September 17th, 2010
11:40 AM ET

Amid furor, 'ground zero mosque' imam leans on interfaith crisis management team

When Feisal Abdul Rauf learned earlier this month that a fundamentalist Florida pastor was flying to New York in hopes of meeting with him, the imam contacted Christian friends for advice on how to respond.

A handful of Christian leaders discouraged Rauf from meeting the Rev. Terry Jones - who’d threatened to burn Qurans unless Rauf moved his proposed Islamic center and mosque further from ground zero - and organized a phone call with Jones last weekend to urge him to cancel his Quran burning.

Jones had sent mixed messages about the event, first saying he had cancelled the burning but then announcing that he was rethinking whether to have the event.

“Jesus’ love and grace would have never resulted in such a hateful act,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical leader who advised Rauf about the meeting and helped organize the call. “So the faith community unified and mobilized.”

After hearing from Wallis and other Christian leaders, Rauf declined the meeting with Jones, who never went through with his event.

With the controversy over the site and substance of his proposed Islamic center now spanning the globe, the imam is relying on an informal cabinet of faith-based advisors, many of them Christian and Jewish, for crisis management advice and moral support during the most difficult public crisis of his life.

In interviews with roughly a dozen of these advisers, no one claimed to know exactly how the imam planned to resolve the crisis and move forward with his plans for the Islamic center.

But some associates say the controversy has prompted Rauf to take his project in a more pronounced multi-faith direction.

“He’s open to advice and he’s talking to us about creating a true interfaith presence and I hear him forming that now,” said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the religion department at the Chautauqua Institution, an interfaith study center in New York State.

Rauf declined interview requests for this story.

“Some of our talks are pastoral, since this is a very difficult time for Feisal and Daisy,” said Campbell, referring to Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan. “They are taking a lot of heat and so the question is how you help them when they’re under attack?”

Adds Rev. James Parks Morton, former dean of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine: “Most of the religious leaders in the city are very supportive of him and his vision.  But this has turned into a really very serious thing.”

Rauf’s powerful interfaith support group is a testament to the imam’s robust engagement in global interreligious dialogues over the last decade. The circle of leaders is providing a unified front of support for him and his project in the face of extraordinary public criticism.

But the informal advisory cabinet is populated mostly by proud religious liberals who strongly support Rauf’s Islamic center and who are indignant at much of the criticism aimed at the project, raising questions about the group’s ability to help move the project forward amid the public furor.

“Rauf’s position is coming purely from an interfaith position of ‘you love us, we love you,’ ” says Akbar Ahmed, an influential Islamic studies professor at American University. “He’s not putting the Islamic center in the context of American society and culture today. He’s disconnected from it and he’s not thinking through the consequences of his actions.”

Friends say that some of the imam’s interfaith work is inspired by his father, an Egyptian-educated imam who helped pioneer interfaith dialogue in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s and who helped secure land for Manhattan’s first full-scale mosque.

But Rauf’s friendships with religious leaders whom he’s relying on through the current crisis mostly grew out of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After 9/11, many influential Christian and Jewish progressives began reaching out to their Muslim counterparts for the first time.

Those Christian and Jewish leaders wanted to better understand Islam and to help combat rising anti-Islamic sentiment in the U.S. Rauf, who hails from Islam’s mystical and moderate Sufi tradition, emerged as perhaps the nation’s chief explainer of Islam to non-Muslims.

Of course, most critics of Rauf’s proposed Islamic center - which polls indicate include the vast majority of the country - cite the project’s proximity to the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center as the basis of their opposition to the project.

But the attacks catapulted Rauf, who was previously focused on interfaith work in New York and on his small mosque in the city’s Tribeca neighborhood, onto national and global stages.

“The events of that day in 2001 pulled me out of the warm mahogany pulpit in my mosque twelve blocks north of ground zero in New York City,” he wrote in his 2004 book What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West. “Inundated with requests to ‘explain the Islamic viewpoint,’ I hurried from one television and radio interview to the next, trying to explain in a few sound bites the depths of the issues.”

At a televised panel discussion on religious fundamentalism in New York shortly after 9/11, Rauf first met the evangelical Wallis, who heads a social justice group called Sojourners.

Rauf discussed Muslim extremism, while Wallis talked about Christian radicalism. Another speaker addressed Jewish fundamentalism, sending a message that Islamic extremism is hardly unique.

