September 8th, 2010
08:54 PM ET

Live blog: Imam behind NYC Islamic center speaks

Editor's note: The imam who plans to build an Islamic center and mosque a few blocks from New York's ground zero spoke to CNN's Soledad O'Brien on "Larry King Live" Wednesday night. The following is a running log of what Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf discussed.

[Updated, 10:04 p.m.] O'Brien's last question was whether Rauf could unequivocally say that the center would be built at the currently planned location, a few blocks from ground zero.

"We certainly hope to build a Cordoba House vision of a multifaith center that will build relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims," he said.

[Updated, 9:59 p.m.] Rauf was asked about the pastor in Florida who plans to burn Qurans this weekend, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"I would plead with him to seriously consider what he is doing. It is going to feed into the radicals in the Muslim world," Rauf said.

He noted that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus has warned that the burning would endanger U.S. troops overseas.

"It's something which is not right to do on [those] grounds," Rauf said.

"We have freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. ... This is dangerous for our national security, but also it is the un-Christian thing to do," he added.

[Updated, 9:48 p.m.] When asked if the State Department was correct in saying Hamas is a terrorist organization, Rauf said: "I condemn everyone and anyone who commits acts of terrorism, and Hamas has committed acts of terrorism."

When asked what he thought about the 9/11 hijackers claiming they were doing what they did in the name of Islam, he said:

"That is a travesty. Just as the inquisitors in Spain were committing a travesty [against] the teachings of Jesus Christ. We do have people in our communities who [commit travesties] against Islam."

[Updated, 9:40 p.m.] O'Brien asked about his interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," shortly after the 9/11 attacks, in which he said the United States' policies "were an accessory to the crime."

O'Brien asked twice, but Rauf deflected the question.

"The work we have to do now is not about pointing fingers," he said, as part of his response.

[Updated, 9:32 p.m.] Rauf, the imam at the center of the controversial proposed Islamic community center and mosque in New York, said that "nothing is off the table" when asked whether he would consider moving the site.

"We are consulting ... various people about how to do this so that we negotiate the best and safest option."

[Updated, 9:28 p.m.] Rauf reiterated that the issue about what to do with the center going forward is important for national security.

"If we don't do this right, anger will explode in the Muslim world," Rauf said. "... If we don't handle this crisis correctly, it could become something very dangerous indeed."

He said moving the project to another location would strengthen Islamist radicals' ability to recruit followers and will increase violence against Americans.

He said again that if he knew ahead of time the controversy this would create, he wouldn't have made the plans to build the center at the currently planned site.

[Updated, 9:21 p.m.] Rauf said that if he knew how controversial the project would be, he "never would have done this - not have done something that would create more divisiveness."

However, he said he is convinced he shouldn't move the center now because "our national security now hinges on how we negotiate this, how we speak about it and what we do."

By that, he said, he means that if the controversy forces a move, "it means the radicals … will shape the discourse on both sides."

[Updated, 9:15 p.m.] Asked whether he was surprised by the controversy, Rauf said he was.

He pointed out that news of the plans to build the Islamic center and mosque was published in The New York Times in December, and "no one objected" at the time. He said the issue was politicized later.

[Updated, 9:13 p.m.] Asked why he wanted to build the center on the planned spot, Rauf noted he's already run a mosque about 10 blocks from ground zero for many years.

When asked about the feelings of families of 9/11 victims - such as those who might claim that their relative's remains have yet to be found at the site, Rauf said: "This is not that spot. This is not ground zero proper. No one's body is in that location."

"I'm very sensitive to those feelings," he said. "As an imam - as any religious person does - we have to minister to the pain and hurt ... in our communities. This is part of our intention."

He said he intends to put a 9/11 memorial in the center.

[Updated, 9:07 p.m.] O'Brien asked why Rauf was quiet during the recent uproar while he was overseas. He said wanted to wait until he got back to his home country, America.

"I didn’t think is was appropriate for me to speak about this while I was overseas," he said.

He said people in the Middle East "have been very concerned about this" issue.

"The concerns of people there are about both what this means in the United States, but what this means also for them, because the United States is the only global superpower today, and what happens here has an enormous impact over the rest of the world," he said.

