Cordoba House - Yes!:  Park51 - No Way? - updated 2/6/2013

Sheila Musaji

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Cordoba House - Yes!:  Park51 - No Way?

by Sheila Musaji

Note:  See the article Cordoba House: Hope From the Ashes of Tragedy for information on the development of this controversy prior to September 12, 2010

For all of us in the American Muslim community who have spent a lot of time defending Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan, and defending this Cordoba House project because we believed that they were the primary leaders of the project, and because they were under attack unfairly by Islamophobes - it may be that we were misled, or that we at least didn’t understand the structure of this project.  What Imam Feisal or the Cordoba Initiative stand for may be irrelevant to the core issues involved.

Note: all of the emphasis in bold is mine.

Shahed Amanullah and Aziz Poonawalla did an interview for AltMuslim back in July with Sharif El-Gamal, the CEO of Soho Properties and the developer of Park51 in which El-Gamal states

Park51 is an independent project led by Muslim Americans. This project will be separate from The Cordoba Initiative and ASMA. The next step is forming a non-profit and applying for tax-exempt status.  Imam Feisal and I are serving as the project managers until then. This non-profit will be run by an Executive Director, yet to be selected, support staff, and a 23-member Board of Directors.    Imam Feisal will be one of the Directors, and will oversee the Cordoba House, which will direct the interfaith programming within Park51. We have not yet selected the other members of the Board of Directors, but we will be picking people very carefully, based on their record of leadership, relevant experience and positive contribution to New York City and the country. The board will not be limited by religion.    The mosque will be run by a separate non-profit whose Board of Directors will reflect a broad range of experience. While the mosque will be located in the planned final structure of Park51, it will be a distinct non-profit. Neither Park51 nor the mosque, which hasn’t been named yet, will tolerate any kind of illegal or un-American activity and rhetoric.”

At the time, I missed the implications of this statement, as did many other American Muslims.  And, then we were so involved in defending the community, Islam, and Muslims from the onslaught of anti-Muslim sentiment, and attacks on our civil rights, that our attention was diverted from this basic question of leadership - who was actually in charge of this project.

Since this project was announced, the American Muslim community has experienced not only an alarming increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric aimed at us, but also has seen this rhetoric lead to actual acts of intimidation and even violence.

There have been protests and incidents at mosques across the country.  Two already at the Cordoba House/Park51 site in NYC; in Murfreesboro, TN; Florence, KY;  Temecula, CA; Santa Clara, CA; Sheboygan, WI; Bridgeport, CT; Staten Island, NY; Charlotte, SC;  Wilson, WI; West Philadelphia, PA, Corona, CA.  At some of these protests non-Muslims who simply “looked like” Muslims were harrassed.  There have been acts of vandalism aimed at mosques in Temecula, CA; Madera, CA; Costa Mesa, CA; Brownstone, MI; Cedar Rapids, IA; Queens, NY; Arlington, TX; Bellevue, WA; Wilson, WI; San Antonio, TX.  There have been incidents at mosques in Corona, CA

There have been violent acts that go well beyond vandalism.  A Jacksonville, FL mosque was attacked with an incendiary device.  At the construction site of the Murfreesboro, Tennessee mosque someone poured gasoline on construction equipment and set it on fire.  A NYC cab driver was stabbed by a passenger after the passenger asked “are you a Muslim” and the man answered in the affirmative.  A Sikh man in Seattle was beaten because an ignorant bigot thought he was a Muslim.  Worshippers at the Waterport, NY mosque were harrassed by teens who fired a gun, honked horns, yelled obscenities, and struck one worshipper with one of their cars.  A really stupid bigot wanted to carry out a hate crime but chose as his target a hookah bar in Connecticut and began shouting obscenities and slurs at the patrons.  The non-Muslim, non-Arab patrons then beat the crap out of him.  ***


And, even more threatening was the reaction of so many of our elected officials who seem to have neglected to study the Constitution of the United States or to remember that elected officials of the government represent “we the people”, all of us, not just some particular segments of the population. 

