Imam: exploring options to mosque near ground zero
NEW YORK (WABC) -- The imam leading the effort to build an Islamic center near ground zero says he's working on a solution to resolve the heated crisis over whether it should be moved.
"We are exploring all options as we speak right now, and we are working to what will be a solution, God willing, that will resolve this crisis, diffuse it and not create any unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said during a question-and-answer session following a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations.
He did not elaborate on whether the options included moving the center from a site two blocks from ground zero.
But in response to a later question, Rauf said the proposed location, while controversial, was important.
"We need a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims can be amplified...This is an opportunity that we must capitalize on so the voice of moderate Muslims will have a megaphone," he said.
The imam said he wanted to clarify a "misperception" that the Islamic center's proposed site was sacred ground.
"It is absolutely disingenuous as some have suggested that the block is hallowed ground," he said, noting its proximity to strip joints and betting parlors.
During his remarks, Rauf raised the question of whether the project was worth the controversy.
"The answer is a categorical yes," he said. "Why? Because this center will be a place for all faiths to come together in mutual respect."
He noted: "The world will be watching what we do here."
He also decried some aspects of the debate surrounding the proposal.
"Let us therefore reject those who would use this crisis...for political gain or even for fame," he said.
Critics of the proposal say putting a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001 shows disrespect for the dead. Supporters cite religious freedom.
Meanwhile, pastor Terry Jones might be making his exit from the spotlight. He says he won't "now or ever" burn the Koran. Jones says he made his point, that "Islam has its very dangerous and radical elements." But the fallout from his threat to burn the Koran still follows him.
"I think the fact that we changed this decision, we felt as though God was telling us to do this," Jones said. "I don't believe that has changed the death threats against us."
The Gainesville pastor flew to New York to meet with the imam about the proposed mosque near ground zero, but it doesn't appear any such meeting happened or will happen.
"The fact of the matter is, this has been used for political purposes," Rauf said. "And there's growing Islamophobia in this country."
Rauf says the rhetoric in the anti-mosque movement has grown hateful. And he says the opposition to the mosque is being manipulated by politicians out to help themselves.
"We are Americans, too," he said. "We are treated and talked about today as if as American Muslims are not Americans. We are Americans. We are doctors. We are investment bankers. We are taxi drivers. We are store keepers. We are lawyers. We are part of the fabric of America."
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani says there seems to be a real lack of common sense in the mosque plan, as well as Jones' threat to burn copies of the Koran.
"The imam has a right to put the mosque there," Giuliani said. "Freedom of religion gives him that right. The minister has the right to burn the Koran. The same amendment of the Constitution gives him that right, the first amendment. In either case, common sense and a real dedication to healing that these men of God would theoretically have would tell you not to do it because you're hurting too many people."
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