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. Faye

    When I read your comment (A Muslim) I was struck by how strange we all can be about our "religions"–you have never read the Quran or been to a mosque...many Christians have never read the Bible or attended church...many Jews are self- proclaimed "cultural" Jews who don't read the Torah or attend synagogue. What the heck? Why bother to align ourselves with any group at all if we aren't interested enough to actually practice the basic tenets of a given faith?

    September 9, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • A Muslim

      I agree with you on this 100%. I would describe myself as a "cultural muslim" as opposed to a "practicing muslim". I think what happens is if you grow up in a muslim (or jewish or christian) community you identify with and have a better understanding of the communities political interpretation of events and their narrative and grow up to associate and sympathize with it, even though you might not buy in to the religion itself. With that said I think I do have some understanding of the "other" narratives even though I do not identify with them and believe reaching a settlement on this conflict and putting a lid on it is possible.

      September 9, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. nita

    I think it was a good interview! Imam sounds sincere plus he warned what would happen! are you listening people!

    September 9, 2010 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. read the history

    @ American Muslim
    And yes we all remember how the relics of Buddhism were destroyed in Afghanisthan in not very distant past!

    September 9, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. vespasian

    Because we have no idea who we're fighting, we've created hundreds of little ground zeros all over Iraq and Afghanistan, killing tens of thousands of women and children. But nobody can talk about that without being labeled a terrorist sympathizer.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. mama

    just listened to the interview between obrien and the imam. the tone of the interview felt like obrien had a definite
    agenda. thought i was watching fox news.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Zari

    don't give radical Islam a symbol of victory and don't burn people's holy books, that's just wrong. Period.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  7. Donna

    There is a difference between a mosque and a Islamic center that will be 15 stories high. The Imam states that this will be a place for people to come to from all around the world. I feel that this holds a lot of concerns for many people in this country. If this center had been represented as a multi cultural site and the name of it were to reflect the true intentions, I do not feel that this would have become so hurtful. The Imam stated that he had been in that community for 25 years, 10 blocks for where 9/11 took place. He had to of known what this building meant to the community, it is where parts of the plane ended up. I felt that his message of how moving this building would be seen overseas was an eye opener. I do not know if he had intended for it to come across this way, but his words were as if they were to those outside of this country. I only wish he had sent messages of peace, not the message he had sent. As for the Quran burning in Florida, I am saddened that any media took this story this far. Why give this man who claims to be a man of God a platform of hatred that is now know throughout the world. I have been in Florida they have strong laws concerning fires of any kind, I do not feel the law would have allowed him to burn these books. All said, I do not feel this interview helped in anyway. Respect is a two way street, the feelings of the 70% majority of this country should be taken into consideration. There will always be extremists who will threaten our safety, but if we back away every time we are threatened for our beliefs we will be seen as weak in the eyes of the world.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. Zari

    let's just be considerate

    September 9, 2010 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. neutral

    Soledad OBrien is being so rude, dismissive and disrespectful during this interview. Is she angry?Is she trying to get a job with Fox?Her curt, abrupt manner is SO OFFENSIVE.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. Alia

    Did Soledad O'Brien take an anti-muslim pill before she conducted the interview? I fully understand a journalist has to has the tough questions but he/she also has to be unbiased. She wasn't. Every chance she got she attempted to corner Imam Feisal. Why?

    I for one am glad I don't live in your country.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • The Walrus

      Agreed, her reporting was completely unprofessional, emotional and actually attempted to create far more conflict and angst that was necessary. She repeated statements and questions and presented follow up questions that were of only one distinct anti-mosque mindset. It was actually somewhat disturbing to watch her mannerisms and anger.

      September 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. JNEW

    How does the imam not understand what an insult building this mosque in that location is. He asked the question "how do you suggest we continue to build bridges and relationships", well you start by seeing that 73% of the country is against this moving forward and you graciously apologize for the idea and back off. I'm all for freedom of religion but I'm more for having some respect and some compassion for the families and friends of all of the people lost that day. Why are they so adamant in building in that location?

