Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Sparks Anger Emotions are running high around a proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center. Plans for the Islamic center are supported by most politicians in Manhattan and by religious leaders of many faiths. But some Sept. 11 families and many conservative politicians are opposed.
NPR logo

Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Sparks Anger

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Sparks Anger

Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Sparks Anger

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

A proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has become a flashpoint of controversy. The plan for Cordoba House are supported by most politicians in Manhattan and by religious leaders of many faiths, but in recent weeks, there's been growing tension over the project and some painfully raw emotions.

NPR's Margot Adler has our story.

MARGOT ADLER: The plan for Cordoba House, which those who oppose it call a mosque and those who support it call a cultural center with a place for prayer, has been the dream of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, since 2004. Khan describes it as having facilities for...

Dr. DAISY KHAN (Executive Director, American Society for Muslim Advancement): Athletics, arts, culture, performances, lecture series, weddings, and also of much-needed prayer space.

ADLER: The imam considers himself an orthodox Muslim, but he's also a Sufi: a contemplative and mystical path in Islam. He and his wife run the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is housed in a building used by many faiths that is part of Riverside Church. And Khan certainly sounds very much in that interfaith tradition.

Dr. KHAN: Our religion has been hijacked by the extremists, and this center is going to create that counter-momentum which will amplify the voices of the moderate Muslims. If we have to defeat the extremists, Muslims have to be leading that effort.

ADLER: But at a landmarks commission meeting on Tuesday, the atmosphere was very different. Most of the speakers wanted the building to be landmarked because of 9/11. Landmark status would mean the building could not be torn down, creating roadblocks for the new Islamic cultural center.

Here are Barbara Paolucci, Sam Nunberg and Andrea Quinn.

Ms. BARBARA PAOLUCCI: The landing gear from one of the planes from 9/11 attack...

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. PAOLUCCI: ...crashed into that building. And that should be a museum.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Mr. SAM NUNBERG (Deputy Director, Government Affairs, Center for Law and Justice): It would be like removing the sunken ship from Pearl Harbor to erect a memorial for the Japanese kamikazes killed in the attack.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Ms. ANDREA QUINN: To deprive this building of landmark status is to allow for a citadel of Islamic supremacy to be erected in its place.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

ADLER: Zead Ramadan spoke in support of the center, saying he was a Muslim whose wife and brother were first responders after the September 11th attacks. He said it was un-American to say where a house of worship should be.

Mr. ZEAD RAMADAN (President, Council on Islamic American-Relations, New York Chapter): A lot of the rhetoric that you're hearing is the same thing that's happening in Staten Island. It's the same thing that's happening in Brooklyn. It's called Islamophobia, pure and simple. And do not allow...

(Soundbite of shouting)

Unidentified Man #1: Please. Please, let him speak.

ADLER: Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the center. The community board for Lower Manhattan voted to support the project 29 to one.

In the race for New York governor, it's become a bone of contention with Republican candidate Rick Lazio calling on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, his Democratic opponent, to investigate the project's funding.

Mr. RICK LAZIO (Republican, Gubernatorial Candidate): This is a time when we need to ask serious questions that will keep the people of New York and particularly the people of downtown Manhattan feeling and actually being safe.

ADLER: His Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo says, yes, some people are upset that the project is near Ground Zero.

Mr. ANDREW CUOMO (Attorney General, New York State): The flipside and what Mayor Bloomberg has said: We understand that. We also believe in the concept of freedom of religion and independence of religion, where government doesn't say what religions can be where.

ADLER: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan have not been totally forthcoming about their funding. But Khan told NPR on Tuesday that they are just in the process of forming a new nonprofit, that fundraising won't really start until after the landmarks commission rules.

A recent poll on the question of the mosque showed that 52 percent of New York City residents oppose the center. In more liberal Manhattan, 46 percent of the residents approved it and 36 percent were opposed.

Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac poll says the most notable statistic is that while 55 percent of New Yorkers say Islam is a peaceful religion...

Mr. MAURICE CARROLL (Director, Quinnipiac Polling Institute): Twenty-two percent say that it encourages violence. They wouldn't say that about Jews or Catholics or Protestants. And the explanation of that has to be that the terrorists have poisoned people's minds.

ADLER: But the memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are being fueled by all kinds of bloggers and activists, many of whom don't live downtown. There's even a new TV ad put out by the National Republican Trust PAC.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Unidentified Man #2: On September 11th, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. This ground is sacred.

ADLER: The proposed building is two blocks from where the towers stood.

Meanwhile, Daisy Khan finds herself somewhat shocked at everything that's going on. When I said people say you are bringing Muslim extremist law to the U.S., she says: Muslims pray, they fast, they give charity, most American Muslims don't want to do anything that violates American law.

Ms. KHAN: America works because of its religious freedoms and because it does not allow any one religion to dominate another. And we are very happy as Muslims with that arrangement.

ADLER: But clearly some others are not. The controversy doesn't show signs of letting up. But except for the landmarks question, the project has been approved. And even if Cordoba House has to stay within the existing building, it's hard to believe the project can be stopped.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.