I went to see for myself what the mosque at Ground Zero is like. Considering the fuss made over the mosque by the New York Post and by the thousands of people who post rabid anti-mosque messages every three minutes on a Facebook group, I thought it would be easy to find; just go to Ground Zero and look around.
Nope, you can’t see it from Ground Zero, and none of the half-dozen locals I asked had any idea what I was talking about. I finally remembered that it was in a former Burlington Coat Factory store. I googled “Burlington Coat Factory Ground Zero New York,” and there it was: 45 Park Place (closed). Two blocks up Church Street from Ground Zero and a half-block into Park Place.
You can’t see the mosque from Ground Zero, and you can’t see Ground Zero from the mosque. We walked in and were greeted by Kemal, the caretaker, who was busy scrubbing the floor. He invited us to take off our shoes and look around. There wasn’t much to see—old drab retail space, completely empty except for the indoor/outdoor carpet that serves as a prayer rug.
The Imam is Feisal Abdul Rauf, a graduate of Columbia University who has worked for twenty years to build bridges between American Muslims and the broad public, and between America and the Muslim world. Kemal explained to us that Imam Rauf wants the mosque and center to be a place where young American Muslim men can be drawn deeper into the American community and further away from the influence of dangerous radicals like the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki , who preaches hate and violence from his base in Yemen.
If the Imam’s plans work out there will eventually be a 13-story Muslim Center, with meeting space, prayer space, a gym, and other facilities. It’s been called the Muslim equivalent of New York’s 92nd Street YMHA. It’ll still be invisible from Ground Zero.
It seems like a worthwhile goal to me, out of sight of Ground Zero but within memory’s distance. New Yorkers like the idea, just as they like the diversity that is New York. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop in. Kemal will be glad to see you.
Tags: 45 Park Place, 92nd Street YMHA, American Muslims, Anwar al-Awlaki, Burlington Coat Factory, ethics, Facebook group, Feisal Abdul Rauf, mosque at Ground Zero, Muslim Center, Muslim world, New York Post