August 11, 2010

TO THEIR CREDIT THEY DIDN'T ANTICIPATE HOW MUCH HATE THE RIGHT WOULD WHIP UP:

For Mosque Sponsors, Early Missteps Fueled Storm (ANNE BARNARD, 8/10/10, NY Times)

In 1999, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Ms. Khan’s husband, tried to buy the former McBurney Y.M.C.A. on 23rd Street in Manhattan, telling the seller’s broker, David Lebenstein, that he planned a kind of Muslim Y.

Knowing that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing still left raw nerves in New York, the imam assured Mr. Lebenstein, “We’re not the ones doing bombs; we’re moderates and Americans.”

The sale would have gone through but for financing difficulties, said Mr. Lebenstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor. Imam Feisal is in Malaysia and could not be reached for comment for this article.

Imam Feisal, 62, moved to the United States as a teenager with his father, an Egyptian imam, and graduated from Columbia University. Until 2009, he was the Friday prayer leader at Masjid al Farah, a mosque in the Sufi tradition, which emphasizes mysticism and tolerance. The mosque was established two decades ago and is 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

His sermons were infused with a “sweet spirituality,” not focused on “rules and regulations” or politics, said Adem Carroll, director of the Muslim Consultative Network, an advocacy group based in New York. Those sermons attracted his two allies in the current project, slated to be built at 45-51 Park Place.

Daisy Khan, who immigrated, also as a teenager, to Jericho, on Long Island, from Kashmir, married Imam Feisal in 1997. They founded a Sufi organization advocating melding Islamic observance with women’s rights and modernity. After 9/11 they raised their profile, renaming the group the American Society for Muslim Advancement and focusing on connecting Muslims and wider American society. They spoke out against religious violence; the imam advised the F.B.I.; his wife joined the board of the 9/11 memorial and museum.

A few years later, Sharif el-Gamal, a developer whose Egyptian father was a Chemical Bank executive, asked the imam to perform his wedding.

Mr. Gamal, who headed SoHo Properties, agreed around 2006 to join the effort. In 2009, he bought two adjacent buildings on Park Place, where the imam began holding services. Only then did the organizers start reaching out more widely about their idea.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2010 2:34 PM
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