|Abdul Rauf says he is dismayed that extremists distort Islamic values to suit their own agenda [Reuters]|
The imam leading the effort to build an Islamic centre near the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks says he is working on a solution to resolve the debate on whether it should move.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the executive director of the Cordoba Initiative, a multicultural and multifaith group, said on Monday that all options are being explored towards a solution “that will resolve this crisis, defuse it”.
The Associated Press news agency reports that Rauf, who made his remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank, also raised the question of whether the project is worth the controversy. He says the answer is “a categorical yes”.
While he signalled a willingness to move the centre in an interview earlier this month, Rauf did not elaborate on whether the options included moving the Islamic centre from a site two blocks from the World Trade Centre in New York City.
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 capitalise on so the voice of moderate Muslims will have a megaphone,” he said.
Still, with the tense lead-up to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the threat of a Quran burning behind it, the Muslim community in the US must still deal with the issues of building an Islamic centre in the location most identified with the events of that day nine years ago.
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York, said Rauf gave “a very passionate defence of his intentions to build a community centre in lower Manhattan and a passionate defence of his religion amid so much controversy and such a heated climate” in the US.
She said that the Rauf insisted that the purpose of the community centre, which would be open to all faiths, was “to build bridges”.
The voices in the discussion have been many, ranging from Donald Trump, the real-estate developer (who is against the centre being built near Ground Zero), to Jesse Jackson, the veteran civil-rights leader, who supports a mosque at that location.
In the Quinnipiac poll released on Monday, 70 per cent of participants said they believed that the Muslim group has a right to build the mosque near Ground Zero, but 63 per cent felt that it was inappropriate to do so.
That sentiment seems to have a place in the mainstream.
In Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post, Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic scholar, wrotean op-ed piece that made an argument for building the mosque elsewhere.
“No doubt, it is the legitimate right of Muslims to build a community centre near Ground Zero. Yet, I believe it is not a wise decision, considering the collective sensitivities in American society,” he said.
“This is a moment to go beyond rights and reach for the common good: To build it elsewhere, if possible, would be a sensible and symbolic move.”
Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, also maintained that deciding to move the mosque would not equate accepting that Islam is to blame for the 9/11 attacks.
But Rauf told the New York Times last year that having an Islamic centre near the site of the attacks would serve to “to push back against the extremists”.