Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New York's Little Syria

A lot of attention has turned to the proposed Islamic Cultural Center planned for New York's lower Manhattan, surely due to its proximity to Ground Zero. At best, many of the arguments against the center are short sighted, overlooking the neighborhood's history. At worst, many of the naysayers are pandering to xenophobia and Anti-Arab sentiment. What many don't realize is during the first half of the last century, this same section of lower Manhattan was home to “Little Syria”. This ethnic enclave was the destination of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian immigrants, centered on Washington Street just steps from City Hall.

At that time, the Muslim population was no greater than 5%, as most of the Arab immigrants were Christians. No mosques served the community, but rather 3 churches served the mostly Christian immigrant population. This included St. George Chapel of the Melkite Rite, inactive, but still standing 103 Washington Street.

The Little Syria neighborhood has since been razed to make way for urban renewal projects, most notably the World Trade Center and the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

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