American Muslims were so busy putting out anti-Muslim fires aimed at all Muslims, and the religion of Islam itself, that perhaps some questions were sidelined.  There were concerns about the project and the effect of the controversy on the American Muslim Community being raised by Muslims.  If you read even the titles of the articles written by American Arabs and Muslims at the bottom of this article you will see that this project and its effects were widely discussed.  Some of the issues that have been raised over the past months are:  - the naivete of underestimating the “9/11 effect”, and of underestimating the level of anti-Muslim sentiment - Imam Feisal’s absence from the current debate - whether or not the project should be moved - whether or not national Muslim and Arab organizations were effective in countering the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab narrative - lack of transparency - whether or not the organizers had conferred with community leaders ahead of announcing the project - a seeming lack of leadership overall - lack of preparedness for dealing with the shockwave of Islamophobia, and with legal and Constitutional issues, etc.

Even without leadership, American Muslim individuals and organizations were attempting to respond in a pro-active way to all of the controversy.  Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer launched a website Ground Zero Dialogue.  My Faith My Voice:  American Muslim voices PSA’s were released as a grassroots effort.  A CAIR PSA campaign was produced with a series of separate PSA’s.  Aishah Schwartz of the Muslimah Writers Alliance requested Federal Action against Islamophobia and in defense of religious freedom.  A Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York a coalition of 55 New York City American Muslim organization leaders was formed and issued a statement On Combating Ethnic and Religious Intolerance, and Defending The Continued Building Of Mosques In America.  A Coalition of African American Muslims CAAM was formed and first press conference held in D.C.  ISNA called an emergency meeting of top interfaith leaders to address anti-Muslim fear and intolerance.  CAIR, ISNA, MPAC, etc. issued advisories and community response and safety guides.

Rivers of ink were spilled by Muslims and non Muslims defending the Cordoba Iniative, ASMA Society, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Daisy Khan and what was thought to be their project.  Non-Muslims also stepped into this, particularly clergy and interfaith groups.  Petitions were made and signed, counter protests and vigils arranged and carried out.  People came daily to stand in front of the Park 51 site to show their support and encouragement.  More rivers of ink were spilled defending Islam itself and Muslim Constitutional, legal and civil rights, and ultimately the rights of all Americans under what became an issue larger than the sum of its parts.

As I said in a previous article about the wider implications of this controversy

  ...  At this point, there is no win-win scenario possible, only a lose-lose.  Whether the Cordoba House project continues as planned at this location, or whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan agree to some compromise by changing the location - either way, the firestorm of anti-Muslim hatred has already done its damage.  The animosity towards Islam and Muslims that was simmering under the surface of American society has now been openly and even enthusiastically accepted as a reasonable and acceptable part of the American worldview.  The plan for the Cordoba House did not cause this anti-Muslim firestorm, it simply brought the smoldering embers out into the open, and allowed a few individuals to fan the flames.  Although the extent of this anti-Muslim sentiment is alarming, it is perhaps a good thing that it has been brought out into the open where it can be exposed.     

Whether or not any American Muslim is for or against, or simply confused about this project - the fact is that we are affected by the controversy that is swirling around it, and the claims and counter claims being made.  At this point we are required to deal with the reality of the situation as it has developed. 

...  If the Cordoba House/ Park 51 project is moved to some other location in order to appease the voices of bigotry, that would only prove to a majority of Muslims, both in the U.S. and around the world — that any Muslim effort towards peace and understanding will be rejected, — that Muslims themselves are not considered to be American citizens who are equal to other citizens, — that the war on terror is not a war on al-Qaeda, but a war on Islam (this by the way is al-Qaeda’s “narrative”), — that the definition of what constitutes a “moderate Muslim” is unachievable even by someone like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf or any Muslim who is not willing to burn the Qur’an and become a “former Muslim”.

If the Muslim community compromises or shows “sensitivity” to the prejudice and bigotry of others that could be seen as “proof” that somehow we have been made to see “the error of our ways” and to have accepted that we are all collectively responsible for the terrible tragedy of 9/11 in which all Americans were attacked by al-Qaeda (including American Muslims).

If the Muslim community compromises or capitulates, then we are showing the same disregard for the principles of freedom of religion (which is a “hallowed” principle) enshrined in our Constitution as these anti-Muslim extremists.  We would also be giving in to the al-Qaeda distortion of Islam which would deny religious freedom to others.

...  Do we simply cut and run in the face of bigotry?  Do we simply accept second class status?  Do we simply abandon the Constitution of the United States?

... I believe that Benjamin Franklin’s statement applies to how the American Muslim community must face this situation They that give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.

