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Ground Zero "mosque" opens without protests

Published time: September 22, 2011 17:05
Edited time: September 22, 2011 21:13
Visitors gather at the grand opening of the Park51 community center and mosque on September 21, 2011 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP )

Visitors gather at the grand opening of the Park51 community center and mosque on September 21, 2011 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP )

The proposed construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York caused outrage when it was announced two years ago. Now days after the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the facility opened last night to no opposition.

People flocked to lower Manhattan on Wednesday night to attend the opening of the first exhibit at the Islamic center at 51 Park Place. Only two blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood in New York City, the facility, named Park51, has garnered protests since it was first announced. After two years in the making, though, last night’s opening went off without a hitch.

A photography exhibit showcasing the children of New York of various ethnicities was the first installation made public at the center. Traditional Middle Eastern music filled the halls as crowds gathered to take in the sights last night.And while the facility received criticism at first, it has so far managed to overcome the naysayers and hopes to continue to provide for all people of New York.

The building’s developer, however, did acknowledge that the construction could have been handled differently. "We made incredible mistakes," Sharif El-Gamal, the center's developer, told the Associated Press last night. “The biggest mistake we made was not to include 9/11 families.” Only after the proposed construction received notoriety did the advisory board of the center reach out to victims’ families for input; today, at least one member of the board is the family member affected by the September 11 attacks. “We’re very committed to having them involved in our project,” El-Gamal adds to the AP. “We're really listening."

While the media has often misrepresented the facility as a mosque, or Islamic house of worship, the developer says he modeled the building after a Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that he, a Muslim, would often attend with his son. His own facility does contain a prayer center, but also hosts instructional classes in yoga and martial arts and discussion groups. Eventually El-Gamal hopes to include a gymnasium, swimming pool and other non-denominational entities.

El-Gamal acknowledges that the public has been weary of the facility and still questions the merit behind opening an Islamic-centric center only blocks from where extremists killed thousands a decade earlier. Speaking to the AP, the developer says there indeed has been a "campaign against Muslims” since the project began. “It is ridiculous that Park51 tries to say this is anything but a mosque,” Martin Mawyer, president of the Christian Action Network, tells FrontPage. “Churches have gyms, classes and other facilities as part of their buildings, and they could never get away with saying it is anything but a church,”

The inclusion of a prayer space, says El-Gamal, is critical to the Muslim community of Manhattan. Nearly 2 million Muslims inhabit the United States, and it estimated that upwards of half of them reside in New York City. El-Gamal claims that thousands of Muslims either live or work in the area surrounding Park51, and since the religion calls for worshipers to prayer five times a day, providing a space to do so offers a haven for many area Muslims.

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