In light of the recent furore over the Islamic Cultural Center, it was startling to discover that Lady Liberty not only faces east towards Mecca, but she was originally Muslim. In Power, Faith and Fantasy, Michael Oren’s wonderful book about U.S. engagement in the Middle East since 1776, he describes Frederic Bartholdi’s original inspiration for the statue. It was to depict an Egyptian peasant woman, twice as tall as the Sphinx, holding aloft a torch of freedom and stand at the entrance to the newly completed Suez Canal. After Bartholdi had produced many drawings and terra-cotta models, however, Egypt’s ruler, Khedive Isma’il, ran out of money. Distraught, according to Oren, Bartholdi took a consolation cruise to the United States. As he sailed into New York harbor, he noticed “egg-shaped Bedloe’s Island” and instantly decided on the new spot for his statue. There she now stands, New York’s most prominent Muslim since 1886.
New York’s Most Prominent Muslim