Volume 20, Number 47 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 6 - April 12, 2011
Photo courtesy of the Cordoba Initiative
Rauf, Khan are thinking past Park51
BY Aline Reynolds
As developer SoHo Properties forges ahead with its plans for Park51, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, are conjuring up a different vision of an interfaith center.
Whether or not their dream of the ‘Cordoba House,’ the original name of the Islamic community center, would materialize at 45-51 Park Place has been ambiguous in recent months.
But it is clear that the couple is heading in a new direction.
“We presented a vision of the Cordoba House to the Community Board 1, and we stand behind this vision,” said Khan, who, though never formally affiliated with Park51, did present the project to the board at its Financial District Committee meeting last May.
In an interview this week with Downtown Express, Khan inferred that neither she nor Rauf consider themselves to be a part of Park51 any longer.
“Our visions are not aligned,” she said, adding that the couple is no longer speaking on behalf of the project (coinciding with SoHo Properties Chairman Sharif El-Gamal’s announcement in January).
El-Gamal also said at the time that Rauf, who serves on Park 51’s board of directors, would not be involved in raising funds for the center.
“The Cordoba Movement and the Cordoba Initiative are separate nonprofit entities from Park51 with different missions and leadership,” El-Gamal said in a written statement dated January 14. “Imam Feisal’s tour will support only those organizations.”
El-Gamal was referring to Rauf’s nationwide tour, which he began in January, to dispel myths about the Islamic faith, promote moderate Islam and assure the public that moderate Muslims reject extremism and promote commonalities among all faiths.
The lecture series, Khan noted, is no longer associated with the Cordoba Movement. “We needed to get out there as quickly as we could,” she explained. “It was much more expeditious to do the tour without doing any branding around the name [‘Cordoba’].”
The idea of the tour stemmed from one of Khan’s meetings with 9/11 family members last year, according to Khan, speaking on behalf of Rauf.
“One member told Imam Feisal, ‘You cannot heal us individually. What you can do is, to speak directly to others and change the negative discourse around our nation,’” she said.
Khan continues to meet with 9/11 family members to establish bonds with those who might have considered her and Rauf to be Muslim extremists.
The tour, Khan said, has revealed thus far that most Americans cherish freedom of religion and wish for Rauf’s and Khan’s success in fulfilling their mission of creating an multifaith center.
The center the couple hopes to build, which would be separate from Park51, would specialize in interfaith conflict resolution. “After speaking around the country and meeting various stakeholders, our vision has expanded to provide solutions to the many challenges the world is facing today, such as, [but] not limited to, multifaith collaboration, joint study programs, honoring the 9/11 community, [and] promoting Muslim women leadership in all spheres,” said Khan, who is the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
When asked about possible locations for the center, Khan only replied, “The vision will determine the location.”
She and Rauf will be making such decisions, she said, in the summer.
Park51, meanwhile, is moving along as planned. In a written statement, El-Gamal said the board of directors is moving forward “aggressively” with its plans to build the Islamic community center on Park Place.
A source associated with the project confirmed that major financing is starting to come together. Park51, the organization, now awaits nonprofit status, which it expects to receive in the near future, pending Internal Revenue Service approval.
Once it is established, El-Gamal will serve as president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. Announcements about Park51’s board of director appointments will be made in the coming weeks, according to the source.
SoHo Properties has worked for nine years on the development, El-Gamal said, from acquiring the real estate to gaining C.B. 1 support.
“Despite the controversy of the last few months,” he said, “we remain on schedule and on track… from arranging private and public financing, to building a world-class board, to establishing the nonprofit status, to drawing up architectural designs.”
El-Gamal continued, “We are honored and thrilled that the community leaders in Lower Manhattan remain firmly behind the project,” without mentioning names.
The community center, he said, will consist of a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and a 500-seat amphitheater. It will also house an art gallery, meeting spaces, a pre-kindergarten and day care center, a 9/11 memorial and a culinary institute.