Controversial Islamic Cultural Center Opens

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Park51 Chairman and developer Sharif El-Gamal (Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

There was no sign of protest at the Park51 community center last night. It opened its doors to the public in lower Manhattan Wednesday, without the opposition that had surrounded the project for a year.

The center was crowded for most of the evening — with visitors who said they came to see the new photography exhibition and others who were interested in the place itself. Brooklyn's Jean Stevens said she's not surprised the event went off without a hitch.

"It seems like there's not much of huge response to this reception or to the mosque anymore, and so I wonder whether if people have forgotten it now that its not such a hot topic."

At the space, which was still raw looking, visitors mixed, while viewing the exhibit on New York’s children, and listening to tunes played by the New York Arab orchestra. But unlike most art events, they didn’t swill wine to stay in accord with Muslim practices.

The only remnants of the controversy that has surrounded the project was a police officer and patrol car stationed outside the large glass windows on Park Place.

Opponents had argued against having a mosque so close to the World Trade center site.

The developer of Park51, Sharif El-Gamal, said he wishes victims' families had been involved earlier — before the center became a point of contention.

But Rosaleen Tallon who lost her brother in the World Trade Center attacks said she and many other family members still oppose the project. “El Gamal is going to sing any tune to get what he wants to done….it’s smoke and mirrors at this point.”

But she said she wasn’t moved to come out and protest the opening. "It’s so soon after a raw anniversary, we're trying to go back to our lives. If we thought the opening was big step, we’d do more."

El-Gamal said he hopes to raise $7 to $10 million over the next year to expand the center and mosque into a 15 story building that would include  educational programs, a restaurant and a wellness center.

He conceded that ultimately, “the project will be as big or as small as the community wants.”

Julie Menin, Chairwoman of Community Board 1 said she thinks its important that the doors of the center are now open to the public, and she believes the center is about more than location.

"I know that the subject obviously causes a lot of divided emotions all across the city and across the country, but we always need to stand up for the rights of every single religion to worship in the place that they see fit."

Joyce Oliver, who works at a nearby bank, said she’s glad there were no sign of protests. She said the center and mosque is just like another spot in the busy neighborhood.

"They come, they pray, nothing has happened, so I don't see what the issue should be. It’s historical building so let it be used."

Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Preparing the ribbon for the official ribbon cutting at Park51.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
NY Arab Orchestra, including 15 members playing the oud, strings, Arabic percussion and woodwind instruments, perform.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Not quite a velvet rope, but door staff kept the crowd to 200 and those considered VIPs entered first.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Police presence included one officer stationed outside and a squad car that was there for much of the day and night.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Media was also present at the opening.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The center also includes a mosque.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Donation boxes were scattered througout the center.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Park51 Chairman and developer Sharif El-Gamal


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Comments [5]

sammy from nyc

....this is exactly why we need this Islamic center...

Sep. 22 2011 12:22 PM
Herb from nyc

Hi Shana, The people directly involved in the attack are celebrating with 72 virgins. (As an aside that is their view of women) The new found freedoms in the Moslem world have elected governments that are advocates of Islamic Law that perpetrate hate for our way of life. They follow the same dictates that are followed by the doctrines of any self respecting Moslem house of worship, with rare exception and this is no exception. Interviews on Public radio support all that say. Currently,it is the Moslems that are cutting off heads, honor killings, bombing bus & schools etc..not the Christians. There are no churches or synagogues in Moslems countries. I also would to see what you see but the unfortuate facts are what they are.

Sep. 22 2011 11:19 AM
LCruz from brooklyn

shana, what are u trying to say by this comment:

"Christianity has a history of being even more unfriendly to Jews, does that mean there should be no churches near the World Trade Center?"


if by some misunderstood reason, at best. you're saying that WTC is some sort of Judaism site, i guess you've either not lived in NYC long enough or ever live here at all.


Sep. 22 2011 10:50 AM
Shana from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

herb, when did any of the people directly involved celebrate the attack of the World Trade Center? Or do the actions of less than half a percent of a population of a billion people represent the billions of people? Christianity has a history of being even more unfriendly to Jews, does that mean there should be no churches near the World Trade Center? And have you genuinely read the Koran, the Bible and the Torah? Or are you just picking and choosing your information from what you found on Google?

Sep. 22 2011 09:40 AM
herb from NYC

What? They support State Department designated terrorist groups, have no democratic heritage, their religion is not friendly to Jews & Christians; read the Koran, see for your self. they celebrated the attack on the WTC,...more... this building is salt on an American wound

Sep. 22 2011 09:13 AM

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