Home inContext A Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero?

A Mega-Mosque at Ground Zero?

Samara Greenberg

Plans to build a 15-story mega-mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero have sparked an emotional debate across the U.S. The Islamic center, a collaboration between the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, will house a mosque, performance art center, gym, bookstore, swimming pool and other public spaces. Rumour is the $100 million project will officially open on September 11, 2011.

Cordoba’s backers include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and lower Manhattan’s Community Board No. 1, who endorsed the project in a near-unanimous vote last month. But the project is unsettling to many Americans, as too many questions remain about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Cordoba Initiative’s spiritual leader, as well as the Cordoba Initiative itself.

Firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.

As former Rep. Rick Lazio writes in an article out today, when Rauf was asked on live radio if he believed Hamas is a terrorist organization, the imam responded: “I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.” So does this mean Imam Rauf will refuse to label al-Qaeda a terrorist organization as well, because he doesn’t want bin Laden to consider him an adversary?

And this isn’t the first time Rauf has made troubling statements. On CBS’ “60 Minutes” less than one month after the 9/11 attacks, Rauf said American policies were an “accessory” to the crime of 9/11. “In fact,” he added, “in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

Perhaps even more troubling, however, is that the Cordoba Initiative, which reportedly has less than $20,000 in assets, has yet to disclose where it is receiving the $100 million for the mega-mosque’s construction. While in interviews with American media, Rauf has insisted funds would be raised in the U.S., the imam told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, that the “center will be financed through contributions from Muslims in the U.S., as well as by donations from Arab and Islamic countries.” Indeed, many mosques in the U.S. are funded directly or indirectly by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Iran. Suspiciously, Rauf bought the land back in 2009 for $4.85 million – in cash.

Finally, it is important to note the significance of the project’s original name, Cordoba House (the site was recently renamed Park51 over the controversy). Indeed, the name “Cordoba House” refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque.

Aside from being grossly insensitive, serious questions about the mega-mosque’s planners are of great concern. Rather than bridging ties between the West and the Muslim World, the Cordoba Initiative is pouring salt over America’s gaping wound. Indeed, if bridging the two cultures was truly Cordoba’s goal, there certainly are other ways to do so. Rauf could start by publicly denouncing and rallying against the Islamic terrorists that have waged war against the West.