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September 17th, 2010
11:40 AM ET

Amid furor, 'ground zero mosque' imam leans on interfaith crisis management team

When Feisal Abdul Rauf learned earlier this month that a fundamentalist Florida pastor was flying to New York in hopes of meeting with him, the imam contacted Christian friends for advice on how to respond.

A handful of Christian leaders discouraged Rauf from meeting the Rev. Terry Jones - who’d threatened to burn Qurans unless Rauf moved his proposed Islamic center and mosque further from ground zero - and organized a phone call with Jones last weekend to urge him to cancel his Quran burning.

Jones had sent mixed messages about the event, first saying he had cancelled the burning but then announcing that he was rethinking whether to have the event.

“Jesus’ love and grace would have never resulted in such a hateful act,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical leader who advised Rauf about the meeting and helped organize the call. “So the faith community unified and mobilized.”

After hearing from Wallis and other Christian leaders, Rauf declined the meeting with Jones, who never went through with his event.

With the controversy over the site and substance of his proposed Islamic center now spanning the globe, the imam is relying on an informal cabinet of faith-based advisors, many of them Christian and Jewish, for crisis management advice and moral support during the most difficult public crisis of his life.

In interviews with roughly a dozen of these advisers, no one claimed to know exactly how the imam planned to resolve the crisis and move forward with his plans for the Islamic center.

But some associates say the controversy has prompted Rauf to take his project in a more pronounced multi-faith direction.

“He’s open to advice and he’s talking to us about creating a true interfaith presence and I hear him forming that now,” said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the religion department at the Chautauqua Institution, an interfaith study center in New York State.

Rauf declined interview requests for this story.

“Some of our talks are pastoral, since this is a very difficult time for Feisal and Daisy,” said Campbell, referring to Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan. “They are taking a lot of heat and so the question is how you help them when they’re under attack?”

Adds Rev. James Parks Morton, former dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine: “Most of the religious leaders in the city are very supportive of him and his vision.  But this has turned into a really very serious thing.”

Rauf’s powerful interfaith support group is a testament to the imam’s robust engagement in global interreligious dialogues over the last decade. The circle of leaders is providing a unified front of support for him and his project in the face of extraordinary public criticism.

But the informal advisory cabinet is populated mostly by proud religious liberals who strongly support Rauf’s Islamic center and who are indignant at much of the criticism aimed at the project, raising questions about the group’s ability to help move the project forward amid the public furor.

“Rauf’s position is coming purely from an interfaith position of ‘you love us, we love you,’ ” says Akbar Ahmed, an influential Islamic studies professor at American University. “He’s not putting the Islamic center in the context of American society and culture today. He’s disconnected from it and he’s not thinking through the consequences of his actions.”

Friends say that some of the imam’s interfaith work is inspired by his father, an Egyptian-educated imam who helped pioneer interfaith dialogue in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s and who helped secure land for Manhattan’s first full-scale mosque.

But Rauf’s friendships with religious leaders whom he’s relying on through the current crisis mostly grew out of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After 9/11, many influential Christian and Jewish progressives began reaching out to their Muslim counterparts for the first time.

Those Christian and Jewish leaders wanted to better understand Islam and to help combat rising anti-Islamic sentiment in the U.S. Rauf, who hails from Islam’s mystical and moderate Sufi tradition, emerged as perhaps the nation’s chief explainer of Islam to non-Muslims.

Of course, most critics of Rauf’s proposed Islamic center - which polls indicate include the vast majority of the country - cite the project’s proximity to the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center as the basis of their opposition to the project.

But the attacks catapulted Rauf, who was previously focused on interfaith work in New York and on his small mosque in the city’s Tribeca neighborhood, onto national and global stages.

“The events of that day in 2001 pulled me out of the warm mahogany pulpit in my mosque twelve blocks north of ground zero in New York City,” he wrote in his 2004 book What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West. “Inundated with requests to ‘explain the Islamic viewpoint,’ I hurried from one television and radio interview to the next, trying to explain in a few sound bites the depths of the issues.”

At a televised panel discussion on religious fundamentalism in New York shortly after 9/11, Rauf first met the evangelical Wallis, who heads a social justice group called Sojourners.

Rauf discussed Muslim extremism, while Wallis talked about Christian radicalism. Another speaker addressed Jewish fundamentalism, sending a message that Islamic extremism is hardly unique.