At this point in history, I believe that whether we like it or not, we have as a community been placed in a position that requires us to stand and defend our rights as Americans and as human beings.  We need to do this for our sake, and for the sake of future generations of Americans - no matter what their religion.  Compromise in this instance would actually be appeasement, and it would really only provide temporary safety.  Ultimately, if American Muslims, or American Jews, or American Christians, or American atheists, or any Americans are not willing to stand for the ideals and principles of our country, then we are all in trouble.

This may be one of those moments in history when we need to decide if our ideals and principles are worth defending.  How we answer the question of what it means to be an American will certainly affect not only this generation but future generations.  We have to decide if the Constitution has any real meaning.

And, then the Qur’an burning plans of a small church in Florida went viral on the net and in media around the world.  ISNA called for a peaceful response as did AMANA.  American Muslim as well as Jewish and Christian and interfaith organizations actively denounced this plan.  There were riots in other countries.  Not only politicians, but the President of the U.S. got involved in this controversy.  As of this writing the pastor of the church agreed to call off the event if the Cordoba House/Park51 project is moved to another site.  There is a great deal of conflicting information coming out, and it remains to be seen what the final decision will be.  ***

This incident and its connection with the Cordoba House/Park51 controversy brings us back to the initial question of leadership.  A lot of information came out in the media that raises grave concerns about this project.  Here is the posting from TAM on updates to the Qur’an burning incident story in the last couple of days (with key points in bold):

BREAKING NEWS:  Three new developments all dovetail, and it will be interesting to watch developments.  1) Hisham Elzanaty, one of the project developers and a major funder of the site purchase says he is willing to sell the property for the right price.  His quote from the AP “I’m a businessman. This was a mere business transaction for me.  Develop it, raze it, sell it,” he said. “If someone wants to give me 18 or 20 million dollars today, it’s all theirs.”  — 2) Donald Trump has made a bid to purchase the property.  The offer also contains one key condition—that any mosque built by the backers elsewhere “would be located at least five blocks further from the World Trade Center site”.  — 3)  Rev. Terry Jones who is planning the Qur’an burning in Florida told Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida “He told me that if it’s put on hold or relocated, he’s willing to back down.” Musri is waiting to meet with Jones at the outreach center in Gainesville. Musri said he will offer Jones an opportunity to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. 

Within an hour of putting the news online, I was notified that USA Today was reporting that Rev. Jones has agreed to cancel the Qur’an burning and is flying to New York to meet with Imam Abdul Rauf on Saturday.  According to the report “He said he decided to cancel his protest because the leader of a planned Islamic Center near ground zero has agreed to move its controversial location. The agreement couldn’t be immediately confirmed.” 

And for the rest of the night, conflicting reports just kept coming in.

An Australian site reported that “But the AFP and Reuters news agencies both reported that the deal had been denied by sources close to the imam of the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, who said there was no agreement to move the development away from Ground Zero.”  The NY Times quotes CNN as reporting that Imam Rauf said in a statement that he had not spoken to Mr. Jones or Mr. Musri. “I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Korans,” Mr. Rauf said. “However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or Imam Musri. I am surprised by their announcement. We are not going to toy with our religion or any other, nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands and build peace and harmony.” 

AJC reports that “Musri told The Associated Press there was an agreement for him and Jones to travel to New York and meet Saturday — on the actual anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — with the imam overseeing plans to build a mosque near ground zero.  “I told the pastor that I personally believe the mosque should not be there, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is moved,” Musri said. “But there is not any offer from there (New York) that it will be moved. All we have agreed to is a meeting, and I think we would all like to see a peaceful resolution.”  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said he was surprised by the announcement and that he would not barter.  Speaking to reporters later, Jones was adamant that he was promised that the Islamic center would be moved, and said he would be “very, very disappointed” if it were not.” 

Donald Trump’s offer has been turned down as too small an offer.  And CNBC clarified that what Trump was offering was not the purchase of the entire property, but an offer to buy an investor’s stake in the property.  The NY Daily News reports thatPark51 officials said yesterday Elzanaty doesn’t even have the authority to sell the building.  “Soho Properties controls the real estate which encompasses the Park51 project in lower Manhattan,” said spokesman Larry Kopp. “Hisham Elzanaty is one of eight investors in the project.

