Islamic community leader visits SU to defend controversial Cordoba House project

Daisy Khan raised the interfaith merits of the Cordoba House at Park51 to a packed crowd at SU.

Daisy Khan, an advocate for the controversial Islamic center at Park51 in downtown Manhattan, promoted the interfaith project to more than 300 people at Syracuse University on Wednesday afternoon.

Khan gave her thirty minute lecture, entitled “Why We Should Build Cordoba House at Park51,” to an almost-full Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, an event hosted by the Carnegie Religion and Media Program and the Religion and Society Program.

Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, is married to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leading proponent of the community center.

Khan encouraged support for the project, and detailed the benefits of building a community center--not only to facilitate interfaith dialogue, but to provide a place for prayer, community involvement, and exercise.  She compared it to other centers that have derived from religion, such as the YMCA and Jewish Community Centers.

Kahn said the media is culpable for the negative reactions the project has drawn across the country.  Kahn explained that when the project was first planned, local government entities approved it, and The New York Times ran a December article praising it.  But after a rally against the center in May, negative press spurred anti-Cordoba House sentiment that seemed to grow as the weeks wore on.  In spite of the negativity, Kahn said that those in the interfaith community, including Jews and Christians, have helped Park51 supporters continue working toward their goal.

“They see us as brothers and sisters in the faith, and they are the ones that came to our aid,” Kahn said. “They are the ones who started fighting on behalf of us. They are the ones who circulated petitions. And they are the ones who came to every town hall meeting and stood in front with us, and made arguments on our behalf.”

Lorraine Branham, dean of the Newhouse school, said she appreciated Khan coming to tell her side of the story, and to counter misunderstanding and distortion of facts about the center.

Professor Gustav Niebuhr, director of the Carnegie Religion and Media Program, was the one who invited Kahn to speak at the university. He said she gives a perspective on what’s behind the proposition to build the center.

“It’s an opportunity to hear an articulate Muslim voice who’s absolutely committed to our basic freedoms in America, as I believe are most of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America," Niebuhr said.

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