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. James

    Too many comments about freedom of speech and freedom of religion but the point is, this is a "Christian" group that is doing the exact opposite of the techings of Christ. I don't think I've seen a bigger group of hypocrits. And then to top it off, they call themselves Dove World Outreach Center (I assume the Dove is in the name to represent love and peace). It would be laughable if it weren't so perverse.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  2. Dave

    Muslims arte not welcome here, when are they going to leave

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
    • Realistastic

      That's funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you Dave....imagine that.

      September 7, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  3. richeyrich

    If the muslims can burn the American Flag, then I can burn their Koran. This still is America isn't it.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  4. Vish

    Burn all of 'em books.. God is a figment of our imagination anyways!

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  5. Freddy

    This insanity is not surprising – the ravings of the Fox News talking heads, the Republicans looking to make political hay out of the Manhattan mosque controversey – it stands to reason that lunatics will go off the deep end by stabbing a Muslim cabbie, burning Muslim holy books, or setting fire to a mosque. Lazio, King, Limbaugh, Hannity, et al are to blame for this.

    This notion that "America should not back down" is a lot of testasterone-fueled nonsense. We are fighting an ideology, not a country. This isn't WWII – The above mentioned folks are playing right into Bin Laden and the Taliban's hands, helping them to convince future suicide bombers that America is at war with Islam. Thanks for nothing, guys – I only hope you happen to be at the next ground zero.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  6. Onikeh Abisodu

    Mr. (Rev.) Terry Jones, I put Rev. in quote so as to address that issue first. To start with, NO MAN has the RIGHT to revere themselves either by individual and any church organization. The WORD REVEREND is reserved specifically for OUR GREAT GOD JEHOVAH. For those of you out there who did not KNOW, now you know. We humans are fallible and prone to so many kinds of weaknesses. But OUR GOD does NOT. HE ALONE IS PERFECT.
    Now on the ISSUE of burning the QURAN, I really do not know to start to address you SIR. CHRIST did not teach, preach, encourage, endorse, nor encourage such ideas. What is the difference between you and SANHINDRIN during the persecution of our LORD. Burning the QURAN does not solve anything with our present state of affairs between Christians and Muslims. If you are a Serious ZEALOT to that extent, my suggestion to you is, to CORAL the NIGHT TEMPLERS all over again. I Tell what, it will instant solve not only the paper Quran problem, but a whole lot of other Muslim problems.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  7. Dave

    When our we going to start fighting a real war in Afganistan

    September 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  8. QrysBinThynkn

    Christian hate, front and center.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  9. fenderdemon

    The people who attacked America on 9/11 were Muslims killing IN THE NAME of Islam. If Muslims don't want to be treated like they are all terrorists, then their leaders better start taking care of their own-'cause so far they are just showing their true colors-and that is being America-hating cowards.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
    • N.S

      we shouldnt blame a religion for the atrocities commited by some of their fanatics...

      September 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
    • maria

      They were Radicals ,is a lot of soldiers Muslims fighting for your freedom MORON! we have in any RADICALS .... instead of cheap talk go to those places and fight you will se is only radicals you generalize everything is not right you MORON!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  10. Nick D.

    well it may be the same old tired bs.. but here goes..
    no one's up in arms when they (muslims) burn our flag.... burn xian bibles..... i suppose that along with religious freedom comes freedom of speech. why shouldn't the world be tired of every minor slight against the muslims sparking some massive baww-fest? for hecks-sake we can't even make cartoons about it. you're kidding me with this – right??? i think that if you take a cold hard look at MOST muslims in the world – they take the koran seriously... and that means – if you don't submit to the will of allah.... you're satan.
    look people – we're never all going to "just get along" and yeah – islam has the intent of taking over the planet. and i suppose when buddhists start strapping bombs to themselves and blowing people up to hasten their ascent to enlightenment it'll be wrong to oppose the dogma that spurned that behavior????
    get real.. islam is at war with the rest of the world. the very thing that makes humanity so wonderful is one of the things destroying it.... and that's tolerance.
    do you tolerate weeds in your garden? do you tolerate the predator that preys on your children?
    rise up god damnit!!!! don't stand for this inequity! don't tolerate ONE religion and their constant crying and expectation of special treatment...
    this is the death of reason – and all religions are MADE UP in the minds of men. it's all delusional – and it doesn't do the planet any good.
    personally – i think it's comical that people want to vent their frustration at a religion that consistently works very hard to spread terror and wishes to control the planet.
    and – let's throw this in – yeah.... it's all political BS – and the uproar won't die down.. as more and more people wake up – the less and less that the stone age precepts of islam will be tolerated.

    sometimes – the only way to extinguish a fire... is with a swift and powerful explosion.
    sending a police force over to any middle eastern country isn't what's going to do it.
    the humane solution isn't kindness.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
    • TammyB

      Not all Muslims are at war with the world. That would be like saying all priests are pedophiles. While there are some, the majority is NOT. Or that all southern baptist preachers take little old peoples' money while televangelizing, or that they all sleep with hookers in cheesy motels. Some do, but NOT the majority. I think both the mosque and the Quran burning are insensitive and wrong things to do morally, however, they are protected by our constitution and are legal. What I think both sides need to do is pay attention to both sides of both issues.

