The former leader of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Lower Manhattan has settled a lawsuit in which a donor accused him of spending charitable contributions on himself, both sides confirmed on Friday.
The donor, Robert Leslie Deak, had accused the former leader, Feisal Abdul Rauf, of diverting millions of dollars in charitable donations – meant for the Cordoba Initiative, founded by the imam, as well as the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is led by the imam’s wife, Daisy Khan – to buy real estate, luxury vacations and a fancy car. It also accused Mr. Abdul Rauf of failing to report approximately $3 million in donations from the Malaysian government.
Mr. Deak, in a statement, said of Mr. Abdul Rauf: “We are now satisfied that neither he nor his wife were involved in any wrongdoing and that the charitable contributions made to the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA were used for proper, charitable purposes. Notwithstanding our differences, we respect the work being carried out by Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan.”
Mr. Abdul Rauf was the spiritual leader of a proposed 13-story Islamic center on Park Place that became a touchstone of post-Sept. 11 controversy, as opponents argued that its proximity to the site of the former World Trade Center was disrespectful to those who died there. Mr. Abdul Rauf stepped down as its leader in 2011 after a falling out with the center’s developer. While the building has recently served as a prayer space, the full center has not been built.
Amid rift, Imam’s role in Islam Center is sharply cut. Long-simmering tensions between co-founders of the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero led to a parting of the ways on Friday that sharply reduced the role of one: the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, long the project’s public face.
To Mr. Abdul Rauf’s surprise, the split was announced unilaterally by Sharif el-Gamal, the real estate investor who owns the former coat store at 51 Park Place where the 13-story center is planned. “While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”
The break-up sent ripples of uncertainty through a community of religious and political leaders in New York who rallied last summer to the side of Mr. Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, when opponents assailed the plan to build near the site of the 9/11 attacks.
But the divide was most apparent in the different names each leader has used for the project. The imam has always referred to the proposed Islamic center and mosque as the Cordoba House. To Mr. Gamal, a businessman and real estate developer, it is Park51.
Sharif el-Gamal, the developer, of the planned Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero envisions raising $140 million project by utilizing instruments developed to allow many Muslim investors to comply with religious prohibitions on interest. Most of the financing, Mr. Gamal said on Wednesday, would come through religiously sanctioned bondlike investments known as sukuk, devised in Muslim nations to allow religious Muslims to take part in the global economy and increasingly explored by American banks. Sukuk and other Islamic banking instruments are tracked on the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index.
Of the $140 million, Gamal, is hoping to raise $27 million through a nationwide campaign which will focus on small donations from Muslims and other supporters. The remaining bill will be financed, to build the 15-story center, which will eventually have about 4,330 paying members. Most of that core group, Mr. Gamal expects, would be non-Muslim neighborhood residents and commuters. Muslims from around the region would make up a larger but less frequently visiting group — what he calls the “dinner and a date” crowd — many of them choosing the cheapest $375 family membership for cultural programs.
Mr. Gamal and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is his planning partner in the project, have promised that they will invite the federal government to review all the donations.
Nine years after 9/11, Muslim Americans, feel scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslim is so widespread. The fierce opposition to the Muslim cultural center near ground zero, the knifing of Muslim cab driver in NYC, and other anti-Muslim sentiments has many American Muslims alarmed and questioning: “Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?”
“They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II.” Amongst this growing tide of fear, various interfaith groups are calling for greater outreach. The Islamic Society of North America has planned a summit to convene a summit of Christians, Muslims, and Jewish leaders in Washington on Tuesday.
This year September 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to Rmadan-and one of the major holidays of Muslims, has been dampened by the political climate. Some Muslim leaders have gone as far as to ask mosques to use the day to participate in commemorations events and community service so as not to appear as celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11.
Bill Keller, the internet evangelist, addressed a crowd of about 60 on Sunday at his temporary quarters of his Christian center near ground zero. Keller, stated “If we’re going to do something in New York City, we’re going to do something that’s not just bold and visible, but something that has a lasting presence.” Keller’s “9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero” is his response to the mosque planned for an empty building nearby. Keller plans to hold weekly meetings at the temporary center, Marriott Downtown, until he moves into a permanent center on Jan 1, 2011. The location of his new permanent Christian Center will be disclosed on Oct 1, 2010, the funding of which he hopes to gain from donations.
By MARGOT ADLER
A proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from the site of the destroyed World Trade Center has become a flash point of controversy. The Islamic center is supported by most politicians in Manhattan and by religious leaders of many faiths. It is opposed by some Sept. 11 families, by conservative politicians, bloggers and Tea Party activists. In the last weeks, meetings have been raucous, tensions growing and emotions raw.