The Man Behind The Mosque

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    Yesterday, I had the chance to sit with the developers of Park 51, the new Muslim commununity center that will be built in lower Manhattan. Sharif El-Gamal and his partner, Nour Mousa sat in my office for over an hour and told me their vision for the center, which they have been working on for over four years. During those four years, they partnered with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to work together on the creation of this center, which is based on the YMCA or Jewish Community Center (which Mr. El-Gamal is a member of in his Upper West Side neighborhood) model, that would include a swimming pool, a culinary school, a workout facility, a prayer room amongst many other things. Since there are only two mosques in this neighborhood, one of which has been there since 1970 but recently lost their lease and now cannot accommodate their congregation, Mr. El-Gamal and Mr. Mousa felt there was a need for a larger prayer space in this community, as well as a great community center that all people, regardless of faith, can use. As a Brooklyn born New Yorker, Sharif wants to give a gift to his city, yet somehow after four years, the creation of this center has become politicized and these two men are in the middle of it.

    As you might have read, I am in full support of the building of Park 51. As the Chairman of the Foundation Of Ethnic Understanding, we have worked with Imam Feisal for many years on our program, Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues, which joins Muslim and Jewish communities together in dialogue to promote reconciliation and understanding and embrace social issues together as one community. Imam Feisal has been a leader in this effort as well as a leader in promoting peace and tranquility around the world. In fact, he is currently on a United States State Department sponsored trip to the Middle East to create stronger bonds with the Muslim world.

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    The misconceptions, lies and distortions of what these men are creating are unfortunate, saddening and un-American. We are a country built on the principles of religious tolerance and freedom, and the creation of this center is what makes our country great. As a long time resident of this neighborhood, I felt the horrible pain that this nation and world experienced on September 11, 2001. My heart will always go out to all of the family members of the victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attack that have long endured pain and suffering. Let’s allow them to heal and re-build the World Trade Center as quickly as possible, especially the memorial site, which we have been waiting almost 10 years for. At the same time, let show our strength as a nation; a nation that remains steadfast in its belief that all men and women have the right to practice their religion at anytime, any place and with anybody. Let us show the world that we do not fear Islam itself, we fear those that have use the religion in the name of violence and terrorism, which we will forever condemn.

    Park 51 is a place of hope, a place of reconciliation and a place that will uplift our city and our country. I commend Mr. El-Gamal and Mr. Mousa for their great gift and I look forward to working with them in the future.

    -Russell Simmons | @UncleRush

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