By Sumathi Reddy
The new imam for the planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero has stepped down from the job just weeks after his appointment was announced.
The organization behind the center and mosque, Park51, issued a statement Friday in which Imam Shaykh Abdallah Adhami announced his departure.
“It is important for me now to devote my time to the completion of my book which assists English readers in understanding and facilitating the language of the Quran. I wish the project leaders well,” Adhami said in the statement.
The announcement of Adhami’s appointment as a senior advisor on Jan. 14 was a surprise to many. The move signaled a diminished role for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the first name and face behind the controversial project as it faced a firestorm of controversy over the summer.
Developer Sharif El-Gamal, who co-founded the project with Rauf, has made an aggressive effort to portray himself as the leader of Park51. In a statement Friday, he praised Adhami’s contributions to this project and said his teachings remain an important part of the effort. “We look forward to him, God willing, leading prayers informally for Park51 in the near future,” El-Gamal said.
Adhami was going to join Rauf and other New York imams to be appointed later to oversee the prayer component of the project. A Park51 spokesperson said the group still plans to appoint a group of imams to the project.
Adhami is a Washington, D.C., native and was an imam for a mosque two blocks from Park51 before it lost its lease.
Park51 generated both intense opposition and support across the country because of its location—two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Preliminary plans for the 16-story center include wide-ranging facilities such as an Islamic prayer space, spa, preschool and memorial to Sept. 11 victims.