about the Muslim faith and thus it will be open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Leaders of this project hope to “encourage dialogue, harmony and respect amongst all people, regardless of race, faith, gender or cultural background”.
As the center’s primary advocate and imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf has led conferences, appeared on television and has welcomed the press to discuss the mission of the center. In an announcement to the public Rauf stated, “this [center] is our expression of the 99.999% of Muslims all over the world, including in America, who have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism.” He also emphasized the fact that, being a part of the Manhattan community, his congregation also suffered losses in the attacks of 9/11.
The building of this community center has become highly controversial amongst New Yorkers, Muslim-Americans, Americans as a whole and Muslims around the world due to the proximity of the center to the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Just two blocks away from the center lies the site of the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11.
There exist several varying opinions concerning the building of the center, so I asked several of your peers and teachers for their views on the building of the community center and here are some of them:
Amber Hassanein (12th Grade): I think it’s a good idea to build the center; there should be a center in NY in general so that people can get more information about the Muslim faith because it IS misrepresented. However, it is a sensitive area and although it should be allowed, there may be people who aren’t ready for it yet.
Mrs. Popinchalk (Social Studies Teacher): Although it is a sensitive topic, it is important that such a community center be built. We have to be clear what it is and what it means – we must look more carefully and more deeply into what is being proposed and what people are upset about. It should be understood that it wasn’t the Islamic religion that attacked the World Trade Centers, it was a terrorist group. If we are to think about the situation logically, if two blocks away from the site [of the World Trade Centers] is too close, then how do you measure when the distance is appropriate – is it four blocks away? Or eight? And then is that to say that there mustn’t be anything Islamic two, four, or eight blocks away from the site?
Tera Gabriel (9th Grader): It should be made clearer that the center is not a mosque – it’s a cultural center.
Nazim Elnur (12th Grader): I think it's an excellent idea. The sentiment behind the mosque being built near Ground Zero embodies Obama's new policy of rapprochement with the East, mainly the Muslim world. It's the perfect response for allegations of Islamophobia, telling the world that America dislikes extremism, not Islam. It also speaks volumes of America's original ideological tenets and principles: freedom of religion and creating an atmosphere of tolerance.
Aaron Fitz (10th Grader): It should not be an issue to build the center that close to ground zero, in the U.S. everyone should be free to practice their religion wherever they want.
Dr. Farouk (Social Studies Teacher): There are many questions that must be asked: Was the building of the center put in place before 9/11 – if so, then why are we questioning it now? Is raising awareness and promoting coexistence the reasons it was chosen to be built now? Is the reaction to the building of the center a reaction to what happened on 9/11 or is it a development project that has become political? And will this center help bring people together? Why did it cause controversy? If it were a Chinatown or a Bombay town, for example, would it have provoked such controversy?
Daniel Lantz (11th Grader): Some people are paranoid about Islamist extremists but there are extremists in Islam and in other religions too. The center is important to spread awareness and to show that Islam is peaceful. It may be a push to build the center that close but people shouldn’t be too crazy about it.
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