[Original post, 8:54 p.m.] The imam who plans to build a community center and mosque within blocks of New York's ground zero will be interviewed live at 9 p.m. ET on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will talk with CNN's Soledad O'Brien about his decision to move ahead with the plan. As the interview happens, this blog post will be updated with portions of what Rauf says.

Opponents of the plan say the center would be too close to the site of the 2001 terror attacks and is an affront to the memory of those who died in the al Qaeda strike. Backers cite, among other things, First Amendment rights and the need to express religious tolerance.

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Filed under: Islam • New York • Religion
soundoff (1,302 Responses)
  1. pat

    the imam is just driving a wedge between muslims&non-muslims.Does he really think this is helping?He is doing this on purpose, just to help the extremist.Thank you mr Obama for paying for him to travel the world & promote his agenda.We are just asking him to be tolerant of our feelings.I think we should build gay bars all around their mosques.(see how they would complain about us not considering their feelings) burn baby burn ,lets see how tolerant they are

    September 9, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. joe

    We as a nation need to stop worry about offending muslims. Thier belief system says it is ok to wipe us from the face of the earth. They are comming after us. If we sit quietly and say nothing, not wanting to offend, they will not just go away and leave us alone, anymore than a schoolyard bully leaves the weak kid alone. It is OK to speak up.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Maggie

    Thank you Jesus , if the news are coorect that Burms of Koram ais stop and this ISLAMIC CULTURAL CENTER bu as we leand from Yogy Berra. It;s not over until is Over,
    I will be a victory if it's out of NY City bacerfill

    September 9, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mama Una

    Why instead building Islamic center near the Ground Zero not to build House of Prayer for all religions and confessions residing in NY to commemorate victims of 9/11?.. It would show unity of all Americans (including Muslims) and the victory of the common sense...

    September 10, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vinnie

      agree, and it's what I've been saying on many blogs. please help pass these words. I see from eyes of a American the right to build. From the old school to hate... But from a Cristain heart that pains to even write this, To allow a building Not for Muslim teachings. But as a Mulity Culture teaching of many faiths in one building. If the Muslim faith is not meant as a slap for the building, then outreach to all faiths to teach within the one Building. This would be a true gesture of wanting to end division. And the radical pigs/swines of the world could run toward the edge of the clif as stated in the BIBLE. it would also show the terrorist of the world that what they did brought us together stronger. To only place a Islamic center flares up the thought of the slap in the face to us. So write to who ever you know to push this issue of a mulity center for all faiths. To HONOR THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES WILLING.

      September 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Maggie

    Obama embrace Islam.
    What ca you spect for a man with middle name "Barack" and last "Obama"? that at the present do not go to any chuch

    September 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Maggie

    Do Muslims every say sorry?
    I have noticed muslims when questioned about terrorists acts commited in their name, they never say sorry about the act.
    I have noticed that muslims have no remorse.9/11 but Feisal Abdul Rauf say that the United States deserved what happened
    Not SORRY AT ANY time a simple SORRY

    September 10, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • RF

      No we're sorry. Never. The only Muslims I hear who denounce the Islam Extremists are those interviewed on Fox News. I never heard a thing about how repulsive the beheadings were – you know like the kid who's head was slowly and barbarically severed by Zarkawi while he was AWAKE and videoed! If that was some member of my religion which was being observed by the entire American population, I'd be sure to voice my utter disdain about something so repulsive and incredibly base.
      Islam has dug it's own pit where it sits. Leaders have said nothing while since I was a young adult over and over aircraft were hijacked by "Islamic extremists", a bunch of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered by Islamic Extremists, the US has been targeted for attacks all over the world because we support Israel. And on and on it goes. I'm sick of being pressured to "understand and just accept" Muslims, and divide out the "normal muslims" from the extremists. Until they deal with the extremists effectively, I support profiling them at airports and in all public places. I support singling out Mosques and meeting places. The day they we accept Muslims disrupting traffic in the US like they do in Europe in order to "pray" is the day America is done. Mark Stein wrote a book America Alone. It would be very wise for everyone who thinks Islam is being picked on to get an education of the historical footprints of Islam. It will undoubtedly change how you view the dynamics of today's world.

