Finding Allah at Ground Zero A New Manhattan Mosque Hopes to Heal

Ground Zero is just down the road, a global symbol of Islamist violence. But in a half-destroyed building in Lower Manhattan, a new Muslim place of worship has opened. The founders hope it can help heal the wound opened by Sept. 11 -- around the corner from where the attacks took place.

By in New York


At first, it's just a handful of shoes, neatly stowed in white shelves by the entrance. But before long, the shelf is overflowing and dozens of shoes pile up on the floor: dress shoes, sneakers, hiking boots, construction boots, ladies' shoes, moon boots and pumps. The final count is more than a hundred pair.

Three little space heaters, plugged into wall outlets, are powerless against the icy cold creeping in from the street. Men kneel on the wall-to-wall carpeting, bundled up in winter coats but with only socks on their feet. A group of women hovers in the corner, some of them wrapped in long scarves. All face the same direction -- to the east.

Photo Gallery

10  Photos
Photo Gallery: Praying to Allah at Ground Zero
That's where the Imam is standing, note cards in hand, a tiny microphone clipped to his lapel. The men and women stand up, raise their hands on either side of their head, murmur "Allahu akhbar," bow and kneel again.

This is how it always starts, the Friday prayer held by Muslims worldwide -- even here in countless mosques hidden behind inconspicuous storefronts in the heart of Manhattan.

Right Around the Corner from Ground Zero

This particular makeshift prayer room, however, is a singular location. Just a few weeks old, it is right around the corner from Ground Zero.

The World Trade Centers used to stand just a few steps down the street. These days, it is a trauma-filled construction site -- where on Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist extremists murdered 2,751 people in the name of their understanding of Allah.

They began meeting here during lunch break toward the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The green-gray striped carpet and the old payphone out front are leftovers from the previous tenant, the Burlington Coat Factory. The glass doors still show the stickers of credit cards once accepted here: American Express, Mastercard, Visa, Discover.

Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for Muslims to establish a makeshift mosque here, just a stone's throw away from Ground Zero.

"Only in New York City is this possible," Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The ASMA has leased the new prayer space on Park Place. Her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a prominent author, cleric and activist. He is also the spiritual leader of a Sufi community, which has its main mosque not far away in Tribeca.

Center for Reconciliation

Whereas some would ban minarets or headscarves, here in Manhattan -- at the Ground Zero of terror -- Muslims and Christians are trying to find a way to coexist. The downtown prayer hall -- an overflow room for the busy Tribeca mosque and the foundation for what may become an Islamic center for reconciliation -- sits between an Irish pub and an Amish market. The Museum of Jewish Heritage honoring the victims of the Holocaust is nearby. Around the corner is St. Peter's Church, New York's oldest Catholic place of worship.

"Allah most merciful, for whose forgiveness there is not a sin too large," intones the Imam in leading today's prayer. He wears a scarf wrapped around his coat and a dark suit underneath. The subway to Wall Street rumbles beneath the building, making the walls vibrate. Outside, pedestrians rush through the cold midday.

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