- Published on Friday, 02 March 2012 09:01
- Category: Grand Central Stories
Park51 held its Spring 2012 Open House on February 25, warmly opening its doors to hundreds from near and far. The afternoon was filled with conversation and presentations on the courses that the community center is offering this spring. They include Islamic art and calligraphy, Arabic for adults and children on various levels, the genealogy of Muslims in America, yoga, karate and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of music and dance.
“The point of the spring program is to teach the mind, body and soul,” said Sa’ad Ansari, director of operations at Park51, adding that Greek philosophy is an influence on the course selection. “Park51 is like a diner: the cooks are Muslim, but everyone is invited.”
Ansari reminded the crowd that Adam was the first prophet in Islam. “When you think of Christianity, you think of the personage of Christ,” he explained. “Islam is not about a people or a place, it is about God. It’s the religion everyone is born with. Mohammed is not a founder, but the reviver.”
The atmosphere surrounding Park51 was different this Saturday than it has been. The community center was the subject of controversy for months as some in the community voiced their concerns and even expressed animosity over its proximity to Ground Zero. Ansari encouraged anyone with questions regarding Park51 or Islam itself to take classes at the center.
“People should just learn about it. I think it’s a very beautiful religion. It’s more of a worldview,” he explained. “In Islam, everything can be worship. If you smile at your wife, that’s worship. If you thank God for the food you are about to eat, that’s worship.”
Ansari said if those with reservations take classes “they will learn about it and like it and not be afraid of it.”
Hanadi Doleh, program director at Park51, said she wants to change the public’s perception of the center. “We are open for you all. This is a place for everyone,” she said. “Park51 is based on Muslim values but that’s it. It’s like the YMCA or the JCC.”
Doleh was also very pleased with the turn out. “It’s amazing to see so many people here. It makes my job so much better,” she said, adding that she also teaches the Arabic for Children class. “I am so glad people are here: we need the support.”
A family visiting from New Hampshire and Vermont came to the open house to see the photo exhibit that the center was displaying by artist Danny Goldfield called “NYChildren.” It featured a photograph of a child from every country on earth in New York City.
“Sort of given how much you hear in the news about how unwelcome this place was, we wanted to sort of say, ‘We approve!’” one guest, Diane Reinhardt, said. “It’s inconspicuous but the inside space is lovely. Everyone who greeted us had great warmth and affection. We felt very welcome.”
Reinhardt went onto say that her brother converted to Islam less than ten years ago. “I was thinking, if he lived in New York City, he would have a community here,” she said.
It wasn’t Nazli Nour of Brooklyn’s first time at Park51, she said she used to come there to pray. “I am having a great time. I liked the karate presentation very much. I never saw anyone perform like that.”
Tony Jones, also of Brooklyn, came to see his wife participate in the karate presentation. “I’m having a great time,” he said as he mingled. “I would definitely come back here again.”
Far from being the monstrous, threatening space it has so commonly been depicted as, Park51’s Open House gave off a warm and welcoming vibe. And despite the hue and cry surrounding its opening, the community center was received in just the same way.By Denise Romano, Aslan Media Columnist
About the Columnist: Denise Romano
Denise is a freelance reporter extraordinaire. She is Brooklyn born and raised with a Print Journalism degree from Brooklyn College. Though not of Middle Eastern descent, she started a blog to tell the stories of Iranians and Iranian-Americans after the 2009 election fallout. Ever since, she has been dedicated to giving voice to those who are marginalized by the mainstream media. When she is not writing, Denise spends time with her husband, sings in a barbershop chorus, cooks Italian food, and watches Saturday Night Live. Because she is in tune with the beat of the Big Apple, she launched this blog to share the everyday concerns of New York's Middle Eastern diaspora communities exclusively with Aslan Media.