After dominating the headlines in the run up to the November elections, the controversy over a proposed thirteen-story Islamic cultural center and mosque to be located two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan has largely abated. Last week, however, the developers of Park 51, as the project is known, suddenly announced that the controversial imam who had been the chief public proponent of the mosque was leaving the project to focus on other initiatives.
In a statement released last Monday, Park 51 said that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan would be focusing their attention on nationwide speaking tour in support of Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative.
“Due to the fact that Imam Feisal is focusing most of his energies and passion on launching this new and separate initiative, it is important that the needs of Park51, the Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan, take precedence…Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the Greater New York area,” the statement read. “It is important to note though that while on tour and afterward Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan will not be speaking on behalf of Park51, nor will they be raising funds for the project.”
Rauf will remain on the board of Park51, but the developers appointed Imam Abdullah Adhami to serve as Senior Advisor to the project to help create, “a robust and dynamic religious and interfaith component.”
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to be a key advisor on a project going forward that has enormous creative and healing potential for the collective good in New York City and in our nation,” Adhami said in the statement.
But critics of the mosque do not share Adhami’s belief in the healing potential of the mosque project, much less in his ability to help bring it to fruition. They point to Adhami’s connection to Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Brooklyn. Adhami, who holds a degree in architecture, volunteered to help design Wahhaj’s Masjid At-Taqwa mosque, and fetes him on his personal website as a “pioneer in the American Muslim experience.” “Since the 1970s, Imam Siraj has tirelessly laid the foundations for many scholars and leaders that would follow him,” Adhami writes.
One of the “scholars” for whom Wahhaj laid foundations in the U.S. was Shiekh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the infamous “blind sheikh” and mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Abdel-Rahman spent time in prison in Egypt in the early 1980s on charges that he had issued a “fatwa,” or religious decree, calling for the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. He was also known to have ties to the terrorist groups Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, serving as the leader of the second group. Abdel-Rahman appeared on a State Department terrorist watch list before gaining entry to the United States in 1990.
Despite his history of involvement in terrorism and terrorist causes, Wahhaj sponsored lectures by Abdel-Rahman in mosques in New York and New Jersey. Those lectures helped gather a core of supporters for the blind sheikh in Jersey City, from where the World Trade Center bombing was planned and executed. Abdel-Rahman and nine co-conspirators were convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy in 1995 for their role in the bombing and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Wahhaj himself is not without a controversial past. Jihad Watch director and HUMAN EVENTS contributor Robert Spencer reported in 2008 that Wahhaj has advocated for an Islamization of America, calling for a kind of Muslim overthrow of the United States.
“[H]e has also warned that the United States will fall unless it “accepts the Islamic agenda.” He has lamented that “if only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate,” Spencer wrote.
Some reports have said that Wahhaj was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the World Trade Center bombing. But in an e-mail to HUMAN EVENTS, former Assistant United States Attorney and Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the prosecution of Abdel-Rahman and his co-conspirators, says Wahhaj was not labeled a co-conspirator during the trial. McCarthy did say that Wahhaj’s radical views made him an “Islamist” although not necessarily a terrorist.
“Mr. Wahhaj’s views have been well known for many years, including his assertion that he would like to see the U.S. Constitution replaced by an Islamic caliphate — i.e., replaced by a sharia system. Obviously, he is an Islamist…My personal opinion is that it is radical to want to see the U.S. political system replaced by the Islamic system, but I want to be clear that not all such radicals are terrorists (in fact, most are not),” McCarthy said.
Although McCarthy stated that he knew nothing of Adhami’s views, and did not recall his name coming up during Abdel-Rahman’s trial, he was not heartened by Adhami’s support for the mosque project.
“The Ground Zero Mosque is a terrible idea…the concept is galactically insensitive to the American people who were attacked on 9/11 and especially to the families of those killed and wounded,” McCarthy writes. Moreover…the project would be taken as a victory monument by America’s enemies, only encouraging more terrorism. This is not an issue of tolerance — there are thousands of mosques in the U.S., and hundreds in the New York area. If Mr. Adhami favors this project, it would not surprise me to learn that he is affiliated with people who want to turn the U.S. into a sharia society,” he said.
Published reports have speculated that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s abrupt departure from the Park 51 project was the result of internal disagreements between the developers and the controversial imam. If those disagreements were in any way related to last fall’s controversy over the mosque, however, Park 51 appears not to have done the project any favors with the selection of Adhami as his replacement. With no election looming, Adhami’s selection may not generate the level of controversy that was witnessed prior to November, but it will almost surely refocus public attention on the project, which had largely dropped out of the public consciousness for most of the past three months.