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September 7th, 2010
09:52 PM ET

Imam: NYC Islamic center 'is the right thing to do'

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien has an exclusive interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on "Larry King Live" Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Submit questions for the Imam via iReport here.

The imam at the center of an ugly controversy over an Islamic center near New York's ground zero broke his silence Tuesday, just hours after a broad coalition of Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders denounced what they described as a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry across the United States.

"I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an editorial published online by the New York Times Tuesday night.

"We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become," wrote Rauf, who has just returned from a State Department-sponsored Middle East trip to promote U.S.-Muslim relations. "The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship."

The imam was clear about his intentions.

"We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons," he wrote.

Opponents of the plan to build the center say it is too close to the site of the terror attacks and is an affront to the memory of those who died in the al Qaeda strike. Backers cite, among other things, First Amendment rights and the need to express religious tolerance.

Rauf described the center to be built two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center towers - destroyed by terrorist-hijacked commercial jets on September 11, 2001 - as a "shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children."

"There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths," he wrote. "The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks."

"I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke on Tuesday about the plan and criticized politicians he claims are using the issue for political gain ahead of mid-term elections in November.

"This is a political thing that all came up in two months - and its going to go away on November 4th," he said.

Various faith leaders in recent weeks have expressed concerns about hate crimes against American Muslims in the run-up to this weekend's anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, which coincide with the holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, marking the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Worry over what some observers have termed "Islamophobia" has also been heightened by a Gainesville, Florida, church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington.

Earlier Tuesday, a broad coalition of faith leaders gathered in Washington, where they met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss their concerns.

"To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville planned burning of Qurans 'idiotic and dangerous,'" said Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, soon after meeting with Holder.

"While it may not be a violation of the law - it may be an act of free speech - it certainly violates our sense of decency," she added about the Florida event.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed those thoughts later when she spoke at a dinner celebration of Iftar, the breaking the daily fast during Ramadan.

"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths ... as well as secular U.S. leaders and opinion makers," she said.

Separately, founders of the newly formed Interfaith Coalition on Mosques addressed the issue of religious freedom during a news conference at Washington's National Press Club.

"Freedom of religion is a hallmark of this country," said Ingrid Mattson, head of the Islamic Society of North America. It is time to decide "whether we are going to live up to our values."

The coalition released a statement decrying a "disturbing rise in discrimination against Muslims" and declaring that the current "level of hostility, fear mongering and hate speech is unacceptable and un-American."

"We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America," the statement read.

Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a series of commercials designed to fight what it called growing Islamophobia. One in the series features a Muslim firefighter who was among the first responders on 9/11.

Opponents of the New York Islamic center are "trying to tell the world and tell Americans that Muslims do not belong here. That Muslims are the others, when we are in fact, all Americans," said Nahad Awad, executive director of the council.

"They're trying to portray Muslims as foreigners. This is a dangerous repeat of history. If it's allowed, it's going to hurt all of us," he said.

In a statement on its website, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, said it plans to mark the anniversary of the 2001 attacks by burning Qurans this weekend "to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful."

The pastor of the small church, Terry Jones, has written a book titled "Islam is of the Devil," and the church sells coffee mugs and shirts featuring the phrase.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Monday criticized the church's plan, warning the demonstration "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said.

Jones told CNN's "American Morning" on Tuesday that he is "taking the general's words" seriously. We are "weighing the situation" and are "praying about it," he said.

But it is "very important that America wakes up," he argued. Radical Islam "must be shown a certain amount of force (and) determination."

The planned event has drawn criticism from Muslims in the United States and overseas, with thousands of Indonesians gathering outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday to protest the planned Quran burning.

"Those mainly conservative Christians who respond to their Muslim brothers and sisters - their fellow Americans - with anti-Muslim bigotry or hatred, they are openly rejecting... the First Amendment principles of religious liberty which we as evangelical Christians benefit daily," said Rev. Richard Cizik, of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, at the National Press Club.

"And to those who would exercise derision ... bigotry (and) open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith - I say shame on you."

