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Community Board Approves Mosque Near World Trade Center Site After Emotional Meeting

By Julie Shapiro | May 25, 2010 7:27pm | Updated on May 26, 2010 7:53am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — Community Board 1 approved a plan to build a mosque blocks from the World Trade Center after a heated four-hour meeting Tuesday night that drew hundreds of people who expressed emotions ranging from fear and hate to grief and hope.

“I’m so proud of the community board,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the spiritual leader behind the plan to build the new 13-story, $100 million mosque and community center called Cordoba House at 45 Park Place, shortly after the vote, which was 29 in favor, 1 against, with 9 abstentions. “They recognize us as neighbors.”

But not everyone did. When Rauf, who has led a TriBeCa mosque for 27 years, stood to address the crowd gathered at the 3-Legged Dog's theater Tuesday night, he was shouted down by people yelling "Murderer!"

The crowd at the packed Community Board 1 meeting.
The crowd at the packed Community Board 1 meeting.
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DNAinfo/Josh Williams

Dr. Rudina Odeh-Ramadan, who was buried under rubble twice while she worked to rescue people on 9/11, was booed when she revealed that she was a Muslim.

Over the deafening noise of the crowd, Talat Hamdani, 58, who is Muslim, said that she was at the meeting to show her support for the mosque. Her son Mohammed Salman, 23, a police cadet and paramedic, died on duty during the 9/11 attacks.

"It's a project to advocate diversity. It's for the community. It's not per se a pulpit to preach from," she said of the mosque. "We have Hispanic cultural centers. We have African American cultural centers. Why object to this one?"

Jahanara Nares, 11, is Muslim and lives with her parents in TriBeCa. She said she supports Cordoba House and would want to go there if it opened.

"They shouldn't discriminate against us just because Osama bin Ladin was Muslim. That's just a fact about him — like if he had black hair and they were to discriminate against people with black hair," Nares said.

But Eunice Hanson, who traveled to the meeting from Connecticut with her husband, Lee, said that she felt her life had ended when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, carrying her son, Peter Hanson, 32, his wife Sue Hanson, 33, and their 2 ½-year-old daughter, Christine. She held Islam responsible for her loss and thought that the mosque would be disrespectful to their memory.

"This is sacred property and I'm completely against it," Hanson said. "This is abominable. It is a slap in the face to us."

Lee Hanson, who said his son called him to say "don't worry dad, it will be quick" just before his plane hit the towers, said he thought the mosque should be built some place else.

"I am not a bigot, and most of these people aren't bigots," Lee Hanson said. "I oppose this mosque because it is in poor taste."

Several people at the meeting publicly compared putting Cordoba House near the World Trade Center site to putting a statue of Hitler outside of the Jewish Museum, or building a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor.

Jo Polett, who has lives a couple blocks north of the World Trade Center since 1995, said the strong negative reaction to the mosque was the best argument for why Cordoba House is needed.

"It would be a significant and inspiring addition to the neighborhood," Polett said.

The Cordoba House would replace the shuttered Burlington Coat Factory building at 45 Park Place, which was damaged by 9/11. The center would include a gym, a pool, a theater and a prayer space big enough to hold 2,000 people.

CB1’s Financial District Committee unanimously supported the project earlier this month, saying it would bring much-needed amenities to the neighborhood.

Talat Madani (l), who lost her son during 9/11, spoke in favor of the mosque.  Eunice Hanson (r), who lost three family members during 9/11, spoke against the mosque.
Talat Madani (l), who lost her son during 9/11, spoke in favor of the mosque. Eunice Hanson (r), who lost three family members during 9/11, spoke against the mosque.
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DNAinfo/Josh Williams

But several 9/11 family members have objected, calling the project insensitive. Thousands of people signed online petitions and joined a Facebook group opposing the mosque.

Borough President Scott Stringer and other politicians entered the fray to support the project last week after Tea Party leader Mark Williams made inflammatory remarks about Muslims and the mosque. Williams and Stringer continued to trade barbs this week.

After the vote, Williams posted to his blog that Community Board 1 had allowed a "13 story tall middle finger aimed at 911 victims."