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US imam launches 'interfaith' tour
Cleric building an Islamic centre near Ground Zero kicks off a charm offensive to promote coexistence and tolerance.
Last Modified: 25 Dec 2010 09:33 GMT
The proposal to construct an Islamic centre two blocks from Ground Zero led to several demonstrations [GALLO/GETTY]

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim cleric whose proposed Islamic centre near the World Trade Centre site has sparked furore over the summer, has said that he will tour the country in an effort "to inspire interfaith understanding".

The main objective of the tour, which was announced on Friday, is to make people aware of what the United States means as a country that protects the right to freedom of religion.

The Imam believes that US Muslims like himself, "can play an important role as interlocutors between the United States and the Muslim world".

Rauf's first appearance is scheduled for Detroit, the city that hosts North America's largest Muslim population, on January 15.

The imam said that he will continue on to Chicago, Washington, San Antonio and college campuses including Harvard, Georgetown, Yale and the University of North Carolina.

He did not release specific dates for his speeches.

Rauf said he expects the tour to end sometime in April. He is still receiving and considering invitations.

He said that he wants to share his vision with people form different faiths, and that he has been dreaming about the New York project for 20 years.

More than a religious centre

Imam Rauf said the Islamic centre would be more than just a religious site as it will be "a community space where people of all faiths can come to participate in everything from athletics to cooking classes, adult education programs, and panel discussions on issues of importance".

There also would be theatre productions and film screenings, he added.

Last summer, Rauf's idea of constructing the high-rise Islamic community centre and mosque two blocks from ground zero, ignited explosive face-offs between its supporters and opponents.

Opponents call it offensive and insensitive to families of September 11 victims.

They are demanding that the project be moved to another location as they believe that building a mosque near the site of the "terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslim extremists" is an affront to them.

Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, has endorsed the centre at the original proposed location.

Rauf has been a member of the Lower Manhattan community for 25 years, leading a mosque about a 15-minute walk from the site of the proposed new Islamic centre

In Detroit, Rauf is scheduled to deliver a keynote address to the "Diversity Forum Banquet" of the Islamic Society of North America.

"I want to inspire interfaith understanding," he said. "This past summer, during the demonstrations, we also saw the birth of what we believe to be a global movement of people of all faiths who want to have a better future for their children and grandchildren."

Despite opposition to the Islamic centre, the imam is viewed as a moderate Muslim sponsored by the US state department to travel on behalf of the United States, tempering extreme positions in the interest of world peace.

"It's a good idea to reach out to Americans and address any misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims," Zaheer Uddin, head of New York's Islamic Leadership Council, said of Rauf's speaking tour.

Source:
Agencies
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