By Nicole Bliman, CNN May 7, 2010
New York (CNN) — Plans to build a mosque two blocks away from ground zero have set off an emotional debate among area residents and relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Cordoba House project calls for a 15-story community center including a mosque, performance art center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces.
The project is a collaboration between the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, both of which work to improve relations with followers of the religion.
The two groups presented their vision to part of the Community Board of lower Manhattan on Wednesday night.
Ro Sheffe, a board member who attended the meeting, said the project did not need to get the board’s approval.
“They own the land, and their plans don’t have any zoning changes,” Sheffe said. “They came to us for our opinions and to let us know their plans. It was purely voluntary on their part.”
The 12 members who were at the meeting voted unanimously to support the project. Community board members are appointed by the borough president and serve as advisers to the borough president and the mayor’s office.
Daisy Khan, executive director of the Muslim society, described her vision of a center led by Muslims, but serving the community as a whole.
“It will have a real community feel, to celebrate the pluralism in the United States, as well as in the Islamic religion,” Khan said. “It will also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum.”
The need for the center is twofold, Khan said, because it will support the needs of the growing Muslim community.
“The time for a center like this has come because Islam is an American religion,” Khan said. “We need to take the 9/11 tragedy and turn it into something very positive.”
Sheffe said a community center for lower Manhattan residents is “desperately needed.” The area was mostly commercial, Sheffe said, but as more people move downtown, the lack of residential amenities is a problem.
The project got mixed reviews from families and friends of September 11 victims.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Marvin Bethea, who was a paramedic at ground zero. “I lost 16 friends down there. But Muslims also got killed on 9/11. It would be a good sign of faith that we’re not condemning all Muslims and that the Muslims who did this happened to be extremists. As a black man, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against when you haven’t done anything.”
Herbert Ouida, whose son was killed in the attacks, supports the project as a way to bridge cultural divide.
“I understand the anger, the bitterness and hatred, but it only generates more hatred,” Ouida said. “Such a large part of the world has this faith, and to say anyone who has this faith is a terrorist, it’s terrible.”
Others decried the idea of building a mosque so close to where their relatives died.
“Lower Manhattan should be made into a shrine for the people who died there,” said Michael Valentin, a retired city detective who worked at ground zero. “It breaks my heart for the families who have to put up with this. I understand they’re [building] it in a respectful way, but it just shouldn’t be down there.”
Others such as Barry Zelman said the site’s location will be a painful reminder.
“[The 9/11 terrorists] did this in the name of Islam,” Zelman said. “It’s a sacred ground where these people died, where my brother was murdered, and to be in the shadows of that religion, it’s just hypocritical and sacrilegious. ”
However, Khan emphasized that the attacks killed Muslims, too.
“Three hundred of the victims were Muslim, that’s 10 percent of the victims,” she said. “We are Americans too. The 9/11 tragedy hurt everybody including the Muslim community. We are all in this together and together we have to fight against extremism and terrorism.”
Cordoba House is still in its early stages of development. The American Society for Muslim Advancement is hoping to raise funds for the center to be completed in three to five years.
Plan for mosque near World Trade Center site moves ahead
BY Joe Jackson and Bill Hutchinson DAILY NEWS WRITERS, May 6th 2010
A proposal to build a mosque steps from Ground Zero received the support of a downtown committee despite some loved ones of 9/11 victims finding it offensive.
The 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center was unanimously endorsed by the 12-member Community Board 1′s financial district committee.
The $100 million project, called the Cordoba House, is proposed for the old Burlington Coat Factory building at Park Place and Broadway, just two blocks from the World Trade Center site.
“I think it will be a wonderful asset to the community,” said committee Chairman Ro Sheffe.
Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, who helped found the Cordoba Initiative following the 9/11 attacks, said the project is intended to foster better relations between the West and Muslims.
He said the glass-and-steel building would include a 500-seat performing arts venue, a swimming pool and a basketball court. “There’s nothing like it,” said Rauf, adding that facilities will be open to all New Yorkers.
Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and Cordoba Initiative board member, said the project has received little opposition.
“Whatever concerns anybody has, we have to make sure to educate them that we are an asset to the community,” Khan said.