Editor's Note: CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden passes along this note on the meeting faith leaders had with Attorney General Eric Holder: A senior Justice Department official who was present at the meeting later clarified Holder's comment as follows: "Yes, the Attorney General did refer to the plan [to burn the Qurans] as "idiotic." In his reference to "dangerous" he was specifically pointing to the comments by General Petreus."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Church and state • Culture wars • Florida • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mosque • New York • Quran • United States

soundoff (307 Responses)
  1. Tom

    "not inclined", I should have said.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  2. Nat

    I am a Follower of Christ...I don't believe that showing hatred, jealousy and bitterness is what God requires...The bible say's if a man strikes you on the check turn your head so he may strike u on the otherside as well...I don't believe we should do nothing but rage isn't the way..

    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  3. willneverforget

    "While it may not be a violation of the law – it may be an act of free
    speech – it certainly violates our sense of decency," I think this is exactly what the people who are against building the mosque at Ground Zero are trying to get across. Can't have it both ways. I don't condone the burning of the quran–I think it is disrespectful. I also think it is a slap in the face of those who died on 9/11 to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Each side has the Right to do what they will, but that doesn't mean they should.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  4. Average America

    The truth is we have tolerated this radical cult as long as we possibly can. Our rights exist without their permission or approval. They need to learn some tolerance and it is idiotic to think that we must abide by their sensitivities alone. If all the radicals come out at once it will be ever so much easier to identify and eliminate them as a whole.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • HappyApostate

      Amen brother. We bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim intolerance. That has o stop and people need to see Islam for what it really is. Of course, I'll probably get a death threat for saying that.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
    • TheRational

      I agree, the Christians have had this coming for a long time.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
    • TammyB

      Yes, it would be much easier to identify the extremists of Christianity (like Terry Jones), Muslims, and others, if they would just come out at once. Then ALL of THEIR intolerances to each other and us, as well, could be addressed. Then maybe we could throw all those extreme Christians, Muslims, etc. to their own island to blow each other up until they are all gone! Cool!

      September 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  5. thetruth

    "The pastor of the small church, Terry Jones, has written a book titled "Islam is of the Devil," and the church sells coffee mugs and shirts featuring the phrase"

    These religous neo-cheaters create problems where none exist on purpose. They do it to control their followers through fear and mysticism in order to drain them of their hard earned cash. It is that simple, and has nothing to do with 'beliefs'. This guy in Florida is a classic dishonest conman, and does not care who gets hurt as long as he keeps earning a livelihood by cheating everyone.

    If you really want to understand what this guy is up to, try to find a copy of "NEO-Tech" by Frank Wallace. It will clearly explain the methods and reasons that religious fundamentalists all over the world needlessly spread fear and endanger world peace in the name of power and profit – for THEM, not YOU.

    Sincere Best Wishes

    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  6. law and order

    and I thought attorney general eric holder was all about protecting the freedom of speech

    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • willneverforget

      only when it's convenient

      September 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  7. Dave

    If this is what it takes to start the real war then let it begin

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • Indabuff

      Dave, obviously you have no idea of how many muslims are on this earth and if you want to start a "holy war" against people who are very much inclined to die for their faith – you are on your own, buddy. I'm not dying for any religion.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  8. Tom

    Evidently, they are inclined to heed the warning of the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine who warned that where one burns books, there one eventually burns people.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • Tom

      I meant to write: "not inclined"

      September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  9. Whatchagonnado

    Why do people continue to make ignorant statements about Islam. Most Muslims do not fall into the radical sect that the terrorists do. Most Muslims are peace loving people. Burning the Koran will only endanger our troops and turn some moderate Muslims into extremists ones (the one's that may be on the fence now). If this book burning costs on US life or creates one terrorist is it worth it? Just because you can does not mean that you should.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • J.T

      we've been saying that about the gays for ages!!! ha ha ha...just kidding but seriously, americans die to protect these freedoms, though they havent died for our freedom in a long lifetime...though it is debatable either world war would have actually ended in an invasion of america, I digress. the truth is simple, the fundamentalists are the Muslims who actually read the q'uran, and adhere to its tentants, such as "kill the infidels wherever you find them," and "never make friends with a christian or a jew" yes this is all aftter the lovey stuff, but if you knew the historical chronology behind the writing of the Q'uran you'd know that was all written when he was a nobody in Mecca, and is superseded (per the verse in the q'uran that says its God is not absolute, and his later "revelations supersede his first") by the writings he made as a warlord in Medina...get a proper education.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
    • HappApostate

