An Islamic center near Ground Zero? That’s what Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is hoping for. Al Farah Mosque on West Broadway has already bought the building at 45 Park Place that used to be the Burlington Coat Factory. The significance of this building goes beyond the fact that it is close to Ground Zero: on September 11th, a piece of one of the two planes went through the roof of the store. The staff were in the basement.
For years the owner of the building was unable to sell it. But this past July, the Cordoba Initiative, an interfaith group founded by Imam Feisal, was one of the investors that finally bought the building. Imam Feisal’s vision for the space is to build a cultural center that would build bridges between the Muslim community and other faith communities. For Imam Feisal, the proximity of the building to ground zero and the fact that a piece of the wreckage fell in that space is a central reason why this building was choosen. A place of prayer and interfaith dialogue, Imam Feisal asserts, will send a different message than that of the extremists.
Some, however, are wary and uncomfortable that a mosque would be built so close to where the terrorist attacks occured. For them, a mosque is seen as a breeding ground for terrorism, like what happened on September 11th. My response, however, is that a mosque for most Muslims is a serene space for prayer and contemplation, much like a church or a synagogue. It is also an important place for dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. Therefore, while the location of the cultural center is sensitive, I think that it will open discussions that need to occur in order to keep moving forward. Americans need to stop looking at anything Muslim as violent and suspicious and try instead to have dialogues. If this initiative might help alleviate the fear, then I think it is necessary.
What do you think of this initiative? Do you think a place of worship can be a place for dialogue? Why? Does it matter that the cultural center will be near Ground Zero? Please share your comments below.