A few months later, Rauf was invited for the first time to the World Economic Forum, which had moved from its usual location in Davos, Switzerland to New York as a show of solidarity after the 9/11 attacks. There Rauf met another influential Christian progressive, Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Welton Gaddy, with whom he became friendly through subsequent trips to Davos.

While providing a high-profile support base amid the current firestorm, such friendships have also seemed to shield Rauf somewhat from the public outcry over his proposed center.

“Our conversation was friendly because it was between friends,” Gaddy said of his recent interview with Daisy Khan on his radio show, State of Belief. “I have been very clear with Daisy that if people are opposed to the project on the basis that it is Islamic that that is unconstitutional.”

The circle of like-minded friends and advisors may have also blinded Rauf early on to the project’s capacity for generating outrage. The Rev. James Forbes, Jr. senior minister emeritus of New York’s Riverside Church - one of the country’s most influential mainline Protestant congregations - said that he dined with Rauf on the Fourth of July and that the then-mounting criticism never came up in conversation.

“We just had a wonderful dinner together… discussing the excitement about what he was attempting to do, to build a place that followed our interfaith sensibilities,” Forbes said. “I don’t recall lamenting how awful the reaction was to the idea.”

Rauf has also formed close relationships with progressive Jewish leaders since 9/11, modeling his proposed Islamic center largely on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and on New York’s 92nd Street Y, an influential Jewish cultural institution.

Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, declined interview requests. A spokeswoman for the 92nd Street Y, Beverly Greenfield, said that Rauf had no formal contact with the institution over his proposed Islamic center, called Park 51.

Some of Rauf’s Jewish allies have taken a behind-the-scenes role helping him through the Islamic center flap, worried that their full-throated support could anger Jews that have criticized Rauf over statements regarding Israel.

“Of all the Muslims I can think of, I can’t think of anyone who’s been more present in the Jewish community,” said a prominent New York rabbi who asked for anonymity out of concern that he’d alienate some supporters.

Some of Rauf’s friends said he appeared to be taking their advice to do a few long-format interviews, including one last week with CNN and an appearance this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an attempt to fully explain his vision and to avoid having sound bites taken out of context.

Asked if he’d consider compromising on plans for the center, Rauf told the Council on Foreign Relations Monday that “everything is on the table,” though he has said that moving the center could dangerously inflame parts of the Muslim world because it would look like he was giving into anti-Muslim sentiment.

Plans for the $100 million, 13-story center include a 500 seat auditorium, classrooms and conference rooms, space for social events, a 9/11 memorial, a pool and a gym.

At the Council of Foreign Relations, Rauf continued to stress the project’s interfaith aims, saying it “will be a place for all faiths to come together as partners, as stakeholders in mutual respect.”

Some of Rauf’s friends and supporters in the faith world are convinced that the worst is behind him.

“My hope is that with the pressure of September 11 over and with this crazy, hateful Florida threat averted, there could now be a more thoughtful process on how to implement this great vision that Feisal and Daisy have,” said Wallis. “Now there will be some time to think this through.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • 9/11 • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mosque • Muslim • New York • United States

soundoff (334 Responses)
  1. Friend

    This got off the point Amid Furor is just trying to complete a mosque, he has no affiliation with terrorists and just because the terrorist were muslin doesnt mean we need to write them all off. There are bad people in every religion

    November 16, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  2. IONEL PETRISOR

    IF mohamed WAS A PROFET OR SOME DIETY HE HAS TO DEFEND ISLAM BY HIS OWN POWER,OR HIMSELF!!!.NO MUSLIM(OR ANY PERSON) HAS TO FIGHT FOR HIM.ANYWAY HI IS DEAD..

    October 17, 2010 at 4:13 am |
  3. IONEL PETRISOR

    IF mohamed WAS A PROFET OR SOME DIETY HE HAS TO DEFEND ISLAM BY HIS OWN POWER,OR HIMSELF.

