Islam has long history downtown: Why the 'Ground Zero mosque' belongs in lower Manhattan


Rick Lazio, the gubernatorial candidate from Suffolk County, doesn't like it. Sarah Palin, though not exactly a New Yorker, has resoundingly "refudiated" it. More importantly, plenty of ordinary citizens vocally oppose the establishment of a Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site.



But no matter how offensive their presence may be to some people, Muslims have always been a part of lower Manhattan's past. In fact, Islam in New York began near Ground Zero. From an historical perspective, there could hardly be a better place for a mosque.



One of the first Arab-American enclaves in New York City was located on Washington St. in lower Manhattan - the very area in which the World Trade Center was later built. Founded by Arabic-speaking Christians and Muslims from Ottoman Syria in the 1880s, it was called Little Syria.



The heart of Little Syria was full of outdoor cafes where non-Arab visitors sometimes gawked at men smoking hookahs and trading gossip about the Ottoman Empire. In a 1903 article, the New York Times called the neighborhood "quaint," noting the "uniform politeness" of its inhabitants. (More)

 


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