      September 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Hawkins God Not Necessary

    Good idea to burn all religious books!!!

    September 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
    • QrysBinThynkn

      Hear, hear!

      September 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  12. Dave

    It was a Muslim at Ft Hood that abused our soldires

    September 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  13. N.S

    this is by far the most idiotic thing i had ever seen ...
    seriously ... no wonder why the world is what it is nowdays...
    the future looks worst ...

    September 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  14. CB

    The actions of this small group in Florida would have gone unnoticed if the media had not given them a voice. People do stupid and offensive things everyday everywhere in the world. This burning would not be noticed, controversial, or "dangerous" if the media had not stirred it up to make controversy and news.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  15. SomeoneElse

    It's funny how many of you would love for America to dumb itself down to a rigid Theocracy. Just because Saudi Arabia (well, some fundamentalists in that country) burn Bibles, it doesn't mean you should do the same. The illogic of these people is truly astounding.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  16. Dave

    all you Christians are cowards

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

      Cowards, fools, hypocrites, opportunists, people still living in the dark ages.....take your pick, they all apply.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  17. Ron

    we're a nation of bible-thumping bigots and hypocrites. If someone were to burn a bible, the hue and cry would be heard on every right-wing radio program and from every baptist bully pulpit from coast to coast and border to border.
    They justify burning the Quron by saying all Muslims are "ter-ur-rists", thanks to their "praychers" and idots like Limbaugh and the rest of those fans of Joseph Goebbells. He'd be proud of his spawn.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  18. NIck

    Funny, the only thing we hear out of Islamic run countries is "Death to America" and they burn our flag and bibles. They cut off the hands of anyone who holds a Christian bible. Even Saudi Arabia outlaws the bible. And now THEY are upset??? What are we suppose to think and do? A day does not go by that Amadadinnerjacket does not mimic Hitler and swear to wipe Israel off the map. Everyday our news wires are full of Islamic hatred for the USA!!! Maybe we should just sit back like they did in the days of Hitler and tell ourselves, they will never follow that man. That man, who believes like so many of his countryman that the last Imam is coming! YES! Let's just sit and wait until he has the atomic bomb. Yes, like so many of the Germans in the time of Hitler who were considered "moderate and peaceful" and unbeknown even to themselves that they would fall right in line with that evil man!! If we can't take the heat in Iraq and Afghanistan then we need to pull out! Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave!!!

    September 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  19. BURN the BIBLE at the Baptist church down in south

    AMERICAN SOLDIERS & MARINES are Muslims, too. Muslims are serving the United States Armed Forces, military. Burning Quran will put American soldiers & marines in jeopardy. Especially those soldiers station in foreign countries. Burning Quran or Bible is an act of idiotic, ignorantS that lives in Southern parts of U.S. I lived in South and these idiots claim they are the Baptist but they are nothing more than idiots. Some of the Baptist churches in South is CULT group; they pretend as Baptist so they can get TAX-FREE, TAX -EXEMPT as cult – Baptist churches

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

      American soldiers are already in jeopardy and if the Taliban and Al Queda don't have this excuse to recruit terrorists they'll find another. Do you really thin that by not burning any US soldiers will be spared? We, as a nation, should grow a spine and stick up for our ideals. Whatever the faults of the Muslims they certainly do stick up for theirs.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • Realistastic

      Oh please do tell Happy, when exactly it was that burning holy books became an American "ideal?" Maybe if you beg hard enough, then your drunk abusive daddy will let you out of the closet long enough to see what the 21st century version of this country looks like...I'm guessing that you will be surprised by what you see. Oh wait, you deaf, blind and dumb...oh well it's the thought that counts. Enjoy the closet.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  20. Dave

    I think i'll get a truck load of Korans and join him

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

      Whatever will you do with all of the manure that you usually have in the back of your truck Dave! My guess is that you'll just roll around it and eat it (after having it blessed by a preist first of course) like the dirty (ignorant) little piggy (imbecile) that you show yourself to be.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
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About this blog

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.