On September 21 at 6:30 PM, the Ground Zero Mosque will open its doors to show a photo exhibit in its community space. Park51 is hoping to discourage its opponents by declaring an early victory in spite of its recent embarrassments and setbacks. This grand opening does not mean that the fight is over. The project still has a long way to go until completion.
The exhibit, called “NYChildren,” will showcase the work of Danny Goldfield, who photographed children in the city originating from 171 countries around the world. About $70,000 was raised in less than two months for the temporary community space through KickStarter.com. Over 700 invitations have been distributed for the grand opening, and visitors to Park51’s website are registering to attend now. The exhibit will be up for three months. The site will be open Monday through Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 9:00 pm beginning on Thursday.
The photo exhibit is not the Ground Zero Mosque’s only attraction. It will have various classes including yoga and Brazilian martial arts, discussion groups, arts programs and, of course, a section for Muslim prayer services. Religious services have been held in the old Burlington Coat factory since 2009. The planned prayer space will accomodate over 2,000 attendees, rivaling St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Park51 claims the site is a cultural center, not a mosque, because it will eventually have a gymnasium, swimming pool, art galleries, and other non-religious facilities.
“It is ridiculous that Park51 tries to say this is anything but a mosque. 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,” Martin Mawyer, president of the Christian Action Network, told FrontPage.
His organization held a screening tour of the organization’s film, “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Mosque,” in New York City public parks around the tenth anniversary of 9⁄11. Congressman Allen West also hosted a screening of the film in Congress on September 7, prompting Rep. Keith Ellison to promote another event on “Islamophobia.”
Park51 recently had a setback when an application for a $5 million federal grant was rejected. If the group had its way, taxpayer money would have paid for the Ground Zero Mosque’s “domestic violence prevention, Arabic and other foreign language classes, programs and services for homeless veterans, two multi-cultural art exhibits and immigration services.” Park51 is also far from its original fundraising goal of $100 million. In 2011, it raised $7.5 million and it hopes to raise $15 million next year.
Now, Park51 is talking about scaling back its plans. One of the co-founders, Nour Mousa, said, “Maybe [the community] doesn’t need all that space…We’re not going to build anything that’s not needed.” Sharif el-Gamal, the developer, refuses to move the location but says, “If the community only wants four or five floors, it’s going to be four or five floors.”
The Ground Zero Mosque continues to suffer blows to its public image. The top financial backer, Hisham Elzanaty, is being sued by Allstate Insurance for $5.1 million. He is accused of orchestrating a “highly developed and sophisticated kickback scheme.” State Farm is also suing him for $1.9 million, and Geico for $1.7 million. He also donated to the Holy Land Foundation, a front for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1999. This only adds to the significant concern over the sources of the money behind the project. Even supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque may be convinced to withhold their donations because of this development.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the original “face” of Park51, also showed how moderate he really is during a speech he gave earlier this year where he said that criticism of Islam shouldn’t be protected speech. “I believe that the insulting or mocking of others’ religious symbols, icons, prophets, etc. should not fall within the realm of free speech,” he said. The statement is a reminder of the extremist beliefs and affiliations of those tied to the Ground Zero Mosque.
Work on the rest of the Ground Zero Mosque may not begin for another five years. Neither side has won the battle. The partial opening of the site will not silence those who find its location to be offensive, and it will not put the questions about Park51 to rest. If anything, the grand opening will bring the issue back to the forefront.
The controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque will not go away any time soon. The proposal continues to spark outrage, and its opponents continue to be accused of having an anti-Muslim agenda even though 35 percent of American-Muslims feel that it should not be constructed. Park51 can celebrate that one section is now open to the public, but if the Park51 group thinks that the opposition will consider the battle lost, then it is sorely mistaken.