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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. Meiguo

    Don't burn the Qurans.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  2. Meiguo

    The Islamic Center should be built as proposed last December. After watching Larry King and listening to what the imam had to say, I believe that this cultural center should be built. We live in America, our country stands for freedom. If we don't build this mosque we will be against everything that our country is.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  3. Kate

    If Park51 is cancelled or abandoned at this stage, a minority will see it as a "victory" over Muslims, and this situation will reoccur every time any community in the US tries to build a mosque.

    Chilling effects aren't just for trying to control speech. It's gone way beyond what's "right", because rightly or wrongly it's become a referendum on the very foundation of America and the freedoms it cherishes and guarantees.

    It should never have reached this point if it hadn't been for a bunch of politicians wanting to find a wedge issue they could gain votes from, and Imam Rauf played right into their hands with his belief in those American values.

    People have no idea just how they were played so skillfully, and no idea just what's at stake now as a result – not even those who "redefined the question" for the politicians.

    "Victory Mosque" – call it that and emphasize the whole idea that Muslims will use it as a symbol of success being so close to Ground Zero.

    Call it a mosque so people immediately visualize minarets and loudspeakers shouting the adhan right next to Ground Zero.

    The First Amendment guarantees the right to build it, so redefine the question and call it insensitive to the families of victims.

    Push the buttons of New Yorkers into thinking that it's an assault on them personally.

    Light blue touchpaper, and stand back.

    Phrases and concepts tailored to reach down and stroke the emotions of the people listening that came out of the mind of a focus group.

    A quest for votes has turned into something much much uglier – the question of whether or not we as Americans truly believe the Const|tution our nation was founded on applies to all, or just a select group, contradicting the openly expressed desires surrounding the country's creation.

    It's time for us to decide if we can live by the words they wrote when our country was born – or do we live by the words conjured up by pollsters and spin-doctors?

    How we deal with Park51, Cordoba House, whatever you want to call it, will define us for generations. We have to choose.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  4. TammyB

    '" 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.
    This is the kind of thing that loses it for me....I agree that the mosque can be built legally, however, whether it's the decent thing to do is quite another matter. I find it hard to swallow that burning Qurans is so not decent, per Ms Khera, however, she cannot see that building the mosque might also be offensive to some people. Both are protected legally, but that doesn't make them right. And over and over, the Muslims in charge of this project fail to see this.

    September 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  5. VS

    I'm not American, or a Muslim or a Christian. But my opinion is that even if he has the right to build a mosque near ground zero, it does not mean that he should build it. Especially during these testing times. If something your building is hurting someone, maybe you should take their feelings into account and understand.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  6. Mark

    ALL RELIGION SHOULD BE OUTLAWED! ALL IT DOES IS CREATE SEPERATION AND VIOLENCE!

    September 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  7. Jeff Murphy

    What would the difference be if the so called "mosque" were to be located further away from the Ground Zero area?
    Would their be a compromise in your religious integrity? Could Muslims have less of a religious experience if were to be further from the site?

    The answer is clear. This is being done as a slap in the face to all Americans. When you say it is the right thing to do....you have it backwards

    September 8, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  8. Reality

    The sordid history of Islam:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the massacre in Mumbai, the assassinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:29 am |
    • Muneef

      JOHN KEATS SAID.. 
      "IT IS VERY EASY TO DEFEAT SOMEONE, BUT IT IS VERY HARD TO WIN SOMEONE"

       
      SHAKESPEARE SAID.. 
      "IN THE TIMES OF CRISIS I WAS NOT HURT BY THE HARSH WORDS OF  MY ENEMIES,  
      BUT BY THE SILENCE OF MY FRIENDS".

      NAPOLEON SAID.. 
      "THE WORLD SUFFERS A LOT. NOT BECAUSE OF THE VIOLENCE OF BAD PEOPLE,
      BUT BECAUSE OF THE SILENCE OF GOOD PEOPLE!"

      MICHAEL PAUL SAID.. 
      I WROTE ON THE DOOR OF HEART, "PLEASE DO NOT ENTER"  
      LOVE CAME SMILING AND SAID: "SORRY I AM AN ILLITERATE"

      SHAKESPEARE SAID.. 
      "LAUGHING FACES DO NOT MEAN THAT THERE IS ABSENCE OF SORROW!    
      BUT IT MEANS THAT THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO DEAL WITH IT"   

      September 29, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  9. E Mulqueen

    I would like to understand from Inman why he is able to live in a country, the United States, and build a Mosk wherever he so choses, because it is constitutionally his right, when on Wednesday in a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan (posted on CNN web site) condemned the Florida church's plan to burn the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as "disrespectful, intolerant and divisive,"

    Isn't building this Mosk being disrespectful and intolerant to the families and friends that have been so injured by the murders on 9/11?

    September 8, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • TammyB

      This is the kind of thing I think most people have a problem with. We don't mind being tolerant and sensitive but it should run both ways. If people are outraged and hurt by the mosque at Ground Zero, then I think they should really address that and they don't. But they sure address Quran burnings.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  10. Dinesh

    If World Trade was a symbol for " IMPERIALISM ", then why not a Mosque on Ground Zero would be a symbol for " ISLAMIC RADICALISM " on over 3000 innocent deaths. Muslim scholars and Leaders must come out and oppose the Mosque, ask apology to the world by sparking 9/11 by their owns.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  11. American Awareness

    This imam is practicing "taqiyya", lying and deception for the benefit of Islam. This 'Holy Lying' is known as taqiyya (sometimes spelled taqiya or taquiya) – This may take many forms, including outright lies, feigned moderation, and condemnation of terrorist attacks to the Infidel while rejoicing with fellow Muslims. Most religions respect the truth and forbid lying. However Islam is different. They practice "kitman" and "taqiyya". Beware of islamization America...beware of the lies. I do not believe a word this man says.