A few months later, Rauf was invited for the first time to the World Economic Forum, which had moved from its usual location in Davos, Switzerland to New York as a show of solidarity after the 9/11 attacks. There Rauf met another influential Christian progressive, Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Welton Gaddy, with whom he became friendly through subsequent trips to Davos.

While providing a high-profile support base amid the current firestorm, such friendships have also seemed to shield Rauf somewhat from the public outcry over his proposed center.

“Our conversation was friendly because it was between friends,” Gaddy said of his recent interview with Daisy Khan on his radio show, State of Belief. “I have been very clear with Daisy that if people are opposed to the project on the basis that it is Islamic that that is unconstitutional.”

The circle of like-minded friends and advisors may have also blinded Rauf early on to the project’s capacity for generating outrage. The Rev. James Forbes, Jr. senior minister emeritus of New York’s Riverside Church - one of the country’s most influential mainline Protestant congregations - said that he dined with Rauf on the Fourth of July and that the then-mounting criticism never came up in conversation.

“We just had a wonderful dinner together… discussing the excitement about what he was attempting to do, to build a place that followed our interfaith sensibilities,” Forbes said. “I don’t recall lamenting how awful the reaction was to the idea.”

Rauf has also formed close relationships with progressive Jewish leaders since 9/11, modeling his proposed Islamic center largely on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and on New York’s 92nd Street Y, an influential Jewish cultural institution.

Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, declined interview requests. A spokeswoman for the 92nd Street Y, Beverly Greenfield, said that Rauf had no formal contact with the institution over his proposed Islamic center, called Park 51.

Some of Rauf’s Jewish allies have taken a behind-the-scenes role helping him through the Islamic center flap, worried that their full-throated support could anger Jews that have criticized Rauf over statements regarding Israel.

“Of all the Muslims I can think of, I can’t think of anyone who’s been more present in the Jewish community,” said a prominent New York rabbi who asked for anonymity out of concern that he’d alienate some supporters.

Some of Rauf’s friends said he appeared to be taking their advice to do a few long-format interviews, including one last week with CNN and an appearance this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an attempt to fully explain his vision and to avoid having sound bites taken out of context.

Asked if he’d consider compromising on plans for the center, Rauf told the Council on Foreign Relations Monday that “everything is on the table,” though he has said that moving the center could dangerously inflame parts of the Muslim world because it would look like he was giving into anti-Muslim sentiment.

Plans for the $100 million, 13-story center include a 500 seat auditorium, classrooms and conference rooms, space for social events, a 9/11 memorial, a pool and a gym.

At the Council of Foreign Relations, Rauf continued to stress the project’s interfaith aims, saying it “will be a place for all faiths to come together as partners, as stakeholders in mutual respect.”

Some of Rauf’s friends and supporters in the faith world are convinced that the worst is behind him.

“My hope is that with the pressure of September 11 over and with this crazy, hateful Florida threat averted, there could now be a more thoughtful process on how to implement this great vision that Feisal and Daisy have,” said Wallis. “Now there will be some time to think this through.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • 9/11 • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mosque • Muslim • New York • United States

soundoff (334 Responses)
  1. Memphis Piano

    Why don't you write another propaganda article for this imam? This is a bunch of garbage. If he was a man of peace or intelligence, he would have known this was not a good place to build...and after the outrage, he should have stepped back in the name of the peace he claims to want. He neither a man of peace or intelligence and I'm sick of CNN trying to affect the news instead of just reporting it.

    September 17, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  2. M_Miles

    Here is some dialogue from Imam Feisal Rauf; not sure how interfaith it is as he is claiming in the article. . . .


    September 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • Halides

      Rauf is just so seriously creepy.

      September 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  3. stephen

    Two questions.

    1. I would rather appease the extremists than listen to my fellow New Yorkers or countrymen. So who am I?
    2. Move the center will inflame extremists. Build the center will give a victory to extremists. Can't win either way. Both ways give extremists propaganda tools. So what do I do?

