Imam shuffle at Park 51

BY Aline Reynolds

Imam Shaykh Abdallah Adhami, who for 20 years led prayers at a former mosque two blocks away from Park51, is joining Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as one of several chief religious advisors of the future Islamic community center on Park Place.

Adhami and a half-dozen other prominent N.Y.C.-based religious leaders will be added to the executive board of Park51, which is close to gaining nonprofit status.

Adhami and the other reverends, rabbis and Imams soon-to-be appointed by Sharif El-Gamal, chief executive officer of SoHo Properties and the president of Park51, will “create a robust and dynamic religious and interfaith component” of the project, according to a statement issued by the center.

Adhami eagerly accepted the position, calling it an “extraordinary opportunity” to be a key advisor in the project moving forward.

“[Park51] has enormous creative and healing potential for the collective good in New York City and in our nation,” said the Imam, whose former mosque had to close after it lost its lease, according to Park51.

Born in Georgetown, Washington D.C., Adhami studied architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and worked for seven years in international organizational development, communications and executive training He did post-doctoral work on the legal, ethical and spiritual meanings of shari’ah texts, according to a biography provided by Park51.

The biography states that Adhami’s works “strive to relate the eternal relevance of the essence of shari’ah laws as a vehicle to enhance modern lived experience.” Shari’ah law is the fundamental religious tenet of Islam.

Adhami is also founder and chairman of Sakeenah, a New York-based nonprofit that teaches Muslims and non-Muslims about Islamic culture and traditions as well as promoting community service.

Park51 spokesperson Larry Kopp said the organizers will be announcing the other religious leaders in the coming weeks, and will announce the board’s executive director by the end of the month.

Tensions grow between Park51 developer and religious visionary

Tensions between El-Gamal and Rauf have reportedly been growing as the two gradually formed separate visions for the project, including ideas about its size and character.

Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, co-founder and executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, presented Park51 as the Cordoba Initiative to C.B. 1 last spring. El-Gamal, however, ultimately has the upper hand as the developer and self-proclaimed brainchild of the project.

He is now attempting to distinguish Park51, the nonprofit entity that will be responsible for devising the cultural and religious programming of the proposed Islamic community center, from the Cordoba Movement, Rauf’s message of interfaith dialogue and peace.

“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,” El-Gamal said in a statement.

Neither Feisal nor Khan will continue to speak on behalf of Park51, nor will they partake in the fundraising efforts of the project, according to El-Gamal.

It seems that Rauf was left out of the decision-making process amid these new developments. His spokesperson, Leyla Turkkan, said he isn’t even acquainted with Adhami, did not have a say in his appointment and was not notified of El-Gamal’s decision prior to the developer’s public announcement.

One source who requested anonymity said that, though their personal relationship is profound, the business relationship between Rauf and El-Gamal has recently been strained.

Rauf wasn’t available for comment as of press time. Turkkan said Rauf acknowledged, though, that the mosque at 49-51 Park Place — now called “Park51,” according to Kopp — must continue its day-to-day operations in his absence.

“The Imam is involved in much bigger, broader issues, like healing divide and interfaith coalition,” said Turkkan.

How large a role he will play in running Park51’s prayers and interfaith programs once the project is completed is yet to be determined.

Rauf played a very influential role in El-Gamal’s personal life, leading him to the discovery of his faith and spiritual identity, according to Kopp. Rauf married El-Gamal to his wife, Rebekah, and was his mentor for almost 10 years.

Other new Park51 developments

Park51 will open a multicultural art exhibit space on part of the building’s first floor in the spring. Kopp said the space, now vacant, will also be available for public use until the building comes down in a few years’ time.

The Park51 group also gave its website, Park51.org, a makeover, in hopes of revamping the project’s image and dispelling the myths about the proposed Islamic community center.

Redoing the site, Kopp explained, was a cost-effective way of promoting the project and its mission. “Park51 doesn’t have a desk, or a phone yet. It’s an easy thing to start the ball rolling on,” he said.

The group, meanwhile, is on the verge of achieving nonprofit status. It sent in its letter of determination to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in mid-December, which Kopp suspects will be processed by the spring.

“It’d be pretty tough to not get [nonprofit status],” said Kopp.

The government, he said, doesn’t typically deny it to groups unless they have a proven history of malfeasance.

In the meantime, Kopp said El-Gamal is already starting to accrue financing from banks for the center’s construction, a process that will take a couple years.

The community center won’t be ready to open its doors until eight to 11 years from now, according to Kopp.