The ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks brought thousands to Lower Manhattan on Saturday. While those who lost loved ones shed tears and paid respects, this year’s anniversary was laced with controversy and protest about the proposed Park51 mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

The morning started off with the annual commemoration ceremony at Zuccotti Park. Those working to build the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and family members of those lost recited names of the 2,752 victims who died at the World Trade Center.

Moments of silence were held at the exact times when planes struck the North and South Towers and when the towers collapsed.

Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave speeches of healing to victims’ families. President Barack Obama was in Washington, D.C., at a ceremony at the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson told mourners at the World Trade Center site that rebuilding must not only begin physically but also morally.

“New Yorkers were on the front lines then, and we are still today,” Paterson said. “The attacks were meant to strike fear into our hearts and make us question the wisdom of our free society. But what the terrorists did not realize then–and what they will never understand–is that our laws are stronger than our fears, and our fears are never written into law. Their strength will never approach ours. New York will rebuild.”

With a rose in hand and a ribbon with her daughter’s name, Edith Warford of the Bronx attended the ceremony with her family to remember Brenda Comire, who worked in the North Tower.

“I always come down here,” Warford said. “I just like to come down here because I don’t want to leave her alone. It’s so much.”

Ilia Rodriguez came from Miami, Fla., to remember her son Carlos “Rey” Lillo, who was a paramedic during the September 11 attacks. Accompanied by several family members, she held a sign with a photo of her son for all to see.

“It’s something that never goes away from your heart. It’s a big pain. I come here every year to honor my son and I have to come for the rest of my life. It’s like going to a cemetery,” Rodriguez said.

As controversy swirls about the Park51 mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, dueling rallies took place, mostly after the commemoration ceremony, with separate gatherings of those for and against the mosque.

The block where Park51 is set be built on Park Place was closed off by the NYPD, prohibiting anyone from entering the area. However, thousands of demonstrators from both sides were out in full force to defend their views, creating tension in the air.

Heated arguments up and down Chambers Street could be heard about religious freedom, constitutional rights and basic morals. Noticeable signs that read “Stop Racism” and “Freedom Now” were frequent but were met with signs that read “No Mosque at Ground Zero.”

The NYPD reported no physical incidents or injuries.

Opposition to the proposed mosque was strong, leading people to go to the extreme. One man was even seen with pages ripped out of the Quran, urging people to use them as toilet paper. In contrast, another group was giving away free copies of the Quran translated in English.

“Before people make any comments or actions of burning [the Quran], it’s only fair to investigate it and see what it says,” said Ousmane Camara, who was giving out free copies of the Quran. “After that, if it doesn’t sink in, if it doesn’t make sense and it’s not the word of God, then do as you wish.”

A rally in favor of the mosque given by the International Action Center convened on the west side of City Hall Park, united against racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and Islamophobia.

“We had at least 10,000 people,” said Sara Flounders, one of the coordinators of the rally. “And the rally program–with speakers from the labor movement, immigrants’ rights coalitions, and clergy from synagogues, churches and mosques–featured the dynamic diversity of almost every community in New York.”

On East Broadway, a rally of thousands against the proposed mosque waved American flags and heard speeches from the right wing. Dutch politician Geert Wilders served as the keynote speaker for that rally. Wilders is best known for his anti-Islamic advocacy.

The day concluded with the “Tribute in Lights.” Two beams of light, in the place where the Twin Towers once stood, were illuminated at sunset and stayed on until sunrise on Sunday morning.