    Ever heard of three "you's"? "Who you think you are", " who other people think you are", " who you really are".
    Imam, think about what you are saying to the public and you will know who you really are... you are a bridge builder, but your way of building a bridge is by yielding to extremists. Is that the exact same thing that the extremists are wanting? The world to submit to their will. You are doing just that but differently.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  4. Marc L from NY

    I wonder how the Imam would feel if a gay bar or strip club opened up next door? I am guessing not too tolerant.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  5. Mental issues

    This imam is disgusting. He is a hypocrite. he pretends to be all peaceful and pretends to be open for dialogue, but at the same time treats the people living in his apartment buildings in New Jersey like subhumans. That's why he is being investigated now. f course, CNN doesn't report that, because they support the mosque.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  6. Ned

    This Muslim Imam's own holy book, the Quran, in passage 5:51, tells him:

    "Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. God does not guide the wrong-doers."

    So, Muslim apologists, just how CAN the good imam squirm out from under THIS command, from his own Allah? Just WHAT friends is he talking about? Oh, the ones he is LYING about having, right? You DO also know that Muslims ARE allowed to LIE, right? It’s called "taqiyya." Riddle me THAT!

    The more you know about Islam…

    September 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • MrHAnson

      I agree, and it is the so called "tollerant" people telling us that we are ignorant.

      September 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  7. dickless

    what are female orgasm pills, huh?

    September 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  8. Tom

    I don't want to read about the imam any more. Please get me some real news.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • I. Chow

      this is REAL news!! Freedom of religion is in jeopardy! If you don't care about this than one day your rights may be in jeopardy, will you care than??

      September 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  9. The Real Deal

    Man...and we americans consider ourselves educated. Some of you are so ignorant, foolish, self righteous, stupid, arrogant, ignoramouses. Where do you get this crap? Seek knowledgre , you fools, before your ignorance catapults you back into your dark ages. Islam is not going away. It is the fastest growing religion in the US and the world today. The God of Islam, is the same God of Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Noah Adam, Muhammad and all of the 124,000 Prophets. Get real, people. Do not rely on media to get your news about Islam. Go ask a Muslim ! I have many muslim and christian friends. None of them speak about each other the way you guys do about these Muslims. If you would only use your time and energy to seek the knowledge from credible, authentic and reliable sources, you will be far better off in the eys of your neighbors and your Creator. That's Allah, by the way. Regardless of whether you call on HIM (in your own way) or don't even believe in HIM, still does not change the fact that HE is still there and we will all be held accountable to HIM one way or another. HE IS THE LORD OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. HE KNOWS WHAT YOU KNOW NOT. SO BE AWARE OF THE HOUR WHICH IS SURE TO COME WHEN EVERY MAN/WOMAN WILL BE REWARDED FOR EVEN AN ATOMS WEIGHT OF GOOD HE HAS EARNED OR ACCOUNT FOR EVEN AN ATOMS WEIGHT OF EVIL HE HAS DONE. Stop the Religion bashing and just be good humans and seek knowledge from your cradle to your grave (throughout your life, in other words).

    September 17, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • cretaceous1

      hey wiseguy...google up the "beheading of American contractor Eugene Armstrong" who was NOT Jewish and among other Jewish Americans and non-Jews alike that was murdered by followers of this exact religion. Shame on you for befriending this garbage....why don't u join these people and go back to Egypt with them...See how long your head sits on your shoulders!

      September 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Altogether now – hold hands – "Kummmbaayaaa, my lord, kumbayaaaa......"

      September 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • chuck hamma

      You call OTHERS "arrogant"? You sound like you are all knowing.

      September 17, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  10. skytech5

    he is puting interfath with Islam, Christian and Jewish islom groups. But what about the other Religion like wiccan that is in country.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  11. John Que 3000

    One question.
    Why is everything this individual doing of such great importance that he is plastered on the CNN website more than most Democratic or Republican leader?

    This bias and blatant promotion of Islam by CNN will lead me to boycott your advertisers. This is purely my opinion regarding preferential treatment at the expense of more important, US issues, even your Gulf Of Mexico coverage is pushed further and further within your pages. The 27 year old female US citizen, a west coast cartoonist was placed on a death sentence, by radical Islamic Cleric, reported on MSNBC and FOX News, CNN choose to avoid the subject.

    Call me a racist if you wish, but I hold no animosity toward the Iman, he is gladly using your soap box to voice his displeasure with radicals on both sides of the issue, brave for an Iman. The point is I and many more US citizens who buy your advertisers products have had enough.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • cretaceous1

      Looks like you would know by now that Obozo is pushing this plan to build the mosque!!! After all, he interrupted important business on the economy just to advocate the building of this demonhaven structure!

