Park51 rift grows; remarks by new Imam spark debate

by Paul Schindler

The Park51 saga took another turn over the weekend when Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf for the first time said he would consider moving the Islamic community center from its planned location on Park Place. The only problem is that Rauf, according to Park51, no longer has the authority to speak on behalf of the center.

Rauf told the editorial board of the Buffalo News that he would move the project for the same reason he sought to build it.

“I would move because my whole life is about improving relationships with people,” Rauf told the paper.

His statement comes on the heels of public statements made by Park51 that have illustrated tensions between Rauf, the original face of the project, and the developer of the building, Sharif El-Gamal of Soho Properties.

“As we have been stating for over a year now, Park51 is not moving its location under any circumstances. Imam Feisal has no authority or control over this project, over its board of directors or over Soho Properties, which controls the real estate,” said El-Gamal in a statement. “Park51? is more than any one personality or Imam. This is why we have invited other Imams to join this project and help us shape the prayer space component.”

Rauf is currently on a speaking tour. A spokesperson said prior to his departure that he would not be speaking on behalf of Park51 while away and instead would be focusing on a more global notion of interfaith relations, what he has deemed the “Cordoba Movement.”

The spokesperson said Park51 came up in conversation and also acknowledged the apparent rift between Rauf and El-Gamal.

“After Park51 released their statement, it was pretty clear that the two were considering going separate ways,” said the spokesperson.

Both Park51 and Rauf’s spokesperson confirmed that Rauf remains involved with the project as one of four founding members that currently make up the board. However, Rauf’s spokesperson said, following Park51’s statement two weeks ago and the naming of another imam as the leading voice for the spiritual aspect of the project, that Rauf has been speaking to supporters and constituents and is considering other offers and opportunities that would fulfill his vision of interfaith dialogue and improving interfaith relations.

imam’s view on homosexuality

In one of his lectures, Imam Shaykh Abdallah Adhami, the imam selected by Park51 to replace Imam Rauf as the leading spokesperson for the project, stated, “An enormously overwhelming percentage of people struggle with homosexual feeling because of some form of violent emotional or sexual abuse at some point in their life. Again, not necessarily in their childhood.”

Adhami continued, “A small, tiny percentage of people are born with a natural inclination they cannot explain. You find this in the animal kingdom on some level as well.”

The story was picked up by NY1 News last week, and the cable news channel stated that Park51 refused to comment on the matter.

A spokesperson for the project said that characterization was not true.

“Park51 did issue a statement which categorically refuted those comments and re-clarified the position that Adhami was one of several advisors for the prayer space component of the project,” said the spokesperson, “and Park51 does not agree with Adhami’s views on homosexuality.”

“The residents and community leaders of Lower Manhattan remain committed to this 125,000-square-foot Islamic Community Center modeled after the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side, which will be open to all the residents of Lower Manhattan or beyond,” said El-Gamal in a statement.

Longtime gay rights activist David Mixner, who was among the earliest advisers on LGBT issues to former President Bill Clinton, told NY1, “It’s not a new statement, it’s been made repeatedly by people who practice homophobia as a way of life. It’s also unfortunately not limited to one religion.”

Parvez Sharma, an out gay Muslim filmmaker who examined gay life in Islamic communities worldwide in his 2007 film “A Jihad for Love,” told NY1 that Adhami’s remarks were not as bad as those he’s heard from many Muslim leaders.

“I don’t agree with the imam, but I think what he said is progress,” said Sharma. “Usually, from the Muslim orthodoxy, you are prepared to listen to very strong words of condemnation.”

The editor of Gay City News, a sister publication of the Downtown Express, was also interviewed by NY1.

— additional reporting