by Joseph Klein
Plans for the Ground Zero Mosque are moving forward, but are proceeding more under the radar these days in order to avoid the kind of media spotlight that it received last year.
According to a New York Times puff piece about the project published on August 1, 2011, Sharif El-Gamal, the lead developer and Chairman and CEO of the Manhattan real estate firm Soho Properties, who controls the property at 45-51 Park Place, “has spent the past year trying to regroup.” He is said to be reaching out to the community to receive input into the project’s final design.
There will no longer be any imams as the public religious face of the project, such as Feisal Abdul Rauf or his successor Imam Abdallah Adhami, both of whom stepped down after their past controversial statements and radical Islamist associations were exposed.
Park51, as the so-called community center portion of the project is called, launched a new website in January 2011. It included a link to PrayerSpace, a separate non-profit entity from Park51, whose function is to house a mosque, located at 51 Park Place, that has come to be known as the Ground Zero Mosque. PrayerSpace’s landlord is Soho Properties.
The idea is that Park51 will be the community center open to all with an interfaith space, and PrayerSpace will be the mosque for Muslim prayer services and religious programming. While fund-raising is being done separately for the mosque and the community center, according to the Times article, the same people will oversee both efforts.
Fundraising for Park51 and PrayerSpace is in the beginning stages. The current estimated cost of the project is $120 million. The sponsors have applied for a $5 million federal grant from a fund designed to rebuild lower Manhattan after 9/11, under a “community and cultural enhancement” grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation.
The Park51 community center portion of the project is being described as inclusive and inter-faith, which is how the sponsors intend to wiggle around the restriction that limits the grant to non-religious activities or uses.
However, when one looks under the facade of the community center, it turns out to be a tightly run Muslim-centric extension of the mosque. The Board of Park51 consists of Sharif El-Gamal (the Chairman and CEO of Soho Properties), Nour Mousa (a partner in Soho Properties) and Sammy El-Gamal (Sharif El-Gamal’s brother). Sharif El-Gamal’s plan is for the Board to eventually consist of 23 members, with 51% Muslims, thereby ensuring that it will be run in accordance with sharia law.
Moreover, buried in the fine print is an idea of how big the PrayerSpace (Ground Zero) mosque will be.
PrayerSpace will accommodate “over 2000 people” according to the PrayerSpace website. To put this in perspective, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown New York can accommodate in the range of 2200 to 2500 people. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York and is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the United States.
The pitchmen for the mega-mosque complex are trying to transform the narrative regarding their wisdom and sensitivity in putting up their mega-mosque complex in this particular location to what they like to call a “teachable moment” on religious freedom and non-discrimination. For example, a package for use in schools prepared by the Morningside Center for Social Responsibility, entitled “Controversy over the NYC Muslim Community Center & the 9/11 experience,” provides “public announcement” videos for students to watch that were produced by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
One such video is called “We Have More in Common Than You Think.” It uses the Golden Rule as an example of what Islam, Christianity and Judaism purportedly have in common, and it solemnly declares that “If we don’t have our rights, you don’t have your rights.” This is dishonest in two respects.
First of all, CAIR believes in neither the Golden Rule nor equal rights of all religions. Its public spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper has been quoted as saying that he would like to promote the idea of a future Islamic government in the United States – not violently mind you, but “through education.” In 2003 Hooper stated that if Muslims ever become a majority in the United States, they will likely seek to replace the U.S. Constitution with Islamic law, which they deem superior to man-made law.
Secondly, opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque are not seeking to restrict Muslim-Americans’ right to build mosques and to pray freely there, or to take away any other rights that other Americans enjoy. We believe strongly in religious pluralism, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But we don’t believe that tolerance or accommodation is a one-way street. With rights come responsibilities.
New York City has close to 130 mosques, two of which already exist several blocks from Ground Zero. But not in the location where one of the hijacked plane’s landing-gear assembly crashed through the roof. And not within 350 feet of where human remains were found. Yet that is where the Ground Zero Mosque or PrayerSpace will be built.
We are simply asking Sharif El-Gamal and his cohorts to empathize with the suffering of families and friends who lost loved ones on 9/11 and with the feelings of those who survived the horrors of that day. Do the project sponsors really believe that seeking federal money meant to help rebuild lower Manhattan after 9/11 is appropriate for use on a Muslim-centric entity controlled by a Muslim-majority board and which will adjoin, and be under common control with, a mosque that is slated to match or exceed the capacity of the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York? Is there no other site in lower Manhattan that could accommodate PrayerSpace and the Park51 community center?
Instead of trying to outdo the capacity of St. Patrick’s Cathedral so near the hallowed Ground Zero site, the Ground Zero Mosque sponsors should emulate what the Catholic Church decided to do when objections were raised to the building of a convent adjacent to the walls of Auschwitz. They followed the Golden Rule and moved it.
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