When Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf decided to build a Muslim cultural centre in lower Manhattan, the model he chose couldn’t have been more mainstream American — the Young Men’s Christian Association chapters found in cities across the United States.
The institution he had in mind was the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish adaptation of the YMCA concept that is one of New York’s leading addresses for residents of all religions or none to visit for public lectures, debates, concerts or educational courses. (Photo: A demonstrator at a Landmarks Commission’s hearing on the proposed Muslim community center in New York, July 13, 2010S/Keith Bedford)
But Rauf’s project is better known here now as the “Ground Zero mosque,” after the term for the World Trade Centre site. Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and conservative politicians have mounted an emotional campaign to block it, claiming that locating it only two blocks north of the site was a provocation.
“We repeatedly say we are neither a mosque nor within Ground Zero, but they just shout back ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ ‘Ground Zero mosque,’” Rauf, 61, told Reuters in an interview. The planned building will have a prayer room for Muslims, he said, but it would only be a small part of the 13-story complex.
Rauf said the YMCA, which began in London in 1844 as Christian centre for young working men and quickly spread to the United States and other countries, had long worked to promote understanding across religious, ethnic and social dividing lines in modern societies. Now called simply “the Y,” its facilities across the United States offer exercise classes, education and community activities.