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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. AfterImage

    Heck, why don't they just throw a couple of copies of the Constitution into their little bonfire while they are at it?
    Mentally challenged sheep being led by a retared shepard. Sigh... what happened to this country?

    September 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  2. FlyReelMan

    "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." (German: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.")—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

    The Nazis began burning books back in 1930’s and you see how that got out of hand.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  3. Double Standard?

    I'm so sick of the double friggin' standard. This guys decides to burn a quaran and suddenly everybody is up in arms. This is perfectly within his rights to do this, by the way. On the other hand, a developer wants to build a mosque at ground-zero, claiming its within their rights to do so. Now, everybody that protests this act is accused of being guilty of "Islamaphobia".

    Give me a friggin' break. He's burning a book. If the "muslim world" doesn't like it, they don't have to watch.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • James

      Lots of 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 9:24 pm |
    • CAWinMD

      You want to go there? Really? Okay, let's go there. Every right-wingnut Republican is out there saying "Yes, it's legal that a mosque can be built at Ground Zero, but they should realize it's not a good idea and not do it." Where are these same people (Palin, Gingrich, Giuliani, etc.) and why are they not saying exactly the same thing about this?

      There's your double standard.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      It would be certain death if they did it over there in the middle east. Maybe they should ask how we can get away with that and they cant.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • Double Standard?

      I'm not sure that is the main point. I'm not religious so frankly I'm indifferent to the religious significance. What I care about is the political implications and ramifications.

      On one hand the "Muslim World" insists that we NOT associate the actions of a small radical group with all of Islam. On the other hand, one crazy bastard in Florida decides to burn a Quran and it seems like the "Muslim World' is ready to condemn the US for this action.

      This is a double standard and I for one am sick of it.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  4. kurious

    Hatred begets hatred. Let us be true Americans and act like real Christians.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
    • Bill

      We're not a Christian Nation, just ask Obama.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  5. gladyola

    If you burn the Quran, you will also be desecrating Jesus and his Holy Mother as they both have prominent places in the Quran. Please, God, save us from ourselves.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
    • Bill

      You're desecrating nothing. I't's paper and ink with a binding. What is sacred about that?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  6. INTWOFAR

    What about the quack church that celebration protests at our service members funerals, our governments protects that free speach!!!!!!!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  7. J, C. Etter

    Monkey see, monkey do.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  8. Steve F.

    1. This is not a Christian Church, it is a cult whose actions do not represent Christianity. The so-called "ministry" of this church is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. 2. Burning Qurans is an act of violence against ALL Muslims, including peaceful, moderate Muslims who are our friends and neighbors. 3. It is easy to hate someone you don't know. I know Muslims who live in my neighborhood and play with my children and sit beside them in the classroom. I work with Muslims at work. They are pleasant, hard-working, peace-loving, and patriotic Americans. Those who hate all Muslims don't know any. 4. All religions can number good people and bad people among their followers. 5. It is time that Americans stopped eating whatever sound bites are fed to them by ideologues and started checking things out for themselves. Educate yourselves! 6. Burning Qurans WILL incite violence by militant Muslims in other parts of the world, put our people in danger and serve the purposes of our enemies. This is just plain stupidity, no matter how you feel about Islam.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  9. Barry from Wisconsin

    Bigotry and intolerance have no place in America. Unfortunately, right-wing wackos are encouraged by people like Glen nBeck and Rush Limbaugh. Pathetic and scary...

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

    Koran burners call Eric Holder an idiot (and a racist too).

    September 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  11. Robert

    A 'religion' that has no tolerence at all for others crying out for religious tolerence? And we will give it to them because too many Americans are politically correct.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  12. another guy

    I think this just shows we can be just as intolerant and ignorant as the radical idiots.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  13. GodisLove

    Pope needs to step up on this one too.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  14. tanya

    Many comments made it sound like an American 'may' equal an American. But a Muslim is 'lesser than a Christian – and was allowed (with kindness by Christians) to stay in USA. How sad and pitiful.

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

      I'm tired of your tolerance BS talk. Your tolerance has allowed us to go trillions of dollars into debt. Everything is BS tolerance. Sharia law is not tolerance, but you'll gladly support it over Christianity.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • Dave

      Yes, Tanya. Christians are the elect of God baby (spiritual Sarah). We are superior (Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth..Romans 8:33). We didn't come to Christianity so that we could be the non-elect (spiritual Hagar).

      September 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  15. Xugos

    TO all bigots acting like Muslims are foreigners in this great country:

    Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, US ARMY, KIA, BAQOUBA, IRAQ, August 6th, 2007. Bronze Star, Purple Heart, he was just one of many Americans of the Islamic faith killed while serving their country, along side of other Americans of all different faiths. You don't have to be a Christian to be an American, and there are Atheists in foxholes. He, and many brave Americans like him, died so bigots today could have their rights to wake up and express themselves with the inalienable freedoms that they are entitled to in this Great Nation as Americans.

    God Bless America.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  16. capexcitemnt

    islam is organization that preaches and commits violence and murder. it should be banned .

    September 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • gladyola

      Who should ban it and what would be the plan? I vote for you. Good luck.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  17. thetruth

    Those who are not Rational will not be swayed by reason...

    September 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  18. Jerry

    I'm no prophet, but I'd bet my future that most fundamentalists will end up in hell, regardless of which religion they have embraced. These so-called "Christians" who want to demonstrate their hate by burning someone else's 'holy book' will likely be next door neighbors to Islamic terrorists in the after-life. And it won't be paradise....

    September 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  19. PARROT

    THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY SHOULD SUE BUSH FOR ALL THIS HATE !!!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Bill

      You're an idiot

      September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • Reality Check

      They should sue CNN for spreading this hate that no one would have ever heard of.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  20. zippo

    Although I agree that this burning exercise is absurd and not something Christians should be doing, it is also odd – as others have pointed out – that Holder and others are making such public speeches against it. This planned action comes with the territory in a country that has freedom of speech. When is the last time you heard such an outcry from public officials when American flags or bibles got burned? But this planned burning appears to be just a publicity stunt to put an otherwise unknown church on the map - maybe soon to be on par with the Fred Phelps’s clan.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:12 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.