To N.Y. Muslims, Islamic center near Ground Zero would be more than a mosque
With a battle brewing over the construction of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero, people on the streets of Washington, D.C. give their opinion.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010
For Fatima Monkush, it would be a place to swim -- sans cap and layers of clothing -- with other Muslim women.
While the national debate about the center has elicited passionate statements for and against it from Democrats and Republicans, what Muslims have been left with is a great deal of disappointment. And for the young American-born New Yorkers who hope to use the site as a fitness center, meeting space and prayer hall, among other functions, the sense of rejection is personal.
"The debate is maybe the most unfortunate thing we've seen in a long time, to see Americans behave in such a manner," said Zahriyeh, 24, who was born and raised in Brooklyn. His parents are Palestinian Americans who immigrated to the city more than three decades ago.
He said the center has arisen from nothing more than the needs of his burgeoning community. "It's only natural that something like this should happen," he said. "Our community has grown over the last few decades."
For many Muslims outside New York, the center has become a symbol and the debate about it an affront, reflective of a lack of acceptance that they feel is growing in parts of the United States.
"We are at a cusp," said Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "The thing that has personally affected me the most is that the individuals who call this an act of insensitivity forget that Muslim Americans were victims on 9/11 also. Our country was attacked. Our neighbors were attacked. . . . Our faith was hijacked on that day."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the debate as a nadir in "Islamophobic rhetoric."
"We're seeing it nationwide," he said. "You literally cannot turn on a radio today without hearing a right-wing radio talk show host slamming Islam in the most corrosive of terms."
Open to all
The project's organizers have said that the center, called Park51, is modeled on Manhattan's 92nd Street Y, a community center open to all New Yorkers. Park51 is also intended to be open to the entire community, though there will be some restrictions based on Muslim traditions.
It would house meeting rooms, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a restaurant and culinary school, a library, a 500-seat auditorium, a Sept. 11 memorial, a reflection space, and a mosque that could attract as many as 2,000 worshipers on Fridays. There is no place like it in the city, which is home to 600,000 to 700,000 Muslims, according to Columbia University researchers.
There are an estimated 2.5 million Muslims in the United States, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.