    September 9, 2010 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Priya


    I am from Indian (India) origin. I live in Phoenix, Az. I was watching the debate on the building the mosque in New York City. We should find out different solution. I think we should build pillar near ground zero which will represent different races and religions in the world. The pillar of peace might bring gap between different religions. We should mentioned names of people who died in 9/11 attack. We should not give much importance to religion in the modern era. All of us should live together in peace and harmony and work together for the prosperity and development of mankind and for our future generations.

    Priya (Pronounce as Pre-ya)

    September 9, 2010 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  13. Nancy

    I agree that Soledad O'Brien came into this interview with her own bias on the issue, which clearly came through. She put the Imam completely on the defensive over and over again, repeating the same question and grilling him to the point where I was squirming in my chair because of how uncomfortable it felt to watch. Was I watching Fox News? I don't know who the "overwhelming majority" of Americans are who are against building this mosque – I certainly am not one of them and most people I know aren't either. Let's honor and respect this man's wishes and actions to have honest, open discourse on the subject. Yes Soledad, that can be a means towards peace if people would stop shouting so loudly and listen for once.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Earnie

      I agree, I too thought that I was watching the FOX channel. Soledad was a big mistake, forcing her made up thoughts on what was supposedly a balanced exchange of views. I was a fan of Soledad, I totally lost my confidence in her abilities this time.

      Why cant we give the imam a chance to make up for what they have failed. Soledad is clearly conveying that the best for muslims to face the 911 incident was just to stay inside their houses and do nothing to bridge solutions.

      September 9, 2010 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  14. Megan

    I agree that we need to respect Freedom of Religion, however this can be an exception. I believe that no matter what religion you are, people need to repect the area of ground zero.That is a resting ground for many who lost thier lives. All peole from different walks of life lost their lives. I know Muslim extermist attacked Us on 9/11 howver for me building a Mosque near that site makes me uncomfortable. If it was a couple more blocks away I would be fine with it. I don not understand why if so many people do not want this center to be built near ground zero, why build it near the site. I also don't think that the burning of the Quran is wrong. If people want peace retalitaion is not the answer. Resonding to on extreme action with another does not make peace it creates war. I am hoping that this issue is solved and peace will come of this in some way.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • The Walrus

      So because a mosque makes you uncomfortable we should deny other people rights? I dont under the justification and reasoning that states "its just not right"? The mosque never attempted to become a national issue. It only became a national issue when people attempted to take political advantage of the situation and tried to unite individuals under a the guise of xenophobia and bigotry. The reason 71% of people are against this mosque is because the debate has been hijacked by demagogues and radicals that repeatedly plead ignorance and provide falsified talking points and generalize an entire religion under the worst description. The debate surrounding the mosque proves the need for it: we need clearer dialogue, whereby radical viewpoints and drowned out by moderate and reasonable voices.

      September 9, 2010 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Pojeraci

      Okay let me get this straight. You think it's okay that we take away the Imam's rights because of some imaginary line that delineates too close from not too close to Ground Zero. And, at the same time you don't think it's wrong for people to exercise their right to burn the Quran. Ah-ha ... now at least I understand why this country is getting so off track. No one is making consistent sense anymore.

      September 9, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Corsair624

      Wow!!! I didn't know that we could make an exception for a particular group of people when the issue is using the freedom. Congrats and well done open-minded Megan 🙂

      September 12, 2010 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Earnie

    soledad lost me here. i am a catholic and i believe in fairness to all, even to muslims. soledad obviously had made her mind up even before the interview which made her the worst person to handle the interview. she even said that ground zero is a holy area and then proceeded in saying herself that there are strip clubs in the area, wow, what a statement from a person who claims that she is from the city. soledad only made the situation worse for both christians and muslims. in the end, with all these fighting here, its america who is in the losing end. dont you think that while the fighting in america is happenning, the radicals are enjoying themselves watching all of you fight. In fact, the more you fight, the happier they must be and by the looks of it, radicals are enjoying this as the days pass by. why cant america be like singapore where different religions, different cultures (with its own sub-cultures) smoothly live peacefully. I was raised thinking that america is a land of promise filled with logical, level-headed individuals, i even wished to have been educated in america but its america too who have created their own financial problems, their own political and economic problems, so how could i have loved america. i now so appreciate all that my country has with all of its own concerns

    September 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
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