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. A Muslim

    Again I would like to state that 9/11 was a truly tragic event and the grief caused to those who lost loved one cannot be understated. Utmost sensitivity must be exercised so that we do not trample upon their feelings. Again as far as I see it, the imam needs to back down and THIS PROJECT NEEDS TO BE CANCELLED URGENTLY IN ORDER TO NOT POUR FUEL ON THE FIRE - no need to aggravate the situation further.

    Its unfortunate that most Americans do not realize the cause of the conflict between the Islamic World and the United States. It has little do with religion or freedom or any one hating anyone's way of life. Much of this is rooted in American foreign policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    I think it would serve everyones interest if a resolution can be found - as far as I see it one is needed rather urgently. And this can only be reached after a clear understanding of both viewpoints. Kindly spend time researching the issues as opposed to believing everything one hears on Fox and Friends.

    Again this mosque controversy only compounds the situation further and thus serves no constructive purpose. The resolution to this one is really quite simple. This IMAM MUST MAKE AN URGENT DECISION TO CANCEL THIS PROJECT.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. Abdullah

    This Imam is pouring fuel on the fire. Why is it so important to build the center on this spot? Is it God chosen land? If building the center hurts people’s feeling, why do it? The Imam is being stubborn and unwise. Please think about it again and take a wise decision for the good of all sides. I have a feeling he is paid to create this controversy.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • The Walrus

      When initials plans were posted for the mosque in the new york times, there was no anger over the building of the mosque. only recently has the mosque been met with anger and hostility. This simply shows that we actually do need a center that promotes dialogue and allows for muslims and non-muslims to meet and converse. If I was the Imam I would move simply to take higher ground and show that the complete and utter bigotry in america today. They claim that it is not right for a mosque to be built, that it is unsympathetic. but were is the sympathy for religious freedom? Is not the first amendment to protect the minority from the majority?

      September 9, 2010 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rosemarie Treece

    I usually appreciate Soledad's take on issues, but I agree that she was terrible in this interview. The imam was a much more nuanced communicator. She was tone deaf to his responses and the circular nature of the discussion can be laid totally at her feet. He is absolutely correct that there was no reaction in December when the building was first announced. Check out Laura Ingram praising the idea back then. This pot has been stirred by the extreme right wing, and it is a sad commentary on the intelligence of the citizenry.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. Abdullah

    He is looking for fame just like the pastor in Florida who plans to burn Qurans..

    September 9, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Peggy

    First, I'd like to know what survey Soledad kept referring to and exactly what question was asked. We all know surveys can be misrepresented and second, there wouldn't be controversy if we were talking about a synagouge or Christian Church, the controversy needs to go away.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. Meg

    The appearance of Imam was wonderful. He is an intelligent, rational and real critical thinker. He is an epitome of a moderate muslim. On AC 360 the fireman and that woman were one of those ignorant people I have read comments above. Here read this piece by Nikolas Kristof and his persona that was effected by 9/11 personally, but turned it into something bigger than showing raw emotions and picture of the loved one who was killed in the attack.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. The Walrus

    Its amazing how Soledad hijacked and ruined this interview. Not a hint of professionalism was demonstrated. Every reporter should ask hard questions, but she replaced hard with angry and biased. Anderson Cooper or anyone or even John King would have been better suited, which is actually pretty sad with the latter.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Alta Pasha


      I agree, especially w /the latter being better!

      September 9, 2010 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  8. vespasian

    America is not strong enough to survive the construction of a Muslim YMCA in an area that for 8 years was not considered by anyone to be a part of ground zero? Really? Are we that weak?

    September 9, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. john

    If they do build the center, what grantee can the Imam give that they would NOT teach hate messages against America and non Muslims?

    September 9, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. alex

    I want you to ask this Immam can christian build a church in Makka... to build releation with Muslims

    September 9, 2010 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Meg

      Mecca to muslims is not the same as New York for Christians! Come on, give us better comparison and contrast. Mecca is where where Islam was founded, it is the home of Islam. New York ... well New York is like a huge melting mot. And it is definitely not where Christianity originated from!