    October 17, 2010 at 3:31 am |
  4. edwards

    the whole thing simply needs to stop.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  5. Muneef

    The number of Muslims in every nation that were globally pointed out might be correct, but the question here is, whether these numbers of Muslims are aware well about the teachings of Islam in the right way with out extremism ? Well can tell you that those are hard working people in a difficult and hard enviroments only to achieve their daily needs for bread and water and not concerned with politics or imposing their views on others. And those who were lucky enough to immigrate looking for a decent life and job as well not concerned with politics. Muslims in general if left alone with out your intervention might end up fighting each other due differences of views in their faith, but if west keep on applying pressure causing starvation, harassment and confrontation against Muslims and against their faith, this will only lead them to leave behind their differences and jointly or individually confront their enemies,those who wants to deprive them from their rights of faith and belief and the more they are pressed the more they would complain by reacting and not by words and cries since words and cries seem does not reach,heard or work out now a days since being their judges and executors are all of non religious such as atheists, infidels,polytheists who consider their vast interests above all humanity and faith issues such as mercy,leniency, compassion,pity,sympathy,kindness all that of human mutual heavenly code of conduct.!?       

    September 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Lighthouses are more helpful than Churches”, Benjamin Franklin
    Let the Islamic center be built and become a lighthouse for planting respect and.peace among faiths and followers?

    September 26, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  7. Muneef

    The arrivals explains it all

    September 23, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  8. Ali Mian

    Here's another perspective:

    http://www.ebrahimmoosa.com/Home/Blog/Entries/2010/9/19_ACT_OF_RECONCILIATION__AN_APOLOGY.html

    September 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Muneef

    A Beautiful story about QURAN.
    Why do we read Quran, even if we can't understand a single Arabic word???
    *An old American Muslim lived on a farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading his Quran. His grandson wanted to be just like him and tried to imitate him in every way he could.
    One day the grandson asked, "Grandpa! I try to read the Quran just like you but I don't understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the Qur'an do?"
    The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and replied, "Take this coal basket down to the river and bring me back a basket of water.
    The boy did as he was told, but all the water leaked out before he got back to the house. The grandfather laughed and said, "You'll have to move a little faster next time," and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a basket, and he went to get a bucket instead.
    The old man said, "I don't want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You're just aganot trying hard enough," and he went out the door to watch the boy try in.
    At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got back to the house. The boy again dipped the basket into river and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty. Out of breath, he said, "See Grandpa, it's useless!"
    "So you think it is useless?" The old man said, "Look at the basket."
    The boy looked at the basket and for the first time realized that the basket was different. It had been transformed from a dirty old coal basket and was now clean, inside and out.
    Son, that's what happens when you read the Qur'an . You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be changed, inside and out when you read time by time . That is the work of Allah in our lives.."
    The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh & his family) says: *"The one who guides to good will be rewarded equally"

    September 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  10. dwighthuth

    No what needs to be done is Imam Feisal to support the overthrow of the Iranian government. By doing so would show America which side that his Shamshir falls on either the side of America is combating the Taliban and other countries engaged in totalitarian rule over their citizen's or on the side with the Taliban and other countries n trying to topple America frm within.

    America does not need another facility of West and East relations. The Middle East needs the facility that the Imam is trying to build to better relations with the radical Middle Easterner.

    The last time I checked America does not have suicidal bombers blowing things up like the Middle East does. So to better relations between the West and East Imam Feisal's International Facility needs to be built right on top of the site where the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled after he was captured.

    September 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  11. dwighthuth

    Here is a question that needs asking of America. If the Imam helps bring the walls around Iran down thus freeing her people and stopping the terrorist's actions in the Middle East because of the free Iranian state would he (the Imam) be in a better position to ask that his facility be built near Ground Zero. Should his obligation to America and the goal of freedom worldwide merit such a building? Which side does his Islamic sword fall on?

    Hope is Candle.

    September 18, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  12. Pastor Mike

    Good News! Jim Christ is on the verge of His return! Praise his name!

    September 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
  13. bt

    There is no reason to build any islamic center. Build a world trading center or a library or museum or park or play ground so that everyone can go and enjoy. Islamic center will be center for muslims only and not many people will be interested to go.

    If Rauf is interested in changing anything he should go to the muslim world and teach them to be peaceful in stead of saying that our national security depends on resolution of this issue in his favor. No islamic center. Yes to a center of education (non sectarian, non religious) or a park for people to come and enjoy.