A spokesman for the developer leading the investment team declined to confirm Elzanaty’s claim that he has a majority stake in the partnership, or comment on whether he needs approval from the rest of the group to decide the fate of the two buildings. 

Jones is now saying that the Qur’an burning is only suspended and may still happen.  He says the local Imam lied to him, and that he only agreed to cancel the event because he thought there had been an agreement that the NYC center would be moved.  After making the previous statement, he said on “Good Morning America” that he definitely would not follow through. 

As if all of this confusion is not enough, the notorious Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church says that if Jones doesn’t burn the Qur’an then his church will burn the Qur’an and an American Flag on 9/11.  ***

It was reported that the Park51 group and the Cordoba Initiative released two separate statements about the Terry Jones Qur’an burning situation.  “The Cordoba Initiative, which originally spearheaded the effort for an Islamic center near Ground Zero, also backed the message by Park51 and directed its supporters to a report highlighting that the Imam behind the Islamic center “hasn’t” agreed to move the facility.” 

In a statement now prefacing the Q&A on the Cordoba Initiative site there is a sentence that I did not notice previously, or that is newly added.  It reads: “Cordoba Initiative has no formal or legal connection to the Muslim Community Center that has recently been proposed for lower Manhattan.”  And “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan developed the original idea for a cultural center in lower Manhattan, where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has had a mosque for 27 years.  (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf originally proposed calling the new center the “Cordoba House.”  That name created the impression that the Cordoba Initiative was sponsoring the proposed community center, but this was not the case.)”  One of the answers to questions on this site states “SoHo Properties, a New York real estate development firm based in lower Manhattan, acquired the property a couple of years ago. Sharif El Gamal, owner of SoHo Properties, is a member of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf ’s lower Manhattan congregation, which has been in the neighborhood for decades.”

A new website has gone on line called P51 that appears to be by the developers rather than the Cordoba Initiative or the ASMA Society.  The Park51 vision statement mentions a nonsectarian community, cultural and interfaith spiritual center along with a Muslim prayer area and a monument to honor all those we lost on 9/11.  Their “about” section includes no names.  In their “programs” section, Cordoba House is listed separately, and the site says “Within that larger vision, Cordoba House will be a center for multifaith dialogue and engagement within Park51′s broader range of programs and activities. Cordoba House will be developing under the leadership of Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf.”

On the blog for this new site they have a statement issued on 9/8 which says “New York, NY, September 8, 2010: In response to an op-ed in The New York Times written by our partner in Park51, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, we are issuing this statement today:  “Park51 is the name of the planned Muslim community center being built in lower Manhattan. Park51 is also the name of the nonprofit entity that has already been established, which will fund and oversee this initiative. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will be the spiritual leader of the Cordoba House which will be the interfaith and religious component of the center and will reside within Park51.

On the Park51 FAQ page it says “Park51 is an independent project led by Muslim Americans for all New Yorkers. This project is separate from the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA.”  ...  This project will be separate from The Cordoba Initiative and ASMA.  Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf and Sharif El-Gamal are serving as the project managers until the Executive Director solicitation and selection process is completed.”  ...  “The Muslim Prayer Space will be a separate not-for-profit entity from Park51. Neither Park51 nor the Prayer Space will tolerate any kind of illegal or un-American activity or rhetoric. The final size and location of the Muslim Prayer Space will only represent a small percentage of the final structure.”  ...  “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will be a member of the Board of Directors of Park51. He will oversee the Cordoba House, which will direct multifaith programming within Park51.”  ..  “Park51 is a newly established charitable organization ...”

All of this is very disconcerting and raises more questions than are answered.  If this project is not a project of the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA Society, then Sharif El-Gamal, and Hisham Elzanaty who are reported by The WSJ to be the only Muslim investors in the Park51 group - “are the only Muslims among the group of eight investors, according to a source familiar with situation. Mr. El-Gamal has declined to release the names of the other investors.”  Daily Kos had reported that  “Another investor is the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), of which Rauf is also CEO and founder.”  So, Imam Feisal may or may not be one of the investors in the total project depending upon whether or not this one report is accurate.  Whether or not he is an investor would be important to know.

