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September 20th, 2010
03:54 PM ET

Imam behind NYC Islamic center avoiding New York, getting protection over security concerns

The imam behind the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero is largely avoiding New York City because of security concerns and is receiving protection from the New York Police Department, according to those close to the imam.

Video: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf explains why his organization has chosen to build an Islamic Center so close to ground zero.

"There's just a lot of crazies and that's why he has police protection from the NYPD," the Rev. James Parks Morton said Monday of his friend Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

"I know that he's being guarded, that he's not been staying in the usual places, that he's not working from his office and that he's concerned for his safety," said another friend of the imam's, Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon, in an interview Sunday night.

"He's staying in an undisclosed location, as they call it," said Matalon, a rabbi at B'nai Jeshurun on New York's Upper West Side.

The New York City Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked whether the FBI was investigating threats against Rauf, New York field office spokesman Bob Margolin declined to comment.

A media representative for Rauf, Seth Faison, would not comment on any security concerns.

Morton, former dean of New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, said the imam was mostly avoiding New York, where he typically works, since returning from a State Department trip to the Middle East two weeks ago.

Morton has known Rauf and his family since the 1960s and works in the same office building as Rauf on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Rauf did not attend a Monday morning press conference at Park51, the site of the proposed Islamic center. Zaheer Uddin, Executive Director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, said security concerns kept the imam away.

Another Rauf associate, the Rev. Chloe Breyer, said the imam skipped a New York board meeting of her group, the Interfaith Center of New York, on Thursday. Rauf is a vice chair on center's board.

"He is laying low," Breyer, an Episcopal priest, said of Rauf Monday. "He isn't coming into New York."

Rauf was traveling in the Middle East on a U.S. State Department sponsored trip for much of August, returning to the U.S. on September 5.

Video: Former President Jimmy Carter says the controversial Islamic center should be built

He appeared at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York last Monday for a speech and question-and-answer session about the controversy over his proposed Islamic center.

Saying America has let extremists "hijack the agenda," the imam said at the forum that he wants to create a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims can be amplified.

"We come together at a time of great crisis and danger," he said. "What began as a dispute over a community center in lower Manhattan has spawned and grown into a much larger controversy about the relationship between my beloved religion and my beloved country, between Islam and America."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Houses of worship • Islam • Mosque • New York • United States

soundoff (784 Responses)
  1. Greg

    Security fears from whom? Doesn't he know that it's only Muslims that go around killing people for virtually no reason!

    September 21, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  2. Ben

    This is really insulting. Well, make up all kinds of unrealized fears and that shows that there is violence on both sides. I have completely changed my opinion about this man and this proposed mosque and community center. While they still have the right to build if they own the land, I am 100% personally against it and 100% question his motives. Enough is enough!

    September 21, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  3. FauxNews

    Lots of people avoid NYC because of safety fears.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  4. Keith Alaska

    Ah he's just being Americana-phobic. An irrational fear of Americans out to do him harm. I bet when he goes to the airport they make everybody take there shoes off.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • das0522

      I belive the correct term is Ameriphobia

      September 21, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  5. jeffbo

    The problems this is causing now and the problems which will inherently happen in the future speaks volumes about why he needs to relocate the Mosque.. All it will do is cause trouble, deaths, violence.... hey if he is such a zealot, why pit people in danger that you know is potentially there. If he insist on this then he is just a trouble maker.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  6. Capt. Slapaho

    If he puts anymore mascara on he'll look like Imom

    September 21, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  7. marianewyork

    Remember Folks......Islamic Law tells them that they must CONVERT, ENSLAVE or KILL. That becomes problematic for us. Religious tolerance?????

    September 21, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • DaveinDallas

      Convert? Go for it. We see that every day from our religious and political "leaders". Enslave and Kill? That's why we have prisons.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  8. Jeff A.

    9/11 was the result of radicals, build a mosque to congratulate them why don't you ??

    September 21, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • A

      The discovery channel hostage situation was carried out by an environmental radical. Save the environment to encourage them why don't you!

      September 21, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  9. Peter Pumpkinhead

    Sooner or later, people of all religions have to answer for their extremist counterparts.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  10. cindy

    how does it feel for the tables to be turned my islamic friend. what comes around goes around. if they would stop their political agenda, maybe this would be a non issue. let people worship what they want and at least have the common sense and audacity to understand that suggesting a mosque may not be the most prudent idea of all times.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  11. Spydertofly

    Here is the interesting thing I see with this story. The Imam is concerned with his own safety but apparently doesn't give a flip about the safety of those that would use this center or live, work, and shop near the center. This center will become a target for those who are against it, or a target for those who wish to use it to further their own extremist agenda. So basically what the Imam is saying is that it's ok for others to be put at risk for his ideals but isn't willing to put himself at risk for his ideals. What an honorable man indeed.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  12. Doug

    Never ceases to amaze me, Bloggers! Facebook, twitter, and blog comments, all tell the man where you crazies are!

    September 21, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  13. RezPause

    The imam must be loving this controversy, giving him a national (or international?) stage to elevate Islam and reinforce the "us vs them" mentality. Should someone actually try to do him harm then he becomes a martyr, even better! He's really in a no-lose position unless he decides to move the mosque...

    September 21, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  14. Ben

    This is really depressing. We like to say that we have freedom of religion, and (for now) our government will probably protect that right. But at the end of the day, we only care if the religion you're practicing is Christianity. As citizens of this country we need to live up to the ideals of our own country. Is it right that the moderate Muslims in this country are subject to virtual witch hunts and can't go anywhere without looking over their shoulder in fear? That this man has to avoid New York and have a protection detail as if he were a Christian in the middle of Afghanistan? I wouldn't want to be treated that way. Why is it different for them?

    September 21, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  15. ishane

    so, we have the guy worried for his safety for wanting to build a mosque 'to bring peace and unity' in the community.....it doesn't strike him in thought that 'just maybe' building the mosque would/could lead to further 'safety' concerns.....is he really that ate-up mentally.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  16. Wimnan

    Freedom of religion for Muslims means imposing Islamic law on all "infidels" (all Christians, Jews, non-Muslims). That's what their religion teaches (if you don't believe it, go read the Koran). Muslims' freedom of religion means snuffing out freedom of religion, speech, etc., for all Christians, Jews, non-Muslims, etc.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  17. jane doe

    through public threats, zionist nazies want to send the message to the world that they rule.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  18. Anderson Fortaleza

    Stupid Iman playing victim. Ask the Christians in Saudi Arabia is they can build a church near Meca !

    September 21, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  19. Scruce

    Muslims and those who think allah is real, go to this website and discover the truth..... • biblebelievers.org.au/moongod.htm

    September 21, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  20. Jeff A.

    I thought America was the only place left in the world, that a cartoonist could ply their trade without fear of retibution. lol

    September 21, 2010 at 10:02 am |
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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.