An Imam has turned an abandoned department store just two blocks away from ground zero into a place where hundreds Muslims gather for prayer every week — and he dreams of converting into a full-fledged Islamic cultural center.
After paying 4.85 million this summer to purchase a five-story Park Place building — which once housed a branch of Burlington Coat Factory but has been vacant since a plane's landing gear crashed through its roof on Sept. 11, 2001 — a group of investors plan on building "an Islamic cultural, educational and recreational center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land," the Times reports.
Despite the potential backlash against an Islamic institution opening so close to ground zero, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who already leads prayers and reads from the Koran inside the building, said that the location was one of the project's key selling points. "New York is the capital of the world, and this location close to 9/11 is iconic," said the 61-year-old cleric, who is known for being a longtime critic of radical Islam. Being in a building "where a piece of the wreckage fell," he added, "sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11 ... We want to push back against the extremists."
So far, the project — which some hope could create a Muslim institution akin to the 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Center — is still in its very preliminary phases, and has not yet acquired the proposed financing of $150 million. Religious leaders told the paper of record they support Imam Feisal's plan, though a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg seemed hesitant offer the project his endorsement: "If it’s legal, the building owners have a right to do what they want."