Have we been defending a project that doesn’t really exist? — A project led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and true to his vision?  Has all of this turmoil been for nothing?  Who are the eight investors/owners of the Soho Group?  Why are they reticent in being transparent with the names?  Are there legal contracts preventing them from taking control or selling off the property?  Have they pushed Imam Feisal out of the project?  And, is there any legal recourse?  How small a percentage is Cordoba House of the total project?  Why should anyone trust a shadowy group that Sharif al Gamal said in the interview was Park51 is an independent project “led by Muslim Americans”, but whose names we don’t know?  Does the Park 51 group have the best interests of American Muslims, or of Americans generally at heart, or are they only interested in making a profit?  If Soho is a for profit real estate company and Park51 is a non-profit entity, but members of the Soho board sit on the Park51 board, isn’t that a conflict of interest?  Is the Cordoba Initiative or Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf one of the investors in the purchase of the property, and if so would that not be a conflict of interest also?

I for one was so strong in my support for this project because I (mis)understood it to be a project of the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA and thought Imam Feisal was the Director of the project and firmly in control.  I thought that the Soho Properties developers were participating in Imam Feisal’s project.  And, in hindsight, most naively of all, I thought that the purchase of the property was their contribution to the Cordoba Initiative’s effort.  I seem to have been wrong on all counts.

I have great respect for both Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan and trust their integrity based on their track record within the American-Muslim community and within the interfaith community.  If Imam Feisal were heading the project I would have full confidence that it would represent the vision he has outlined as a counter to the message of extremists. 

However, it appears that the reality of the project is - that the property is owned by 8 investors in the Soho group,  -  that the names of only two of these investors are known by the public,  -  that the actual building will be called Park 51 and be owned and administered by this Soho group,  -  that they will provide the Cordoba House with a prayer space within this complex,  -  and that small prayer space (not mosque) will include not only Friday prayers but also interfaith activities and will be overseen by Imam Feisal.

This changes everything.  The two investors whose names we know have no track record with the Muslim community, and if Hisham Elzanaty is any example of their character, I wouldn’t support them in anything.  After all the turmoil that both Muslims and non-Muslims have been through in the past months, after both Muslims and non-Muslims went out on a limb to support this project based on Imam Feisal’s reputation - Elzanaty was ready to throw all these good people under the bus for a price.  Whether or not he has authority to do this, or whether or not he ultimately gets his 30 pieces of silver, we know that for him this is “simply business”.  His most important value is money.

It would seem that Imam Feisal at this point in time does not have authority to make any binding decisions on policy, or even the name of the project.  He wouldn’t be able to make a deal with Rev. Jones, or anyone else, to move the center, or even to keep it where it is, as he doesn’t own the property.  Whether or not this can be corrected in some way to put Imam Feisal in control can only be a matter of conjecture. 

The Park 51 people have applied for non-profit status to set up a fund for donations to this project.  Before that paperwork has even been completed and finalized, Sharif El-Gamal held a fund raiser at a NYC mosque and collected $10,000.  I will be very interested to see if that money is deposited in this fund as soon as it is approved by the State of NY.

I don’t know if I would trust these people even to honor whatever agreements they have with Imam Feisal.  We have no control over whether or not this project is built We have no control over the public reaction to whatever decision is made by those in control.  We are in the unenviable position of having no control over any of the decisions already made, or yet to be made, but having to live with the consequences of whatever those decisions are.

I hope that Imam Feisal will make a public statement clarifying whether or not he has any real leadership over the direction that this is going, and what he believes is the least damaging choice for the good of everyone at this point in time.  I would hope that he is already conferring with the recently established Majlis ash-Shura of New York, and with leaders of the Muslim community across the country in order to obtain their advice on the best solution to this current situation.

And, even if these questions of leadership and direction for the actual proposed project can be addressed, the Muslim and Arab communities are left to deal with the problems that have been unnecessarily raised by this whole controversy.  How do we deal with the rampant Islamophobia, and how do we defend our rights as citizens of this country.  The Cordoba House project is secondary to those issues, but at the heart of the debate.  Whether we like it or not, this project was the catalyst for all of the turmoil our community is currently experiencing.  The fact that the leadership and vision for the project may not be what we were led to believe only adds one more complication to our situation.  Even if this project turns out to be a purely business venture on the part of the actual project leadership, the core issues that the project has raised go well beyond this one project, or the individuals directly involved - that of the legal, civil, and constitutional rights of all Muslims in the United States.  The question that needs to be asked is what would be best for the common good.

