Near Ground Zero, mosque supporters gather to show their support
Saturday, September 11, 2010; 4:20 AM
NEW YORK - Hundreds of supporters of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero gathered Friday evening near the site in Lower Manhattan, where they lit candles, sang and prayed on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The participants said they came to show solidarity with the plan to build the Park51 Islamic Center on Park Place, about two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The project has sparked fierce debate in recent weeks about whether it was appropriate to build such a facility so near the "hallowed ground" of the trade center's fallen twin towers, and it has prompted fears among some that anti-Islam sentiment is on the rise in the United States.
Organizers said they decided to hold the gathering a day before the Sept. 11 anniversary so that Saturday could remain a day of solemn mourning for those killed in the attacks nine years ago.
Yet that seemed unlikely Friday night amid the noise and activity around the Trade Center site, where a 9/11 memorial is under construction. As the crowd of Islamic center supporters came together, they were joined by reporters and passersby alike, while others arrived at Ground Zero to prepare for a protest rally and counter-protest march, both scheduled for Saturday.
There will also be an official remembrance ceremony at Ground Zero that Vice President Biden is expected to attend.
"This is the appropriate time to remember who we are and what we stand for," said Susan Lerner, the spokeswoman for the activist group Common Cause, one of the organizers of the gathering.
Another of the organizing groups was September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, with about 250 survivors of those killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Kathy Page, a retired Brooklyn educator and a Christian, said she was moved to come to support the center's effort after taking a class on understanding Islam a few years ago from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man leading the push for the cultural center.
"I found him to be a gentle and spiritual man," she said.
She looked around at the crowd, clutching candles and little American flags.
"My feeling is that I just had to put my body someplace with other people and stand up with my presence for tolerance," she said.