    September 18, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  14. Demosthenes

    By the way, did any of you know that Muslims come from Ishmael, who was the first son of Abraham through Sarah's handmaid Hagar? This is why they, like the Jews, actually live their religion. This is also why there is so much contention from them directed towards peoples of Jewish faith (someone feel free correct me if you think I'm wrong) and why the Qu'aran is similar to the Bible in many more ways than people realize. However, it was Isaac, and not Ishmael, that received the promise from God (according to the Bible in Genesis) that the "chosen people" or Jews, would come through him, and not Ishmael. God also promised Abraham that Ishmael's seed, or children, would increase, to fulfill His promise to Abraham that his seed(posterity) would fill up the earth. The Muslim religion is more similar to the Jewish religion in the aspects that they try to actually live their religion, they came from Abraham, and they have a holy book. It is intolerant to not be educated about other religions and faiths before critisizing and condemning them. Get smart.

    September 18, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Demosthenes

      "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." Chapter 2, Verse 62

      That doesn't sound like they want to kill Jews, Christians, or anyone else. At least, it is what the Qu'aran says.

      September 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Demosthenes

      Hi there....

      I think most already know the history of Islam and the relationship to the Christian Old testament/Jewish bible-Torah. And...how it all started out with Abraham....

      We are well past that...Demosthenes.....

      It is that the hate-mongering and radical extremists don't care. They don't really care about the shared histories and the reality behind this, but only in over-generalizing hate on all 1.3 billion Muslim's... and there are also some who hate the Jew's that post here as well.

      It is usually the Christian fundamentalists that do most of the hate-mongering and agitating........

      Anyways, I had not recognized your moniker or any postings herer before..... I have been on these blogs since they first started...thought I would jump in and say hello and post a response to your's...

      Peace.....

      September 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ EVERYONE

      Please be aware that many of these boards have been 'infiltrated', however not by Western or Eastern ideologists in search of intelligent debate, but by college kids who like to 'stir the pot' for their own perverse entertainment value.

      This practice is commonly referred to as "trolling", the brats who do it are "trolls". They will try to bait you and engage in argument for the sake of argument alone. They are known by several names.. peace2all, Kasim, frogist are but a few. Search their names on these boards if you want examples of their "work." Call them on it and they'll behave like the 22 going on 14 year-olds that they are.

      Don't respond to them. Ignore their posts regardless of their heckles and jeers. Enter into conversation with them at your own risk. Do Not "Feed the Trolls."

      Now you boys can whine, and we'll ignore you..

      September 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
    • peace2all

      @EVERYONE

      For those of us who have been posting on these blogs since the beginning in spirited discourse...

      There is a 'New comer'--His name is @HONESTANON-–He has been simultaneously being an agitator, inciting hatred, and trying to squelch free speech. His tactics are much in the same vein as HITLER.... in terms of his inciting to hatred of muslims and anyone who doesn't agree, while also, putting out 'youtube' propoganda.

      I wish everyone Peace...

      September 19, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  15. mcauleysworld

    Rauf has specifically refused to condemn HAMAS, on over a dozen occassions he has been asked to concemn HAMAS and has refused to do so stating, and I quote, ""I'm not a politician," replied Rauf. "I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. ... I'm a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder. I do not want to be placed, nor do I accept to be placed in a position of being put in a position where I am the target of one side or another." ... the first time Rauf stated this was during an ABC radio interview ... he has repeated this exact position many times since ...

    The HAMAS issue is not a political one .... the HAMAS question is a question of religous ethics ... or reliigous morality ... the issue is one of direct consequent to what we, as American's believe .... The HAMAS charter states the following, "Israel exists and will continue to exist until Islam shall rise up and "obliterate" it .... When Imam Rauf is asked to condemn HAMAS he is being asked to condemn the basic concept of militant Islam ... that any faith, religion or people have a "right" to "obliterate" any other faith, religion or people ... A very basic concept to every American .... A very basic and simply thing for any "man of peace" to condemn .... No faith, relgion or people have the right to obliterate any other .... The Imam should be willing to state as much .... FYI ... HAMAS should be capitalized ... it is an acronym of Harakat al Mawqawama al Islamiyya meaning "Islamic Resistance Movement." The word HAMAS also means "zeal." ...

