To N.Y. Muslims, Islamic center near Ground Zero would be more than a mosque

With a battle brewing over the construction of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero, people on the streets of Washington, D.C. give their opinion.
By Krissah Thompson and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010

This is what the controversial Islamic community center and mosque being planned in Lower Manhattan means to Ehab Zahriyeh: not having to play basketball in church leagues.

(Interactive: The view from Ground Zero)

For Fatima Monkush, it would be a place to swim -- sans cap and layers of clothing -- with other Muslim women.

While the national debate about the center has elicited passionate statements for and against it from Democrats and Republicans, what Muslims have been left with is a great deal of disappointment. And for the young American-born New Yorkers who hope to use the site as a fitness center, meeting space and prayer hall, among other functions, the sense of rejection is personal.

(FAQ: The mosque near ground zero)

"The debate is maybe the most unfortunate thing we've seen in a long time, to see Americans behave in such a manner," said Zahriyeh, 24, who was born and raised in Brooklyn. His parents are Palestinian Americans who immigrated to the city more than three decades ago.

(The AM Fix: Confusion grows over Obama's religion)

He said the center has arisen from nothing more than the needs of his burgeoning community. "It's only natural that something like this should happen," he said. "Our community has grown over the last few decades."

For many Muslims outside New York, the center has become a symbol and the debate about it an affront, reflective of a lack of acceptance that they feel is growing in parts of the United States.

(The Fix Poll: How should the GOP handle the mosque issue?)

"We are at a cusp," said Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "The thing that has personally affected me the most is that the individuals who call this an act of insensitivity forget that Muslim Americans were victims on 9/11 also. Our country was attacked. Our neighbors were attacked. . . . Our faith was hijacked on that day."

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the debate as a nadir in "Islamophobic rhetoric."

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