U.S. Muslim groups are calling for a nationwide week of "dialogue" in response to the controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center near the former World Trade Center site, known as Ground Zero.
Speaking outside the proposed Islamic Center building site near Ground Zero, Muslim leaders said freedom of religion is for everyone in America. They called for a "National Week of Dialogue" to combat ignorance and bigotry that they said motivates opposition to mosques and Muslim schools in several other places in the United States.
Nihad Awad, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it is unfair to associate the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero with the September 11 terrorists.
"Muslims were among the victims and Muslims were among the first responders," said Nihad Awad. "Let us also remember that there used to be a mosque in one of the towers. So, ground zero is all of ours, ground zero does not belong to a specific group in America. Ground zero belongs to all Americans, and we all share the grief, and we all share the healing."
During the proposed week of dialogue, which would center on the weekend of October 22 through the 24 , CAIR's Nihad Awad said U.S. mosques nationwide will be asked to open their doors for non-Muslims to visit.
"To let them understand the Islamic faith, and what the American Muslim community is," he said. "We also urge Muslims to visit places of worship of other faith-communities, because America needs to be stronger than what it is now. We should not make it easy for the voices of division to divide Americans along religious and ethnic lines."
The groups involved also include the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Leaders said they came up with the idea for a National Week of Dialogue to address the Islamic Center controversy during a meeting Sunday in New York.