NEW YORK (CBS 2) — The mastermind developer of one of the most controversial mosque projects in recent memory has broken his silence.
In the face of growing opposition, Sharif El-Gamal defended his plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero in an exclusive interview with Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes.”
In the midst of the furor and madness as evidenced by the recent bickering in the media, outpouring of emotions by residents and countless protests, comes the question: why does an institution dedicated to Muslims have to be built just two blocks from ground zero, hallowed ground of 9/11 where so many were killed by Muslims?
“It matched the needs of my community,” El-Gamal said.
El-Gamal, the developer of the most contentious mosque project in America, answered that question Friday.
“It matched the needs of my Muslim brothers and sisters, my Christian brothers and sisters, my Jewish brothers and sisters, who live and work in lower Manhattan,” El-Gamal said.
The Brooklyn-born Muslim belongs to a Jewish community center, is the son of a Catholic, and married a Christian.
“I did. That’s New York, though. That’s New York. New York welcomes and celebrates pluralism and diversity. That’s what makes New York great,” El-Gamal said.
After ducking many opportunities to talk about the proposed Muslim community center and the controversy around it, El-Gamal gave an exclusive interview to “60 Minutes,” promising the $100 million raised to build the community center will come from all walks of life.
“We will not take money from Iran. We will not take money from Hamas. We will not take money from organizations that have un-American values,” El-Gamal said.
The value of religious freedom has been front and center of this debate, but so have the feelings of 9/11 families, some of which feel the mosque’s location is insensitive.
“This is our graveyard. This is our memorial,” one told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer back on Aug. 23.
The outrage has led to threats.
“I think about my safety, but I’m not worried,” El-Gamal said.
This week El-Gamal was at the Ramadan dinner where Mayor Michael Bloomberg repeated his support for the mosque, but after the dinner when asked if he’d be willing to meet with 9/11 families on the issue, the developer said thank you and walked away. Instead, in the interview he spoke of the overwhelming support from the community board.
“Twenty-nine in favor, one against; that’s … that is my community. This is who I’m catering to,” El-Gamal said.
On Friday the developer kicked off a fundraising campaign that raised $10,000, but supporters admitted they are still far away from raising the $100 million needed for construction and operations.