September 10th, 2011
10:41 AM ET
By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
New York (CNN) – While all eyes are on lower Manhattan, nearly 200 people gathered more than 100 blocks north of Ground Zero on Friday night to honor 9/11 families and to recognize a decade of interfaith work at the Interchurch Center.
"Tonight we want to commemorate the event and we are going to honor 10 families who lost victims on 9/11. Five are Muslim, five are not Muslim, to show that we share the pain, we share the hope, we share the prayer," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
He hosted the event, In Good Faith: Stories of Hope and Resilience, along with the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and the Interchurch Center.
September 11 raised the profile of Islam in the U.S. and, according to Rauf, it caused the Western world to pay attention in a way that made Muslims the subject of intense suspicion. His goal is to build an American Muslim identity and enhance multi-faith dialogue.
The event highlighted bridge-building projects and began with a harmonic recitation from the Quran by Ali Karjoovary.
"We need a national healing around 9/11 and our hope is that we can achieve it," Rauf said. "And no matter how you slice it, I believe this healing will require the help of religious voices and American Muslims."
Rauf, the founder of the Cordoba Initiative, an organization dedicated to improving understanding among people of all cultures and faiths, fell under intense scrutiny when plans to build an Islamic community center adjacent to Ground Zero were unveiled.
According to Julie Menin, chairwoman of community board 1 in lower Manhattan, the community center, called Cordoba House, was approved by the local community in a vote of 29 to 1 in May 2010. Nonetheless, it provoked vocal opposition from some families of 9/11 victims and other groups.
Rauf dispelled rumors that the project is now on hold. "It is always being moved forward," he said.
"I've had this vision for over 20 years. The dream of establishing Cordoba House in New York is very much alive and we are actively pursuing the methods by which we can have such an institution."
The project, intended to bring people together, has done more to tear them apart. But Rauf is optimistic about the future, in a nation that was built on the principle of religious freedom. He sees Cordoba House as something that can be replicated both in the United States and around the world.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 has been bittersweet for Rauf. While there are signs of progress, the healing process and building of ties between Muslims and non-Muslims is far from complete.
His hope for the 20th anniversary of 9/11? "To bring all people together," he said succinctly.
"The battlefront that I see is not between Islam and the West or Muslims and America but between all of the moderates and all of the extremists. We have to band together to combat the extremists of all religions," said Rauf.
Up until last summer, Rauf was invited by the State Department to engage in public diplomacy work and to share his experience as an American Muslim, making four trips abroad in 10 years. However, his visit to the Gulf countries during the summer of 2010 was his last.
"The controversy has changed my life in some ways," he said.
The spirit of the evening was captured in the knotted rainbow ribbons that cascaded over the steps inside the chapel. The giant tapestry was a gift from the people of Norway during the height of the controversy one year ago.
Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, ASMA executive director and co-founder, see it is a symbol of connectedness.
Among those attending the event were Bobby Ghosh, TIME Magazine's world editor, veterans Fahad Khan and Matt Gallagher, and Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, who delivered a healing prayer before inviting all interfaith leaders to the front of the chapel to link hands as a sign of solidarity.
Russell Simmons, media mogul and philanthropist, took part in honoring the memory of 9/11 victims, by presenting plaques to 10 families.
One woman, who lost her husband, John Patrick Salamone, choked back tears while speaking about her children and the absence of their father.
"I lived on the other side of hate," MaryEllen Salamone said, "And peace is a better alternative."
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.