      January 1, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. Corsair624

    Are you a true American that stands behind the values, or an American who grant the freedom at wish by discriminating? 19 hijackers in 9/11 attack CANNOT represent Islam. No religion is a property of a specific groups or person. In fact, they were all Saudis. I don't understand why President Bush was unable to severe the ties with the Saudi Family then, right after the attack happened? Well, the flow of cheap oil was at stake. Wake up people, see your real enemy, don't make up some figures out of fear and name them as your enemy. Beyond all, have no fear!

    I think the article below is worth reading, at least worth giving a try (especially for those who still claim to defend the very American values). ~Best ~

    What’s at stake near Ground Zero?

    By Father Edward Beck

    Last night I was sitting in the green room at CNN headquarters in New York waiting to go on Larry King Live to join the discussion with Imam Rauf about the proposed Islamic Cultural Center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero. The more the man spoke, the more apparent it became that I and the other guests would not be needed after all. The Imam had a lot to say. And I was content to sit and listen.

    His frustration about the controversy surrounding the Cordoba House (Park 51) project is understandable. As he noted, when he first announced the project in December there was no outcry, not a blip on anyone's radar. Then, when some politicians decided to use the issue for their own selfish ends, all hell broke loose.

    Let's be clear: The controversy surrounding Cordoba House is laden with discrimination, xenophobia and irrationalism. To say that the fundamentalist murderers who flew planes into the Word Trade Center represent Muslims is like saying Hitler's Christianity is representative of all Christianity. Or it's like saying when a radical fundamentalist Christian kills an abortion doctor out of misguided religious fervor, that he or she represents all Christians. Should Christians be denied the opportunity to build a church two blocks from an abortion clinic because of the actions of one of its errant followers?

    What's at stake here is religious freedom and tolerance, a bedrock of our United States democracy. The motto on our national seal says: "E Pluribus Unum"- Out of Many, One. We need to uphold and live by that motto. We are a culturally and religiously diverse society that claims the rights of our citizens are protected. We cannot waver in that protection because radicals on both sides are intent on having a shouting match based more in emotion than facts.

    The misrepresentation of Cordoba House as some radical mosque has been but one distortion of the facts. As duly noted by the Imam during his interview with Soledad O'Brien, the Cultural Center will be more like a YMCA than a traditional mosque. It will have a swimming pool, classrooms, and separate prayer spaces for Christians, Jews, and, yes, Muslims. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.

    We are at the confluence of some significant religious and secular events: The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Muslims end their observance of Ramadan and break the fast with celebration. And we will commemorate the 9th Anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. What better time to celebrate the unity of the 3 great Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity? Love of God and neighbor is the hallmark of all three. Cordoba House is a wonderful place to start putting that Golden Rule into effect. Let's be who we say we are and who we know deep down we are. And not the narrow-minded, hateful, xenophobic monsters that those who hate us want others to believe we are.

    Father Edward L. Beck, C.P. is a Roman Catholic priest of the Passionist Community. He is the author of SOUL PROVIDER: Spiritual Steps to Limitless Love.

    September 11, 2010 at 5:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Vinnie

    I see from eyes of a American the right to build. From the old school to hate... But from a Cristain heart that pains to even write this, To allow a building Not for Muslim teachings. But as a Mulity Culture teaching of many faiths in one building. If the Muslim faith is not meant as a slap for the building, then outreach to all faiths to teach within the one Building. This would be a true gesture of wanting to end division. And the radical pigs/swines of the world could run toward the edge of the clif as stated in the BIBLE. it would also show the terrorist of the world that what they did brought us together stronger. To only place a Islamic center flares up the thought of the slap in the face to us. So write to who ever you know to push this issue of a mulity center for all faiths. To HONOR THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES WILLING.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. lia Olson

    Soledad's interview with the Imam was more than disappointing. I don't mind a journalist asking hard questions, but she had an agenda to discredit a man who had dedicated his life to creating and sustaining peaceful connections.

    Did the spokesperson for "Black in America" consider that the majority of Americans would have protested attempts by Black Americans to exercise their Civil Rights in the 50's and 60's. The majority view when people are gripped by irrational fear does NOT equal justice and decency that leads to reconciliation. Over and over we've seen that's only when someone challenges the status quo that growth in humanitarian values can emerge and prevail. She has seemed clear enough that that was true for Black Americans, but is she too limited to see the parallel with the situation of Islamic Americans?

