Gamal was apparently caught off-guard here, and clearly acted as though he had something to hide. “Mosque Meeting in Disarray,” by Sumathi Reddy for the Wall Street Journal, August 28 (thanks to all who sent this in):
The developer of the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero began fund raising for the controversial project Friday, collecting $10,000 in pledges following a well-attended prayer service at the downtown site.
“We’ve established a not-for-profit entity as of this week and as of now we are able to start fund raising and start collecting money on behalf of the project,” said Sharif El-Gamal, head of SoHo Properties, following Friday’s service.
The abrupt fund-raising effort followed religious services Friday and came at the end of a muddled event that drew a media mob, police officers and sign-wielding protesters and supporters to the site.
Mr. El-Gamal pleaded with the worshipers leaving the Park51 center for funds for the $100 million project. “Who’s going to be the first person that’s going to pledge 5,000 dollars? Don’t be shy,” he intoned. Invoking Muslims’ holy fasting month of Ramadan, he added, “This is the month of giving.”
As hands went up, he continued, sprinkling in Arabic phrases in his pleas. “We have real-estate taxes, we have electricity, we have inspections,” he said. “We haven’t even bought this building yet. We need everybody’s help in what we’re trying to do.”
Mr. El-Gamal also urged members to volunteer their time if they couldn’t offer money, saying different advisory committees would be announced on the website in coming days.
“I know nobody’s going out to lunch after this so we can talk about it,” he said. “Let’s talk about it until we get 10,000 dollars.” Within five minutes, he had raised $10,000 in promised funds. It was unclear if or when he was collecting the money. He advised everyone leaving the service to not talk to any media.
Oz Sultan, who handles media relations for Park51, said the center’s fund-raising strategy would be developed within 45 to 60 days.
Imam Abdallah Adhami, a religious legal adviser and founder of the Sakeenah Foundation, was invited to preside over Friday’s services at Park51. Representatives for Mr. Adhami had invited the press to attend the service. But Mr. El-Gamal and a representative for Mr. Adhami openly clashed as Mr. El-Gamal said he didn’t want the media there.
There’s a spectacular start to transparent fundraising.
“She does not work here,” the developer told security officers at the mosque, referring to Mr. Adhami’s representative.
“We feel betrayed about what’s happened here,” a news anchor said to Mr. El-Gamal.
“We feel very betrayed about what’s happening in the press,” he snapped back.
In a statement, Park51 apologized for the confusion at Friday’s prayer service, saying the group normally allows visiting imams to invite one or two media members but that an outside consultant for Mr. Adhami had sent the invitation to a larger group.
Mr. Adhami said he consulted with Mr. El-Gamal last week and that this was his first visit to the mosque. “There’s a serious disconnect among the various people involved,” he said. “That’s clear to anybody.”
Mr. Adhami also indicated that fund raising after a religious service didn’t appear appropriate to him. “It’s not very dignified,” he said.
Where Park51 will get the funds to construct a mosque and massive community center has become an issued raised by some elected officials.
Park51’s partner, the Cordoba Initiative, has said that they haven’t yet raised any money for the center but wouldn’t rule out accepting foreign funds. The organizers have also insisted that they won’t accept money from anyone with anti-American views or agendas and would be careful about which donations they can accept.
No worries: they say they’ll be careful!