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Cordoba House: A Closer Look, Part 1

Mosque or Community Center?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 3:11 AM Comments (0)

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Note (9/9/2010): Since this post was written a few weeks ago, project sponsors appear to have clarified or changed their plans regarding the mosque. See “Cordoba House: NO mosque near Ground Zero?” for the most recent information.

Are they building a mosque? According to the official project website and other reliable sources, the answer is yes, though the mosque will be one part of a much larger project.

The plan is to build a $100 million, 13-story edifice called “Park51” which will reportedly include a range of cultural and recreation facilities, including a gym, swimming pool, basketball court, theater and performing arts center, restaurant and culinary school, a 500-seat auditorium and so forth—as well as a mosque. The project is being sponsored by the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement—both founded and run by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan.

The Cordoba Initiative website says:

It will be a multi-floor community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center (JCC) with a designated prayer space (mosque) in one area to serve the needs of the large existing community of American Muslims in the neighborhood.

The Park51 website also confirms that the facilities will include “a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community.”

The characterization of this facility as a community center—an Islamic community center, not unlike a YMCA or JCC—seems fair.

However, the characterization of the prayer space as a “mosque” has been called into question on the basis of comments made by Daisy Khan:

“We insist on calling it a prayer space and not a mosque, because you can use a prayer space for activities apart from prayer. You can’t stop anyone who is a Muslim despite his religious ideology from entering the mosque and staying there,” said Imam Rauf’s wife and partner, Daisy Khan, who runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement, from an office housed on the Upper West Side’s famed Riverside Church. “With a prayer space, we can control who gets to use it.”

These comments are interesting as they apparently mean to imply a wish or intent to exclude certain undesirable points of view (terrorism advocacy, perhaps?) among Muslims who could claim right of access in a “mosque” but not in a “prayer space.” However, the conflicting claim of the Park51 and Cordoba Initiative websites that the space would indeed be a “mosque” raises questions about whether these points of view would be excluded after all.

Also unclear is whether the space in question is meant to be open to non-Muslims (contrast the careful phrasing “all members, visitors and our New York community” with the description of the center’s 9/11 memorial which is simply “open to all”). The clarification that the mosque will be “separately run from Park51” is also interesting, though what the concerns there might be I’m not sure. (Will the mosque be under the Cordoba House umbrella, or will it be separate from that as well?)

At any rate, both the Park51 website and the Cordoba Initiative website acknowledge plans for a mosque, so it seems reasonable to conclude that, Ms. Khan’s comments to the contrary notwithstanding, a mosque is planned for the site.

Next: Who is Imam Rauf?

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About Steven D. Greydanus

SDG
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Steven D. Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register and Decent Films, the online home for his film writing. He writes regularly for Christianity Today, Catholic World Report and other venues, and is a regular guest on several radio shows. Steven has contributed several entries to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, including “The Church and Film” and a number of filmmaker biographies. He has also written about film for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy. He has a BFA in Media Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and an MA in Religious Studies from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA. He is pursuing diaconal studies in the Archdiocese of Newark. Steven and Suzanne have seven children.