Muslims Will Use N.Y. Center To Fight Extremists
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A Muslim group in Manhattan is building a community center where people can meet, talk, play sports and pray. We're reporting on it this morning partly because the Muslims behind the center say it's their way of fighting Islamic extremists, and partly because the center is in the shadow of Ground Zero. NPR's Jamie Tarabay paid a visit.
Ms. DAISY KAHN(ph): So we're standing on Park Place at the corner of West Broadway, which is only a block away from Ground Zero.
JAMIE TARABAY: This is Daisy Kahn. She's pointing at a four-story building that's being renovated. Apart from a grocery store around the corner, the whole block is deserted. All the shop fronts are down.
Ms. KAHN: They were the former Burlington Coat Factory. And it was shut down on 9/11 because a piece of the plane wreckage, the fuselage fell into the building, and everybody had to be evacuated.
TARABAY: Since then, not a lot has happened to the area. It's in the heart of the financial district, but no one comes here. That's something Kahn is hoping to change. She's a diminutive woman at 5 feet tall, but a formidable advocate for Muslims.
(Soundbite of jackhammer)
TARABAY: The fact that this building is within earsplitting distance of the jackhammers and cranes at the scene of America's worst terror attack is exactly why she wanted it.
Ms. KAHN: We feel that we really can communicate a different ideology of Islam than the one that the extremists have been communicating over the years. So for us, it's taking back the agenda, away from the extremists who have defined it for the global Muslim community.
We do have to take off our shoes.
TARABAY: At around noon on Friday, men and women shuffle in for the weekly prayer.
Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)
TARABAY: It's all carpeted, and there are heaters taped to columns to ward off the brisk cold coming in from the rest of the building. Right now, this is just a prayer space, but the plan is for more.
Imam FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: What I have always aspired to do for a long time now, for the last 15 years, was to establish an Islamic version of a YMCA.
TARABAY: That's Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. His vision for the building is a true community center: a place with language and cooking classes, a gym and a pool for anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who lives or works in the area.
Imam RAUF: By people engaging together, by having sports together, this is how people bond across the religious divide.
TARABAY: That's also the hope of Katherine McVeigh Hughes, vice chair for the Community Board in lower Manhattan. She wants the center to make this area a destination.
Ms. KATHERINE MCVEIGH HUGHES (Vice Chair, Community Board): There is no place for children to learn how to swim in this area. There is no performing space like they planned to have, including the library and the museum space.
TARABAY: People like Jerry Bogas(ph) are also looking forward to the new building. He was on the 82nd floor in the North Tower when the first plane struck. Working with people like Kahn and Abdul Rauf is his way of fighting back against the attacks.
Mr. JERRY BOGAS: Their stock in trade is to divide people. And if we can resist that, that's important, also. That's very, very important for the world and for our city.
TARABAY: He sees the new center as another way of bringing more people together.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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