This will take the wisdom of Solomon to solve. 

UPDATE 9/13/2010

Perhaps the most high profile Muslim to weigh in on all of this is Tariq Ramadan.  His article Even now, Muslims must have faith in America argues for considering moving the project.  Perhaps the most unusual person to speak out in favor of the Mosque was Salman Rushdie.  Michael Moore also spoke strongly in favor.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on Sunday Imam Feisal said “I would never have done it,” he said when asked what he would have done had he anticipated what would happen. “I’m a man of peace. I mean the whole objective of peace work is not to do something that would provoke controversy.”  

Mark Cogan reports that Imam Rauf said “that developers were still deciding whether they would relocate the proposed mosque, but that he feared moving it could cause an uproar in the Muslim world.”

Richard Haass of the CSM interviewed Imam Feisal today.  In that interview there were a few new points Richard Haass: You have said that, “If I knew this controversy would happen, if I had known it would have caused this kind of pain, I would not have done it.” Given that, why don’t you undo your planned project, or at least do it differently from now on?  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: We are exploring all options as we speak right now. We are working through what will be a solution, God willing, that will defuse this crisis and not create any of the unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen.  ...  Haass: Sometimes in order to achieve the larger goals one has to deal with the immediate challenges. Is compromise one of the tools you are prepared to deploy to defuse this crisis?  Rauf: Everything is on the table. We are really focused on solving the crisis in a way that creates the best possible outcome for all.

A City Room article by Ann Barnard reports that The imam does not control the location of the center — the real estate developer Sharif el-Gamal does, and he and his supporters have said a move would not satisfy critics. 

A CNN report quotes Imam Feisal as saying “Is there really a need for an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan?” he said. “Is it worth all this firestorm? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is a categorical ‘Yes.’ Why? Because this center will be a place for all faiths to come together as partners, as stakeholders, in mutual respect. It will bring honor to the city of New York.”

Proving that mercenaries are everywhere, The Real Deal reports that An online sports wagering site is taking actual bets on which individual or group will be next to offer to purchase the planned Lower Manhattan site of the controversial Park51 mosque and Islamic community center.”

Proving that shameless political and publicity profiteers are everywhere - Donald Trump said that there would be rioting in the streets if this center was built - and, Rudy Giuliani repeated just about every Islamophobic talking point including the Imam Rauf “threatened America” nonsense.

UPDATE 9/17/2010

AP reports that A summit of U.S. Muslim organizations is planned for Saturday and Sunday in New York City to address both the project and a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric that has accompanied the debate over the project.  The leaders of some groups that will be represented in this meeting are Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations.

This is excellent news, and we will update as soon as information is available.

Just received a press release from the Islamic Leadership Council of NYC who is organizing this event - all of the details are posted HERE

UPDATE 1/15/2011

It has been reported by a number of publications including CNN, NPR, and Reuters that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been replaced by the Park51 leadership and a new Imam will take his place on that project, Imam Abdallah Adhami

“Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan will not be speaking on behalf of Park51, nor will they be raising funds for the project,” said the news release from the center. “The Cordoba Movement and the Cordoba Initiative are separate nonprofit entities from Park51 with different missions and leadership.” 

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has released a press statement, but it doesn’t really clarify all of the questions.  The Park51 statement and the Cordoba Initiative statement together are more than a little confusing.  The CNN article includes this sentence “A person involved in the project, who spoke off the record, not wanting to exacerbate the conflict, told CNN that in fact there will be no Cordoba House at Park51.”  If true, this represents a serious break between Cordoba House and Park51.

This confusion is not new.  As the WSJ reports:  “In August, as opposition to Park51 was mounting, Mr. Adhami served as a guest imam there, facing a crush of media members his spokeswoman had invited to the service. Mr. El-Gamal, whose Soho Properties controls the site, subsequently had all media removed.    At the time, Mr. Adhami appeared perplexed by the lack of organization and said, “There’s a serious disconnect among the various people involved. That’s clear to anybody.”

The American Center for Law and Justice on behalf of a retired firefighter is seeking a court order to stop the project from moving forward.  Park51 developer Soho Properties yesterday filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit to block the proposed Islamic community center.

Today, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf began a national speaking tour aimed at inspiring interfaith understanding, in Detroit which is home to the largest Muslim population in North America.  At this first event, Imam Feisal said“Our role right now is to depoliticize our faith not make it a wedge issue.  “We do not want our faith to be a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats in this country. It must be a unifying aspect.”

