The man behind the proposed Islamic Center in New York, just two blocks from the area known as Ground Zero, says the dispute over its construction has turned into a much larger controversy over the relationship between his beloved religion, Islam, and his beloved country, America. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf immigrated to the United States 45 years ago. He recently toured the Middle East on behalf of the Obama administration to explain America's relationship with Islam.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said there is a categorical need for an Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan.
"This center will be a place for all faiths to come together as partners, as stakeholders in mutual respect," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. "It will bring honor to the City of New York, to American Muslims across the country, and to Americans all over the world."
Rauf envisions turning a former clothing store just two blocks from Ground Zero into a modern-day embodiment of medieval Cordoba, Spain, where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together. He says the project is inspired by what he calls the two most important commandments at the heart of the all three faiths.
"To love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls, and with all of our strength," he said. "And the second, as Jesus said - co-equal to the first - to love our neighbors as we love ourselves."
But some American Muslims have joined Christians and Jews in opposition to his planned center. They see it as an Islamic affront to victims of the September 11 attacks. Many opponents also fear the center could be turned into a gathering place for fundamentalists, who would seek to replace the U.S. Constitution with strict sharia. But Rauf says that Islamic law is mostly compatible with U.S. laws.
"By the way, Islamic jurists have said from the earliest of times, because Muslim communities lived as minorities - first in Abyssinia, Ethiopia in the time of the Prophet; and they said wherever Muslims are the minority they are required to follow the laws of the land," said Rauf. "There is a requirement of sharia to follow the laws of the land."
Rauf's appearance comes on the heels of demonstrations Saturday for and against his project. He has declined to say whether he would move the center farther from Ground Zero. The real struggle, he says, should not be between Islam and the West, but between moderates of every faith, and extremists which, he note, represent the smallest of minorities in any religion.