Mosques (and Muslims) in Manhattan

2010 August 4
by Ellen Noonan

1916 version of Castello Plan map of New Amsterdam; originally created by Jacob Cortelyou in 1660

Yesterday’s vote by New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Board cleared the way, at least for now, for the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic community center on Park Place in lower Manhattan.

Lost in the national uproar is the local fact that there is already a mosque, Masjid Al-Farah, located on West Broadway a mere twelve blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center. Daisy Kahn, who is helping to spearhead the project, argued in a Wall Street Journal interview “No one should be asked to leave their neighborhood. This is our neighborhood and we’ve been part of it for 27 years.”

Actually, muslims have lived, worked, and worshipped near this now toxically symbolic patch of real estate for considerably longer than that. From its earliest days of European settlement, when members of the Dutch West India Company landed on the southern tip of the island of Manahata, there were muslims in New Amsterdam. As the seventeenth century wore on into the eighteenth, African slaves and sailors who practiced the muslim faith were among many who helped to transform a tiny commercial outpost into the growing port city of New York. Embedded in a diverse Atlantic world economy, New Amsterdam (and to a lesser extent the English-ruled New York) prized commerce over religious dogma and its citizens enjoyed relative religious and cultural freedoms.

CNN online, of all places, has a nice summary of the history of mosques in Manhattan.

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