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. JJ

    I totally agree that this book burning idea is idiotic. It’s just another attention hungry right winger trying to stir up controversy for no real reason.

    Having said that the irony of this doesn’t escape me. He’s burning these books because in his words Islam is a violent religion. Yet he’s being told if he does this there could be violent repercussions. Doesn’t that just sort of prove his point?

    As in most issues I tend to hate both sides.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  2. gladyola

    Thank you, Attorney General Holder, for speaking out in this matter. Spiritually speaking, a holy book is a holy book. No one who claims to be holy could do this.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  3. BURN the BIBLE at the Baptist church down south ???

    Wonder if a group of people would BURN the BIBLE. . .
    How would Baptist church make feel?
    What a bunch of MORON living down south & got nothing better to do other than creating violence?
    Ignorant people living South; UNDER – educated, putting all the American Soldiers in danger.
    These idiots in South creating violence. It's time these Southern Baptist Churches need to pay TAX, The Southern Baptist churches are EXEMPT FROM PAYING TAXES.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  4. Dave

    Christians do not look to Four-Star Generals, Nato Commanders, Attorney Generals, the US State Department or syncretist religious leaders who we've never heard to get our doctrine or our interpretation of doctrine. If we did the bible would be gutted. However, if we want to locate political correctness we'll gladly look to those people as fine examples.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
    • CAWinMD

      You are correct - you look to the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Turn the other cheek. Judge not lest ye be judged. Any of this sounding familiar? If so, then it's pretty clear that the Quran burners are really not following their own professed faith.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • John

      You forgot that most Christians has this incredibly ability to selectively forget parts of the books they regard as holy when those parts can't be reconciled with their base desires. Personally I put it down to the dark side of the Reformation. Martin Luther just wanted to get basic reforms going, but since then it's snowballed into a situation where if a sect wants to justify sins they call themselves "Christian Reformed" and throw out the sections of the Bible that they find inconvenient.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
    • Dave

      1 Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things

      Also the first time Jesus was here he didn't judge too much, but the next time he's judging big time. See the book of Revelation to see all of the judgements. If we don't tell the Muslim's of this they're gonig right into the tribulation period and worse. And if we don't warn others about Hagar based theology i.e. Islam we're doing them a disservice because Hagar is the spiritual mother of the non-elect.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Enea from NJ

    Regardless on your stance toward Islam, I'm pretty sure our armed forces and government are taking good care of the Taliban and al-qaeda. This book burning isn't doing anything to help anyone, The outcome is only going to be bad for everybody. Muslims around the world will be outraged, normal Americans around the country who arent biggots will also be outraged. This will also put our troops in harms way, it could as well be used as a recruitment tool for al-qaeda. This isn't the values this country was founded on and I pray muslims around the world don't feel the idiocracy of a few biggots is representative of the United States as a whole.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  6. richeyrich

    Now is about the time for our President to make a stupid mistake and comment on this issue,

    September 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Dennis

    Wait until the middle of winter to burn this trash.That way the homeless in this country can warm themselves beside the written,vile hatred this "book" projects.Muslims are demonstrating at the U.S.Embassy in Indonesia.Where were they when Americans and other foreign "infidels" were being beheaded in Iraq and Afghanistan?...Nowhere to be found!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  8. Daniel Bietz

    Just because you have the right to urinate in someones wheaties doesn't mean you should. If not burning a book would save a single American life it would be well worth it. Also it doesn't seem very Christian to preach hate. If you want to directly aid terrorist propaganda, feel free, burn away.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  9. thetruth

    anyone ever hear of Neo-Tech? If you have, you know exactly why Terry Jones is doing this

    September 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  10. Whatchagonnado

    Doesn't burning the Koran also degrade our soldiers who are Muslims. I really can not believe that anybody would think that this is a good idea. History does not look kindly upon those who burn books. And for those who say that the govt. is trying to restrict freedom of speech, no they are not. If they were they would put this so called reverend in jail or silence him in some other way.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  11. Noreen from Gainesville

    I just heard General Honore on Fox say, "Where are all the good people trying to stop this man?" Well, they're here, all over Gainesville but they're not making the news. The Dove church has fewer than 50 members!! The city of Gainesville as well several mainstream churches are getting together to counter the minister's proposed action by organizing almost TWO WEEKS of activities to promote religious solidarity. Why hasn't the mainstream media covered any of that? For once, can we get the whole story???

    September 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  12. thetruth

    Please check it out
    NEO-TECH by Frank Wallace
    No need to get excited about beliefs, it is about Terry Jones and his criminal livelyhood

    September 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Ginger315

    While I can't be in Gainesville and participate, I will send them money for gasoline and attorney fees if needed for their right to free speech.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • Realistastic

      In all likelihood no one will sue them, and just as likely is the fact that their chosen God will not welcome them in when the time comes either.

      September 7, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  14. Perturbed Dude

    The insensitivity of trying to build an Islamic edifice so close to ground zero is matched by the idiots who believe that burning a quoran is a Christian statement. It offends the whole of Islam, and not just the extremists. What if "they" started burning bibles to "punish" the Christian extremists? Would that be OK too? This pastor and his cohorts are putting our soldiers in additional danger by fueling the fire. They will have their blood on their hands!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  15. Twm

    Hmm I didn't care either way until i heard that Eric (the buffoon) Holder denounced it. If he says it si wrong then it has to be right, he has lied about everything since the Presidential liar appointed him.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  16. mary derricotte

    This is not just a issue of book burning, it is the fact of how this boo kburning is precived. Now if Americans where to start burning all books, to the world we would be viewed as backwards. I for one view relgion as scape goat for people whom justify wrong doings and this book burning is a justification to glorify a subject of contoversy and that is this so called God that you can't see never heard of any signs of being around lets atrosicity happen never interfers and no one has can prove of his existance, yet this man claims a god told him to burn the book. Well how and when and did any one else witness this telling. All this god crap is the bigest sham from the begining of man need to have power over another. It's time for some common sense to step in and end all this relgious dogma.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  17. Noble9

    Why is anyone in the government paying these morons any attention?

    September 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  18. rustzula

    Who wants to get together and burn books of all religions including a few texts on evolution? I mean this is America lets do it right and oppress everyone! Gotta be equal!

    September 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Craig Shearer

    Screw Holder. He doesn't and NEVER will speak me for me.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  20. Brad

    It only takes 27 comments on this story to recognize the reason people have a hard time liking Americans.


    September 7, 2010 at 8:59 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.