Khan said her group hopes construction on the project will begin by the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Once built, 1,000 to 2,000 Muslims are expected to pray at the mosque every Friday, she said.
No one at last night’s meeting protested the project. But some 9/11 families said they found the proposal offensive because the terrorists who launched the attacks were Muslim.
“I realize it’s not all of them, but I don’t want to have to go down to a memorial where my son died on 9/11 and look at a mosque,” said retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches – whose son Jim, a firefighter, was killed on 9/11.
“If you ask me, it’s a religion of hate,” said Riches, who did not attend last night’s meeting.
Rosemary Cain of Massapequa, L.I., whose son, Firefighter George Cain, 35, was killed in the 2001 attacks, called the project a “slap in the face.”
“I think it’s despicable. That’s sacred ground,” said Cain, who also did not attend the meeting.
“How could anybody give them permission to build a mosque there? It tarnishes the area.”
Correction. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Cordoba Initiative’s funders as well as Daisy Kahn’s title; she is not the Initiative’s executive director. The News regrets the errors.
Volume 23, Number 4 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 4 – 10, 2010
TALKING POINT- A Tradition of Tolerance: Welcoming Cordoba House
By Jean Bergantini Grillo and Paul Newell
Speaking at last week’s Community Board 1 meeting on Cordoba House was both distressing and heartening. Distressing because too many voices were raised in anger, too many names were called. Heartening because our community ultimately embraced tolerance over division and neighborliness over exclusion.
No one in this community has any illusions about the dangers we face in this world. We lived through the attacks of 9/11 and years of rebuilding. Many of us responded that day and afterwards – including dozens of members of Imam Rauf’s congregation. Our neighbors at Sufi Books (now Dergah Al-Farah), which has been on West Broadway since 1983, responded immediately and passionately in our neighborhood’s and our country’s defense – by helping to save lives at the site of the attack and by immediately condemning the terrorists and their cause. Rauf recently described his mission as to “embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric” and to “interweave America’s Muslim population into the mainstream society.”
When Ms. Grillo leads tours as a docent for the 9/11 Tribute Center, she asks visitors from all over the world to focus on the word “tolerance.” What better place to teach tolerance than near the site where hate tried to kill it?
Lower Manhattan has always thrived precisely because we are a tolerant, welcoming community. It is no coincidence that the World Trade Center was built here – nor that extremists attacked this symbol of globalism and pluralism. It would be a danger to our economic and cultural future if we were to reject thoroughly legal projects based on faith. When the 92nd Street Y was looking for a downtown home, no one asked if Jewish prayer services were to be held there. We embraced the investment in our community. Indeed, after eight years of growth and recovery, now is no time to turn away such a project. Like the 92nd Street Y, Cordoba House will bring jobs, money and services our community desperately needs.
A thousand years ago, Cordoba was one of the most dynamic cities on earth. It housed the world’s largest library. The great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides called the city home. It was a global center of trade and culture where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in prosperous harmony. Eleventh century Cordoba’s modern counterpart is New York City. We embrace that legacy and our neighborhood’s future. We welcome Cordoba House to Lower Manhattan.
1,000 protest planned Islamic center, mosque near Ground Zero
Daily News Staff Monday, June 7th 2010
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/06/07/2010-06-07_1000_protest_islamic_center_plan.html?r=news#ixzz0tDqDouUU
More than 1,000 people turned out Sunday to protest an Islamic community center and mosque planned near Ground Zero.
Waving U.S. flags and signs that said, “No 9/11 Mega Mosque,” the crowd condemned the proposal to put the Islamic center near the site where nearly 3,000 people died when Islamic terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center.
The proposed 13-story Cordoba House will be opened in a former Burlington Coat Factory on Park Place – two blocks from Ground Zero. It would include classrooms, a fitness center and a mosque.
The project’s boosters say it would be similar to the 92nd St. Y and point out that it has the backing of the local community board and many politicians in lower Manhattan.
But the proposed mosque has also drawn criticism, including a blast from a Tea Party bigwig who said it would serve as a tribute to the 9/11 terrorists “for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god.”