The mosque (which is more accurately a community center with a prayer space) is located on Park Place in Downtown Manhattan, but the new name also reflects a desire to emphasize the intricate (though widely unknown) connections between Islamic teachings and environmentalism. For example, Islam calls upon people to be “stewards of the Earth” and to treat all things in nature as sacred. The new name, Park51, invokes images of trees, creeks, and children playing. Parks are for the public. Parks are fun. Parks are green. And parks are not controversial.
Proponents say this project is a victory for religious tolerance and a symbol of this country’s unwavering dedication to freedom of religion. Opponents cite the 9/11 tragedy and its connection to Islamic fundamentalism, and say the mosque is salt in America’s open wound. But the organizers of state-of-the-art Park51 believe they are building bridges, with the hope that the center can be a place for Muslims and non-Muslims to interact culturally and socially, and to provide an opportunity for all people to gain a more complete and accurate picture of how Islam sees the world.
Abdul-Matin wrote a book arguing that there’s an oft-overlooked tradition of Earth stewardship in Islam, Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet. The high-profile Park51 could do a lot to spotlight that tradition.
He doesn’t say what level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification the project will seek. The much ballyhooed green-building program has plenty of flaws, but the Park51 project fixes a big one. LEED tends to underemphasize the importance of location — any building planted in a sprawling, auto-intensive region will require more driving than a centrally located one. There’s no more compact, transit-friendly place in the nation than Manhattan (as Green Metropolis author David Owen argues).
That’s a major environmental win. Surely that’ll convince Sarah Palin and other project foes to drop their opposition.