      September 9, 2010 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. Alta Pasha

    I have always respected you as a fair and serious journalist. However, this evening you were not on top of your game. I never thought I would see you treat a guest so rudely. Imam Fiesal is a American citizen, but you treated him like an extremist. Throughout the interview you over talked him, and talked down to him.

    And to use a racist, bigot like Franklin Graham to give an opinion on Islam was an utter insult!!!!!! It was meant to hurt. I take no side on the mosque issue. I just want a resolution to be found where all parties can agree to a peaceful solution.

    We all have a right to take a position, including you... But as a journalist, CNN should not have ever selected you to conduct that interview. This was way too personal for you. You didn't see a moderate, American Muslim... you just saw a Muslim.

    An apology is in order. He kept asking you your opinion because you were baggering him, and it was clear that you were personally against the center being built at the site.

    P.S.: Larry, Soledad did not do an excellent job... Her interview was shameful tonight.

    Still love you... take care.

    God Bless America, we certainly need it.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. Colin

    A Canadian perspective:

    If 71% of Americans are still opposed to this inter-faith centre following the thoughtful, well-reasoned response from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, then I genuinely pity the 29% of Americans who have to live with what appears to be an insular, narrow-minded, parochial majority.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Boogiedog

      Thanks Colin – Didn't used to be like this and now it sucks big time! Hopefully another idiotic evangelical republican panderer gets back in office so all the boomers can crawl back inside and not have to worry about a black man running the country or their checks showing up....

      September 9, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. Frederick Worrell

    I do not see why it has to be a big deal where the Islamic Ctr. should be. The people who say they love Muslims but are against building on that spot I think are confused. I think allowing the Islamic Ctr. would go a small way towards uniting all faiths and groups in this country. White america like your guests on the show are confused. Those building the Islamic Ctr. are the Muslims to embrace with open arms. Embracing them may go a long way toward decreasing anti-american radicals in America and Abroad. Fighting the issue only exemplifies your inability to coexist, to accept other peoples culture and it shows how unequal this country is.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    I am a big fan of Soledad O'Brien's, but I do not think she conducted this interview in a professional manner. She came across as combative, skeptical and biased. Indeed, these questions needed to be asked, but she did it in a way that made her seem allied to the 70% of Americans who oppose the building of the mosque/cultural center. That's not good journalism. And the follow-up conversation was a bit of a circus as well.

    September 9, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Meg

      100% AGREED

      September 9, 2010 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Coyote

    Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf retracted his statements that the 9!! t_rrorists acted out of righteous religious anger at American foreign policy, eg: American bases and boots on holy Islamic soil.

    He suggested that if this mosque was not built, that if a central ground was not found.... that the extremists would be empowered, return and strike at us again. “Anger would explode in the Muslim world,” he said.

    He acknowledged the Mohammad cartoons motivated extremists to strike at western interests.

    He also acknowledged that religious extremism is a part of Islam and that his purpose was to struggle against these religious radicals.

    But note the common thread in his comments: that if we fail to properly RESPECT ISLAM, western interests and lives would be forfeit. Therefore we MUST respect Sharia law against images of the prophet; that we must allow a mosque even next door to the site where Islamist extremists caused the most egregious crime ever committed by Muslims in the modern world!

    I am NOT SAYING that he was threatening us, but that he was simply stating a factual observation of how the Muslim world interacts with the rest of the world: That if non-believers fail to properly follow Muslim demands and expectations, that lives and property would be forfeit.

    AND he was saying that it was his life work to struggle against that reality by promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding.

    BUT he has failed, like most on the left, to demand proper responsibility FROM RELIGION. Since when did religion have the right to demand that I adhere to their beliefs and values? If anyone is at fault here, it is the religious radicals who demand and expect acquiescence to their religious demands OR ELSE!

    It is time to take this Imam's arguments a step further than “freedom of religion” (which actually means freedom from government coercion, and NOT that one is free to make religious demands on a secular society), and come up with a new understanding.

    -freedom from religious extremism
    -freedom from religious coercion
    -freedom from religious demands
    -religion is a personal choice: keep it to yourself

    September 9, 2010 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
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