    Soledad had an adversarial agenda. She asked over and over why the Imam didn't abandon the site of the Community Center in order to kowtow to the xenophobic elements of our society. I'm outraged that she didn't support the highest values of our inclusive society and acknowledge that there are many of us who want our fellow Americans to be granted their total rights. Just as Rosa Parks deserved to ride in the front of the bus so many years ago, despite all the drama she incited by insisting on it, a peace-promoting American Imam deserves to create his vision of how to unite disparate American groups. God knows, Soledad–with her hateful, divisive comments and questions-would never be capable of doing that level of good in our world.

    We need to promote our highest American values and NOT elevate our lowest, basest fears as justifications for abandoning them. We can't stop feeling our fears, but we don't have to let them lead us. Anyone who knows the Imam proclaims his goodness. A better journalist would have tried to uncover the true nature of the man instead of inflame and support ignorant stereotypes.

    CNN pledges that it is the station of balance and "keeping it real." You really blew it on this show, and if it happens again, I'm off to MSNBC. Soledad needs a crash course in journalistic ethics, and you guys need to learn how to select your journalistic staff. There is no excuse for supporting Black and Hispanic America and trashing an example of wise and principled Islamic culture. I can't support a station that buys into the current example of an American witchhunt–a phenomena occurs periodically, but doesn't need to be supported. I expect a station like CNN to help us take a broader view, not to fan the flames. Maybe you should ship Soledad off to Fox News where she would fit right in.

    Lia Olson

    September 12, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Caroline

    For once there is proof that there are alot of intelligent people that are aware of and can have a level headed conversation regarding this VERY emotional issue. I agree Soladad indeed had her own agenda of cornering the Iman into a position of "well what DO YOU suggest I DO "....sort of statement. He was answering the questions in the most sincere, respectful and logical manner possible.....it was a loosing battle. However I will say that I agree with some of the statements on this blog......and that this is about America Foreign Policy ie. yankee imperialism and natural resources and the Israel / Arab "Tribal War" that has been pervasive in the region for thousands of years. It would be great to solve all of these indifferences in a few short months or years BUT it can not be corrected by building a Mosque.
    The bottle line after ALL I have written is that the site is a REAL ESTATE INVESTORS DREAM . Behind ALL of this is MONEY !!!!!! There are 8 investors from all around this globe...who saw this as an opportunity to invigorate and renew the Ground Zero area. I really don't think the IMAN was as educated in this financial arena as perhaps he should have been going into this interview. I think he was SO anxious and sincere in trying to heal the emotions of the 9/11 Event by building this center and the investors "cloked" it to the public the same way......never letting on that it was ALL about the MONEY.....and you wonder why we are called "Ugly Americans"........ALL 8 should take Donald Trumps offer, not just one, and move it to a less sensitive area.....right now !!!!

    September 12, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Gary J in Kansas

    What has been interesting is how the media has treated the WTC mosque story, and the Koran burning story. The media has approached these two stories from two entirely different directions. Regarding the WTC Mosque, the focus has been almost exclusively on the “intolerance” of those who oppose it, which happens to be 70% of the American population. MSNBC’s Olberman, Maddow, Matthews, and Schultz all huff and puff and hyperventilate about the rampant Islamophobia and Armies of Islamophobes in America. Really? Were that true there no doubt would have been wide-scale violence directed at the hundreds of thousands Muslims who proudly call America their “home” in the nine years since 9/11. Instead of inquiring further as to the reason why people oppose the mosque, the media take it at face value that all opposition is attributed to intolerance and Islamophobia.
    If the media cared enough to ask, the answer likely would be “why here?,” “why now?” and more importantly, just “why?” The “why” question is the foundation for the opposition. It is not unreasonable for the “intelligent common man” to conclude that instead of building bridges between Islam and other faiths as the Imam states, that the real, unspoken purpose of constructing the Mosque is to further twist the knife thrust into the heart of Manhattan nine years ago. It’s the equivalent of rubbing salt into the city’s still-healing wound. If the Imam was genuinely interested in building bridges he would have yielded to the many requests to consider erecting the mosque elsewhere. His refusal to do so, despite considerable financial incentive, further reinforces the belief that he has an ulterior motive. Pastor Jones demonstrated more compassion and sensitivity when he agreed to cancel the Koran burning than has the Imam.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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