I haven’t commented on the Park51 affair yet — the 13-storey mosque and community centre that some group wants to put up in Lower Manhattan — mainly because other Muslims (and others) have said it much better than I can. Digital Nomad wrote this, numbering the numerous Muslim victims of the 9/11 attacks (no, not including the hijackers), to put to bed the objections that Muslims shouldn’t dare propose to build anything close to where “they” killed thousands of Americans. However, today I saw the proposal for what the complex is meant to look like, and I was reminded of Abbey Mills in London — the so-called Mega Mosque — back in 2007, which was intended, for a while, to become one of the ugliest pieces of architecture in London. Nothing has yet been built there, and the last I heard, the Tablighi Jama’at ran out of permission to even use the site.
The New York Times printed some pictures which have been shown at community meetings in NYC and which were released to the public last week. The frontage of the building is to entirely consist of some sort of lattice-like construction, except that it’s not a classical Islamic geometric pattern, rather it’s a collection of jagged shapes which, frankly, could scare small children. The building doesn’t really look like anything, least of all a mosque. Inside, people are shown walking in these eerie white rooms next to the windows in the fake-lattice frontage. There is really nothing Islamic about what has been shown so far, either the inside or the outside. Much the same could be said for the Abbey Mills proposal, which also deliberately avoided common Islamic architectural features apparently for its own sake.
Perhaps this is par for the course in New York, I don’t know. However, it fits the pattern coming up with an over-ambitious project at a sensitive time that stirs up a lot of bigotry and hostility when they do not even have the resources to build it. Apparently the Cordoba Project raised $18,000 from donations for their community centre (surely you couldn’t buy a poky one-bedroom flat in NYC with that money), but it needs $100 million or more to actually get the thing built, which means a whole lot of hostility has been raised and other mosque projects have been put in jeopardy across the USA and all because of a project that is not even concrete in terms of what will, if anything, actually be built (no architect has been hired for Park51 yet). It is, of course, possible that they might raise the money from Saudi Arabia, but this may well come with “strings attached” in terms of the donor’s name being on the building or his being in control of what goes on inside, although given the extremely liberal reputation of Faisal Abdur-Rauf, that might not be forthcoming anyway.
It becomes difficult for someone like me, who seeks to defend the Muslim community’s interests in writing, to defend those who propose these ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky, overblown projects. I’m not going to say the Muslims are their own worst enemies, but a lot of the time, our leaders, or those who seek to be our leaders, don’t really do us any favours. Muslims really want mosques and educational facilities like schools and libraries (both secular and religious); let’s leave swimming pools to the municipality, and interfaith prayer rooms where they belong — the airport.
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