New York – The Islamic Community Center located blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood, and commonly referred to as the ground zero mosque, has officially opened, celebrating the day with an art exhibit that features children representing 171 ethnicities.
The ‘NYChildren Photography Exhibition’ brought visitors instead of protesters to the opening at the controversial Park51 Community Center location.
Organizers said they hoped the exhibit would inspire diversity in the community and would be a catalyst to encourage New York residents “to meet and get to know their neighbors to build trust and friendship.”
The ‘Ground Zero’ mosque ignited a political firestorm when construction began last year. Blogger’s were divided on how to describe the project. Was it a mosque or a community center, and is it located ‘at ground zero’ or near it, on Park Avenue, over two blocks away.
The project drew harsh criticism from opponents who said they didn’t want a mosque anywhere near the site of the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of thousands of victims. Protesters lined the street in front of Park51 each day for weeks, verbally attacking Islam, Muslims and anyone that appeared to be of the Muslim faith. Islamaphobia was rampant at the loosely organized events that pitted supporters against opponents of the center.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered the heated debate on the ‘ground zero mosque’ by coming out in support of the Islamic Community Center, and said the city would not interfere with the construction of the controversial project.
President Barack Obama defended the Islamic Community Center at a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan saying, “I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground. But this is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”
Eventually the protests and the media storm died down and the officially opening came off without a hitch.
Developer Sharif El-Gamal told The Associated Press, “We made incredible mistakes. The biggest mistake we made was not to include 9/11 families. We didn’t understand that we had a responsibility to discuss our private project with family members that lost loved ones.” El-Gamal said they “never really connected with community leaders and activists.”
Today the vision of the completed project has changed, according to El-Gamal. He said, “the center is open to all faiths and will include a 9/11 memorial. It’s an Islamic community center serving all of New York, and based on pluralism and diversity. Any opposition to the center today would be part of a ‘campaign against Muslims.'”
Special thanks to Digital Journal