      September 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  12. Bumble

    I wish this Imam would do things for those outside his religion as well. Like asking for psychos to stop trying to kill American cartoonists for practicing their freedoms. Why does he not get involved with that/ He is supposed to be against radicalism.. Right?

    This dude does not care about American right unless it is for his own benefit. Enough said. Rights are not a two way street for him.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • bangboy

      bring us more female orgasm pills!!! CNN reported good news on em!

      September 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Juan

    OK in all fairness , we will let them biuld the multi culture mosque in NY , if they let us build a Christian church in mecca , sounds fair , lets see what they will say to that !!! Why do we have to always bow down to everybody and always put Christianity down for others . Why have we criticized so much that pastor that wanted to burn quran as a protest for the mosque in NY . Isn't that what they do all the time in muslim countries , burn bibles and american flags , why cant we do it , if they can , When they do it its ok , when we think of doing something wich they do all the time is a scandal why ! I just think their is alot of unfairness in all this . Lets be fair if they can do it with just a slap in the hand why cant we

    September 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  14. loretta

    If this guy is legit, then why did he move his plans so close to the world trade site? This is a moslem show of success! He is the nice front ma of the radicals. Throughout history, these "people" destroy churches and synagogues and build mosqes over the ashes! This is their goal – kill all christians and jews. His success is the end of judeo christian free america. Give this guy 50 years. They have 20% of Europe. We're next on their menu. Stop him now and deport him and all moslems here. They are the silent invading army. DONT BE FOOLED

    September 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  15. Boot

    I am unsure why christians are mocking "the religion of peace" and in the same breath wanting to incite violence against the center. I feel ashamed to call myself a christian for i will be grouped in with you, people who just dont understand Jesus's message of peace and forgiveness and to have no respect for a group of people beleive and cherish something as strongly as we do.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • loretta

      We turn the other cheek right? Well we used up 3000 faces on 9/11. Peace and love but dont let the animal kill your children. Defend our selves is a christian right! This guy and his gang want death to all christians. Fight today and survive – repent tomorrow. Any priest or rabbi wil ltell you in judeo-christian religion – no sin to kill if you are about to be killed! Deport these animals now!

      September 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Reality

      For Boot's eyes only:

      The real history and theology of Christianity-

      Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hit-ti-tes, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


      For added "pizz-azz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      Current problems with the RCC

      Pedo-ph-iliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

      Current problems:

      Adulterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      September 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Boot

      Look at what you are saying. Deport them!? your talking about 10's of thousands of american citizens, muslim americans that have done not a thing wrong other than live in manhatten. A man who simply wants to build a place of worship on property he owns is an animal? It's clear proximity isnt the issue as mosques all over the country are being fought and even met with violence by psuedo christians.

      and please dont quote thier passages and cherry pick the way al queda does to justify violence, because we have some pretty violent things in our book as well.

      September 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  16. Moe

    I have one question for this Imam, if mosques bring peace and harmony then why in the Middle East, where there are thousands of these mosques, people hate one another?
    Mr. Imam, if you were really after peace and harmony, then you were trying to get rid of these mosques and not to build another one!!!

    September 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • loretta

      AMEN! Deport this cult and all of its member now before they kil us in our sleep and stone our women. They love violence and have no value on human life!

      September 17, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • toImam

      stoning and beheading are their favorite.

      September 17, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  17. ProudMoh

    The MOSQ will be built regardeless, so get a life and get over it, if you don't like it, go back to Israel, Polonia, Germany or whereever the he11 you grandpappies came from....

    September 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  18. luis vazquez

    Nice PR story CNN, where is the story about the SLUM Apartments he owns. Is this the seedy side of the Inman preaching Peace and tolerance. CNN you are a complete joke.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  19. Jatto

    Get Focus on the project Imam Rauf. The media is not gong to approvce your project nor would say anything positive about it. Listen to your faithful fellows and moderate muslim partners.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Jatto...."Moderates" would be telling Rauf the mosque is not a good idea. Neither he nor his backers are moderates. As for the other religious leaders, they are liberal utopians who cannot see the truth because their heads are so high in the clouds.

      September 17, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  20. TERRY

    Bad idea to only surround yourself with people who agree with you...liberal Christian / Jewish leaders are not the entirely of the Christian / Jewish faiths. Also, it calls to question the truthfulness of those leaders' faith...in 2nd John verses 7-11 in the New Testament and

    September 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
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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.