    Google HAMAS Charter for yourself ... you will find that the 1st three tenants state the following:

    "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory). Article

    "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. "

    [To Jews, Christians or any other faith ... ]

    "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." (Article 13 of the unabridged charter)

    you might be surprised to know that the HAMAS charter states the following: "Therefore, you can see them making consistent efforts [in that direction] by way of publicity and movies, curricula of education and culture, using as their intermediaries their craftsmen who are part of the various Zionist Organizations which take on all sorts of names and shapes such as: the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, gangs of spies and the like.... Thus, the Muslims must fulfill their duty in confronting the schemes of those saboteurs. When Islam will retake possession of [the means to] guide the life [of the Muslims], it will wipe out those organizations which are the enemy of humanity and Islam. Article 17 unabridged Charter of HAMAS

    What's not to condemn?

    Strangely, Imam Rauf is also a defender of the genocidal regime in the Sudan (Dafur). The Government of the Sudan has been charged by the United Nations International Criminal Court with multiple charges of "Genoicde" and 'Crimes Against Humanity", yet Imam Rauf denies the genocide in Dafur and is a chief defender and apologist of the Sudanese Government ... Google Imam Rauf, Cordoba Initiative Sudan; Cordoba Initiative Dafur Sudan and/or Cordoba Initiative Suadn American Muslim Magazine .... When asked about the Genocide in Dafur, Imam Rauf could only state that with the withdrawal of UN Peacekeepers from the region, Peacekeepers who defended the woamn and children of Dafur from Gewnocide, that with that withdrwal, now the time was ripe for the US to "redefine" it's relationship with the Sudanese Government ... "redefine" .... The good Imam refused to call for an end to the Genocide, he refused to even admit that 'egnocide" was occuring ..... How is this a "man of peace" or a "bridge builder".

    Now, with the international moral and religious issues aside, what type of "man of faith" what type of "bridge builder" is also a SLUM LORD .... Google Union City New Jersey Judge Orders Imam Rauf

    September 18, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  16. Takesonetocallone

    I am unsure why christians are mocking "the religion of peace" and in the same breath wanting to incite violence against the center. I feel ashamed to call myself a christian for i will be grouped in with you, people who just dont understand Jesus's message of peace and forgiveness and to have no respect for a group of people beleive and cherish something as strongly as we do.
    Yeah, like cutting off the heads of the Christians who worked there, in one case, working there for the good of thier country? Like stoning or killing h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-als? (They are suppose to worship the same God as you and me, so they say, where did Jesus say to kill the sinner?) If thats thier "christian" way, then they can keep it. I don't claim it, why do you?
    Sorry, pal, I would be ashamed to stand next to you,too. I can respect the power of a meat grinder in motion, but that don't mean I gotta be stupid enough to stick my hand in it.
    Not my concept of love and peace and forgiveness that I ever understood Jesus to speak of.

    I can love them from afar, and forgive them....but I don't trust them, thier ways are nor mine. These people fruits are rotten. Ask any one of these peaceful ones that are Muslims, if they renouce the stoning of women and killing of h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-als? See what they tell ya.
    Imam needs to pack it up and move on. This was just another move by the frustrated bunch to cause strife in the world. They didn't succeed in killing the American spirit, and its tougher to get at us now.
    Their next plan of attack, is to find cause to incite more of thier s*it over here, and come in the name of peace. Whoa...didn't Jesus say something about wolves in sheeps clothing?? Many will come in my name...do not believe them...

    September 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Muneef

    Never hear of Taqiyya before tonight this is noting to do with Islam the real one and not where there were added bodah wihich means modified since same said Leeds to zalalah being stray lost from the real path since every zalalah ends it's people to be fuel of hell. Some got mixed up between cultural habits and Islam Making formula of their own and this called sofizem. Any way subject here gets complicated but some mislead the real Islam.
    About mocking it is international subject since mocking could be within one single religion as that is between Muslim Sunnah and Shiath or Catholics and Protestants or Jews and those considered as inferior Jews (Arab/Flasha Jews) ?

    The Quran all stories of nations that disobayed God Prophets and what they experienced as well as the whole story from date of creation to last prophet of God Muhammed. Do understand why some hate the Quran is because most of the stories were about the sons of Israel disobeying God and messengers of God and that every time they did not like what they are being told by their messengers and prophets they would kill them and many died in their hands and this was the main reason that the prophecy had to be given to one of the sons of Ishmael who is the Arabic Prophet Muhammed who was hated by them even before birth since they were already told that a new prophet will come but being not from sons of Israel and that"s all this war against Islam is the one before last they conspired on was Jesus who was one of them but they considered him inferior because they in doubt still about the power of his birth giving.

    September 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.