UPDATE 2/5/2011

It has been reported that Sheik Abdallah Adhami has stepped down as the Park51 Imam.  From Reuters:  “Imam Abdallah Adhami announced today that he will no longer serve as Senior Adviser to Park51,” the project’s developer, Sharif El-Gamal, said in a statement posted on Facebook. 

It has also been reported that after Imam Feisal said that he would consider moving Cordoba House:  On Monday, Mr. Gamal issued a statement reiterating his independence from the imam: “As we have been stating for over a year now, Park51 is not moving its location under any circumstances. Imam Feisal has no authority or control over this project, over its board of directors or over Soho Properties, which controls the real estate. Park51, the Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, is more than any one personality or imam.”

UPDATE 2/6/2013

This saga never seems to end.  Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is being sued.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by several donors, accuses Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf of diverting $167,000 from private donations and $3 million from the Malaysian government for his personal use.

The money was intended for the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, two non-profits founded by Rauf aimed at educating the public about Islam and combating anti-Islam sentiment, the lawsuit said.

Rauf used the money to pay for vacations, real estate, entertainment, a luxury sports car and other gifts and lavish lifestyle perks for himself and his wife, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also accused Rauf of falsifying the two groups’ tax returns for several years to conceal fund transfers and sources.

Previously, the Cordoba Initiative had filed a lawsuit against one of those now suing him.  The NY Daily News calls this dueling theft lawsuits and says it makes both sides look bad.

Westchester businessman Robert Deak and his wife, Moshira Soliman, claim in a Manhattan Supreme Court suit that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, used nearly $3.2 million in donations intended for their two nonprofits — the Cordoba Initiative and American Society for Muslim Advancement — for a sports car, real estate and expensive trips.

Such sensational allegations were bound to attract headlines. After all, the proposed “Ground Zero” mosque and Muslim center have sparked high emotions for years.

Daisy Khan’s lawyer, Paul Knight, called the allegations “meritless.” Knight noted his clients tell a radically different story in a federal lawsuit they filed against Deak and his wife in 2011 – one that received very little press.

That suit claims Deak and his wife pocketed $1.5 million the Cordoba Initiative paid the couple for a condo they owned in Washington – one that Rauf planned to use as a national office for the group. The suit quotes an email about the deal from Deak to Rauf saying: “This is not one that we can, nor would we want to, run through attorneys.”

At this point, we have no idea whose allegations are true or false.  What is clear is that no matter what the outcome of these lawsuits, the American Muslim community will be in for a great deal of guilt by association.

Already, I have had a discussion with someone on the issue of blaming the Muslim community for failings of individuals. My response was: Muslims are human beings, and will (like all communities) have within our ranks not only saints, but also sinners - there will always be hypocrites, criminals, perverts - you name it, and that is just a fact. Even if it turns out that this allegation is true (and I sincerely pray that it is not true), the existence of such people should not be an indictment on any religion. There is no way any community can root out all such individuals, and I for one refuse to be held accountable for their actions.

Just received this press release:

With regard to the lawsuit filed today in New York State Court, Imam Feisal Rauf, his wife Daisy Khan, Cordoba Initiative Corporation, and The American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) emphatically deny the allegations contained in that lawsuit.  The lawsuit is meritless and it will be vigorously defended in the New York court.

This lawsuit follows Cordoba Initiative’s ongoing lawsuit in which it sued Robert “Les” Deak and his wife Moshira Soliman for $1,500,000 for fraud and breach of trust in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2011.  The District of Columbia recently authorized Cordoba’s lawsuit to proceed against Deak and Soliman.

And, already the Islamophobia network’s most strident anti-Muslim member, Pamela Geller has published an article assuming Imam Feisal’s guilt as if a court has issued a verdict. And, just as predictably, her partner in hate, Robert Spencer published an article whose title at least uses the word “accused”, but uses the opening this case provides to slander not just Imam Rauf, but also all Muslims.



A lengthy collection of articles by Arabs and Muslims about the current wave of Islamophobia and anti-mosque hysteria including the Cordoba House/Park51 controversy, Qur’an burning incident, Center for Security Policy Sharia Report, etc.  (updated regularly)


first posted September 2010