      If Muslims are such peace loving people, where is the outrage from the Muslim community when acts of terrorism occur? Further, Sharia law is completely at odds with our ideals of freedom and where are the Muslim reformists denouncing that for what it is, barbaric and demeaning and degrading to women?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  10. Jimmy

    Stupid idea, easy to do inside the cocoon of security provided here, why not go do the same in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia? Maybe I might then believe you weren't just seeking cheap publicity in the most incomprehensible way. What with all our soldiers out there in arm's way? This just one of the many things wrong with modern day Christianity.... right next to the prosperity sermons.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  11. jimbo, st. louis mo

    I've been putting the Gideon bibles either in the trash or hotel toilets for years. Where they belong.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  12. James

    Freedom of Religion is fine but when a "Christian" group does something that is the exact opposite of the teachings of Christ, they need to get new leaders. I can't imagine any Christian church I have ever been a part of condoning this type of behavior.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  13. Dave

    It's about time somebody with balls stood up to the rag heads

    September 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • Realistastic

      It's about time some idiotic half-wit used the racially derogatory term "rag head." Quick Dave look, I think your trailer is rolling away...you better go grab your confederate flag and your commemorative plate collection before it all goes over the cliff of stupidity. Oops...too late.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  14. Bill

    Who died and made this Terry Jones the arbitter of what is good or evil? I do not believe he represents a Christian attitude at all.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  15. Third Option Men

    Third Option Men choose to live for God, and that doesn't include burning Korans, protesting strip clubs or abortion clinics, etc. It does include, however, living selfless lives and sharing Christ's love with others (regardless of whether or not they are our version of 'Christian').

    September 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  16. Dave

    This not a military Dictatorshio, Gen Patreas stay out of it

    September 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • Realistastic

      This should not be a comment thread polluted by idiots! Dave stay out of it

      September 7, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
  17. Christian

    Burning the Quran is not a very Christian thing to do, in fact I believe it is very UN-Christian. These so called Christians do not represent me or my faith!

    September 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • J.T

      I'm not advocating the burning of any book, but how is this unchristian? rather, how does christianity apply to this? are you the type of christian who lets everyone be what they want, and thinks homosexuality is ok because God loves everyone, saint and sinner? you need to stop puscifying God...

      September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • TammyB

      @ J.T..... Usually, "christians" are those that follow Christ's teaching, which were tolerance, love, peace, understanding for others, turning the other cheek, etc. The problem is that too many "christians" seem to be like you....judgemental about how other "christians" should behave. I am fairly certain that it is God's job to judge, not ours as humans. Therefore, our job is to be non-judgemental, and try to follow Christ's teachings of love and tolerance.

      September 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  18. dadsnorz

    All this preacher is proving is that the book is indeed, made of combustable materials. I'm no fan of Islam, but that old fart doesn't speak for me.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  19. Dan's girl

    I cannot imagine a judgment day where God says, "You burned the Quaran, well done. " I think he took his own agenda and ran with it. While I agree extremists make it hard for the "normal" folks in religion, I still think religious tolerance is what makes us free. Who cares who's right or wrong; in the end we'll all find out. Just be kind to each other until then.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  20. Dave

    While the piles of Qurans burn, let's also ransack Muslim stores and break their windows! Let's herd them all into concentration camps. It's a conservative's dream come true! Just don't call them Nazis.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
    • James

      Have you figured out which side you're on? You don't seem to have a consistent message except hatefulness and being obnoxious.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:23 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.