    September 8, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  12. Mexican

    Blame the media for all the publicity of a priest in Gainesville buring the koran. But this is a free country and if someone wants to burn the koran or the bible, or a playboy magazine, I say let them. Freedom means your are free to express yourself even if some times others get hurt or insulted.

    September 8, 2010 at 1:45 am |
  13. Reality

    Mosques and the Koran 101:

    What drove the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims to include Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein. Until then, no male Muslim to include Imam Rauf can be trusted anytime or anywhere.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  14. Common Sense

    I will burn a Quran in a second. I've seen enough flag burning, terrorist attacks, lack of sensitivity to the American people – not just those who died or had families that died during 9/11. I'm sick of it and there is no reason for this imam to pick that location. He's purposely provoking Americans and insulting us. He's every bit of the scum which represents the small percentage of Muslims.

    September 7, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  15. Guest

    Not sure why muslims always get into conflicts? will they ever live in peace?. Why small group take decisions and make the larger community suffer?.
    Also We in this country already suffering from so many things including economy and soldiers are fighting enimies across to save all americans. Don't these guys think raising these kinds of issues during this time downplay the morale of the soldiers?. I believe it's time atleast non-extreme muslims use some common sense.
    I do I believe in all faiths and each and everyone has right to worship their own GOD. But I see instead of solving anything, this proposal started raking up forgotten wounds.

    September 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  16. EVM17

    I understand this is a sensitive subject and I've not experienced too many years on this earth but I feel that may help. A child has a mind of innosence. In Kindergarten we don't walk into a room and choose our friends by color, race nor religion. We learn and grow together. So, what changes as we get older? Is it that our minds are polluted by the horrible things we see in the world? Or do we simply begin to ignore the good things in life and focus on the negative? When it comes to building this Mosque I don't think Its the best idea. But I think everyone is focusing too much on the negative aspect. I agree that to the wrong people the mosque could symbolize a victory, and I understand that. I think it would cause more problems than it would solve. I think the surrounding blocks should be left untouched by any relgion. Put a starbucks there, make it a community center for all races and religions. I just think America isn't ready for anything to be built there. The wound is still sore and tempers are still high. This however, is no excuse for Americans to be acting the way we are. We are all people. We should know this by now. Enough blood has been shed in the world for the last 2000 years that we should realize we all have feelings and we're all human beings. We need to treat eachother with respect and kindness and if need be, put ourselves in the other person's shoes. Its only through love and forgiveness that the pain and sorrow experienced on 9/11 can be healed.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • TammyB

      Well, I think the people in charge of the project at Ground Zero need to put themselves in the opponents of the mosque's shoes....especially the survivors and the families of those who died who oppose it. Love and understanding work much better on a two way street. I don't think America is so different, I just think we are all getting tired of being berated for every little thing and being told we need to be sensitive to every person, religion, etc., even when they are not very sensitive themselves. It's like a slap in the face. And this kind of thing has been going on forever. When I was a child, it was that we would help a country in their time of need (earthquake, floods, that kind of thing) and after, they would denounce us, say horrible things about us, etc. Not every American is wonderful, that's not what I'm saying, however, we are a nation that has come to the aid of anyone, even if we were at odds with them. We've also made our mistakes, and apologized for them, which I can say for sure, not a lot of countries do. It just gets tiring being the nation held accountable to be tolerant, and sensitive and politically correct when no one else in the world seems to have to.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  17. Reality Check

    Stop them from succeeding, don't care. Let them burn, don't care. Just like Farenheit 451 suggests, an idea resides in our hearts and minds not just on a piece of paper and cannot be destroyed.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  18. Johnny

    Let them burn it! They burn our flags and have done so for decades. Burn the Qu'ran and bring the fight to our backyard. I'm ready with arms in hand if necessary.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
    • TammyB

      Yes, but that's not going to help anything either. Burning books of any sort is wrong, in my opinion, as it borders on censorship, or in the case of burning one's holy book, intolerance. Even though I think we tolerate too much sometimes, or are asked to, it IS one of the things that this nation was built on. I may not like it sometimes, but when I want a voice, I know I can have one, because EVERYONE gets a voice here.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  19. abdull ali

    am muslim brother and i live here in USA for last 16 years because america is the best counrty right NOW but if america started burned quran is gonna make USA LOOK BAD AND WOULD BE HAPPY , I BECOME AMERICA CITIZEN COUPLE YEARS AGO AND RESPECT AND REPSENT USA , AND BELEIVE YALL VOLIENCE AINT FUN AT ALL FOR REAL , MY COUNRTY SOMALI WAR GOING ON LAST 20 YEARS AND WE ALL MUSLIM AND WE DONT KNOW WHY WE FIGHING, SO ALL AM SAYING IS AMERICA YALL GOT RESPECT SO DONT LOSE IT LIKE I SAY VOLIENCE AINT FUN AT ALL.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • TammyB

      I think more people need your outlook. At least you know the value of being somewhere where there's not a war going on all the time!

      September 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  20. InsertPictureofMohammadHere

    Vigilance does not equal bigotry. Those who refuse to question deserve to be steamrolled. Stop being politically correct or apathetic. America is rotting from the inside out trying to make everyone happy.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:01 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.