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. gale

    Find it amazing that everyone gets up in arms over burning a book, which in American is a free speech act, and not very many people say anything about a woman being stoned to death for a natural human act.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  2. MH

    What would Gen. Patton think if he was living today......hmmm.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  3. mideast chick

    Born here,born a Muslim, don't cover my head and loyal to my country...America. We can all play together in the sandbox of life.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • gladyola

      Well said! Thank you for the beautiful metaphor.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  4. Tonyb

    Another idiot evangelical in Florida...fabulous.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  5. 123131

    lol religion is 4 tards

    September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  6. Jon

    So, let me ask you this Mr. Attorney General and Mr. Obama, and Mr. Whoever else thinks it's wrong to burn the Quran: Would you be saying the same thing if it were a Muslim church wanting to burn the Bible? I doubt it. You would probably be saying they have the right to burn it. Don't be a hypocrite Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Xugos

      Don't get riled up, muslims don't burn bibles because it's a holy book to them. Just shows how little you know about that faith.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • John

      You do realize that Islam is very much against burning the bible right? It has something to do with their believing that both Moses and Jesus were prophets of the line that lead to Muhammad, so burning the bible is considered something along the lines of spitting on the entire faith. Not to mention that Islam has always had a high regard for the written word – while your ancestors were running around burning anything written that a priest deemed "heresy" the Muslims were preserving them to create some fantastic libraries that ended up being the cornerstone for the greatest centers of non-religious learning of their time.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  7. darryl

    Terry...wrap those vile books in bacon before you burn them....!!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  8. Bacon Anyone?

    Good one "Jackson from Rome, GA" Although no true Christian today can live to the standards that Jesus supposedly taught us, the Christian faith is so filled with corruption and the desire to conquer the world also. Islam is no different. Muslims only want to spread their faith and be the ones on top when it comes to who is in control of the religious faith we should follow. So both Christian and Islam are the same when it comes to brain washing and controlling the masses into doing what the higher ups want us to do. Our own government follows along the Christian lines but claims they are open to all religions. So go ahead, burn a bible or a quran, what difference will it make. Both factions only want to create hate and bring the worst out of mankind.

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

    This group obviously does not represent the vast majority of practicing Christians. This is just a juicy story to whip us into a frenzy of conflict.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • Nick

      Those vast amount of Christians are even Christians if they don't think Islam is a threat. It says love and pray for your enemy, not kiss their a**!!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • Nick

      CORRECTION: Those vast amount of Christians are NOT even Christians if they don't think Islam is a threat. It says love and pray for your enemy, not kiss their a**!!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  10. Nick

    You idiots who think this is just a passing fancy, that Islam is not a threat to our way of life had better get your head out of the sand an look at history!!! This stupid little book burning is just the beginning. Hope you liberal/agnostic/atheists/(fill in the blank) enjoy your new forced religion. Enjoy telling your daughter she is nothing and shouldn't even show her face in public. Enjoy forcing your 8 yr old daughter to marry a 50 year old pedophile. You all better wake up and take a good hard look at what is going on in Europe cause that is what is coming here tomorrow.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • Barry from Wisconsin


      You are pathetic… Your ill-informed rhetoric is exactly the sort of drivel and hate preached by people like Goebbles in the 1930s.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Joe P Zyck

      Hey Nick, ever notice that a bunch of "celibate" men are passing out those cool aid wafers. I think they call it a "latent" thing. Shamed into being platonic. Every once in a while a real cute altar boy shows up. Hard to resist that temptation, huh?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • Nick

      Well Berry, welcome to 2010! Hope you enjoy what is left of your freedoms if you think that way. Myself, I have a better place to go and I must say, it is those like you that will speed it up. I believe in retaining my Constitution and freedoms I fought for, that my father and those before him fought for and I will continue to fight for. If you get in my way, and you aren't prepared for the afterlife, that will be your own doing. You are either for us or against us.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • Nick

      Hey Joe, I'm an all American man and I love my woman. You on the other hand are one of those big mouth sissies that cry in a foxhole when things get bad. Maybe you'll find God while your crying for you mama!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  11. NorthernMuslim

    This must be a southern thing.. We don't have these religious issues up North. Everyone respects each other no matter what religion, color, etc.. Seems like another civil war might be in the making (and the North wins AGAIN!)

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • Xugos

      No, you've never been to the south, gainesville gives it a bad name. Visit sometime, I personally like the south and I'm a muslim.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Bill

      What a crock. Who are you trying to convince? yourself?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  12. Joseph Lohnes

    Question: Is it disrespectful and provocative to burn the Koran? Before we answer let's change a few words–Is it disrespectful and provocative to plant a Mosque at/near Ground Zero? In both cases the correct answer is yes. Are they both legal? Again, the correct answer is yes for both. For the Mosque we are told to be tolerant and embrace this free expression of Religion–after all, it is a Constitutional right. For the Koran-burning we are told to condemn and refute this free expression of Speech–how odd. Is the one more or less acceptable than the other? What a hypocritical position to hold if we accept the one (Mosque) and refuse the other (Koran-burning). For those of you who still believe the "Religion of Peace" farce investigate Taqiyya–the Islamic principle of deception.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  13. Jaysin

    God Bless Texas, God Bless Arizona and God Bless that Gainesville Florida for standing up for our rights and what our country stands for. Muslims have a right to be here and to have their beliefs but not to come here and take that right from us.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • maria

      I don't care about the Bible I don't care about the Qoran I care about the Americans that are going to die because people like you and the Pastor,with that narrow mentality ,is not about any religion or politics is about violence creating violence specially Chrisianity it teach about love and forgiveness is not what this sect teach? You are a bunch or uneducated morons is all thinking with your feet instead or brains ,you and your pastor should be in jail....

      September 7, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  14. wilddawg

    Personally I have no need to burn a koran but what irritates the snot out of me is no one raises this much stink when the American flag is set on fire. Freedom of speech goes in all direction.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  15. Bill

    It's just a freakin' book. So what.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  16. Gary P.

    "Islamophobia" Eh!.......as you can see I'm Canadian! I wonder what they call how they treat most Christians in the Middle East..Christophobia? How about violent repressive theocracy!! There using our laws and rights against us, they want, but give nothing! Wakeup, Muslims consider us infidels and our society decadent, they don't agree with our laws or our faith or our lack of faith, and the way women live their lives! Gee, who needs these people in either of our countries?

    John K .make the fire a big one!!

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

      Gary, judging from your post, you probably have not been to the middle east a day in your life. Ask any service member who's been there, and they'll tell you how the people there are just like us. Hell, there's even a Church across the street from my Grandparents' house in Pakistan.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  17. billp

    This is the Christian States of America, and the dominant trait of Christianity is its hatred and contempt for other faiths and non-Christians. The lofty talk about religious freedom and tolerance in America only applies if you are Christian. Get used to it.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  18. Terumi

    Can someone show me where in the "Bible" it says that "I need to Hate Someone"? Where? No one has been able too so far. Not one Preacher, Clergy, Pastor, Priest...not one.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • billp

      What does being Christian have to do with following Christ's teachings? I've never yet met a Christian who does.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  19. Name*Col G.H. Clark USA (Ret)

    This will cause problems for our men & women that are putting their lives every day in both Iraq and Afganistan and will fuel over the entire Islamic world. I don't think the Christian group would like to have blood on their hands for something this stupid. Help a wounded US Veteran instead.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  20. Danyael

    Kristallnacht, Farenheit 451, Nuremburg Book Burnings...people who burn books will eventually burn people.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:05 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.