Sharif El-Gamal, the head developer behind Manhattan’s planned Ground Zero mosque, has offered an open invitation to all detractors: come and visit when it’s finished.
And it will, he insists, be finished. In an exclusive Oct. 13, 2010 interview on NY1’s “Inside City Hall,” El-Gamal told Elizabeth Kaelin that there was never any thought of moving the mosque to a different location. “It took them eight years,” he said, to find the present Park Place site, and they have no intention of abandoning it at this point.
Ground Zero Mosque: More Islamic Center than Mosque
This project, more properly called the Park51 Islamic Center, is expected to house far more than a mosque. Architects have planned into its footprint a culinary institute, swimming pool and 500-seat auditorium, as well as space for gym classes, day care, social services and more. They want, says El-Gamal, for their project to serve all residents of lower Manhattan, regardless of faith, and to represent the best that New York City has to offer.
On Oct. 4, 2010, SOMA architects released preliminary sketches of the Islamic Center’s potential design. These drawings portray a honeycombed, crazy-quilt-like, 13-story facade, sure to be noticed as it towers over the area’s far more conventional architecture.
“It’s still a work in progress,” El-Gamal told NY1. “We saw this as a defining moment, as Islamics and Americans, to … have a marriage of Islamic architecture and New York.” The design’s patterns relate, he said, to “the beliefs of the religion. It’s open to all.”
Although a less-distinctive design might be more readily accepted by the mosque’s detractors, El-Gamal approves of this one. “New Yorkers stand out, and you want to do something great,” he told NY1. “It separates this city from the rest of the world.”
Ground Zero Mosque: The Funding
All of this will not come cheap. With costs projected at 140 million dollars, its critics have their concerns about the source of Park51’s funding. They specifically fear that much, if not all, of the money will come from terrorist organizations.
El-Gamal categorically denies this. “I’m an American,” he told NY1. “All of us involved in this project are Americans. We care about the security of this country. We care about this city as much as anybody.”
Fundraising for Park51 has not yet begun, but according to El-Gamal, “potential donors are already lining up.” El-Gamal did not identify the several large companies, philanthropists and foundations which have, he says, expressed an interest. Developers will, he added, take advantage of Homeland Security to thoroughly vet all potential contributors. “That’s the pledge that we are making in embarking on this project.”
Ground Zero Mosque: Death Threats Received
Hopes for unity aside, Daisy Kahn, wife of mosque founder and imam Faisal Rauf, recently announced that she and her husband have received death threats over their refusal to relocate the Ground Zero mosque. While El-Gamal stopped short of stating that the same has happened to him, he told NY1 that “as an individual, as somebody who is Muslim, I have never experienced the amount of irrationality, the amount of racism, of bigotry, of pure hate,” as he has in connection with the mosque.
“I see that people are associating us with the extremists who hijacked my religion,” he continued. “So I see [this as] an opportunity to get back my name and my faith.”
Ground Zero Mosque: New York Detractors in the Majority
A Quinnipiac poll released on Sept. 24, 2010 showed that a full 67 percent of New York State voters believe that its developers should voluntarily choose to build this particular Islamic Center in some other location. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has, however, made no secret of his support for the project. “I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming,” the mayor said.
El-Gamal, not surprisingly, has only good things to say about Bloomberg. “He should run for president,” he told NY1.
“Park51 Developer on ‘Inside City Hall,’ NY1 Online, Oct. 13, 2010.
“Police: NYC mosque’s imam, wife get death threats,” Yahoo! News, Oct. 1, 2010.
Stephanie Condon, “Most New Yorkers Want ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Moved, Poll Shows,” CBSNews.com.
David Seifman, “Bloomberg Defends Ground Zero mosque as freedom-of-faith issue,” New York Post, May 29, 2010.