A U.S. pastor who had planned to burn Qurans Saturday is pressing for a meeting with the imam seeking to build an Islamic cultural center in New York. The pastor wants the project moved away from the site of the September 11th attacks.
Reverend Terry Jones says he hopes to travel to New York Saturday, instead of going ahead with his plans to burn some 200 Qurans in front of his Gainesville church.
Jones said the original event was intended to honor those killed in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and to send a message to Islamic extremists, like al-Qaida.
But political and religious leaders around the world denounced plans to burn Qurans at the Dove World Outreach Center. President Barack Obama has said the event could spark new violence by Islamic extremists.
Thursday, Jones said he decided to cancel the event and go to New York to meet imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is seeking to build the Islamic cultural center near the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Jones said Friday that he had not yet secured a meeting in New York.
"We have not heard from the imam but we are still very hopeful that we will meet with him. We are still very convinced through the different channels that we have, which we cannot mention, that this meeting will take place," he said.
Jones cited recent polls that suggest most Americans oppose the plan to build the Islamic center near the site of the New York attacks, known as ground zero. Imam Rauf has said the project has the support of leaders from across the religious spectrum, and that it will have spaces for people of all faiths.
Also Friday, Jones met with K.A. Paul, a Christian preacher from India who is based in the U.S. city of Houston. Paul said he had worked for two days to convince Jones that burning Qurans was the wrong thing to do, and that Jones had finally agreed.
"There are three reasons I gave why he should not burn Qurans. Number one: it is to a billion and a half people a holy book. [He should try] not to offend all Muslims all over the world," he said.
Paul also said the event could endanger Christian preachers and missionaries around the world, as well as U.S. military personnel outside the country. U.S. military chiefs already have voiced concerns that images of burning Qurans could incite new attacks on U.S. troops, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier, a group of religious leaders from Gainesville delivered a petition signed by 8,000 people asking Jones to stop any plans to burn Qurans.
Reverend Roland Julien, of St. Patrick Catholic Church, said there has been an outpouring of concern about Saturday's planned event. "It touches all of us. People from all over are calling us. They are calling any church in Gainesville, and saying what can we do to stop this act and live together more peaceably as brothers and sisters," he said.
Rabbi Dennis Shuman of the P'nai Or Jewish congregation said the planned event posed a dilemma to religious communities around the world. He said the key issue was how to address radical figures from any religion. "What we are witnessing in our world today is not a clash between different religions. But a clash within religions, between extremists and moderates," he said.
Local religious leaders say they are surprised at the international attention being paid to the Dove World Outreach Center, with its congregation of a few dozen. They say people around the world should realize that most people in Gainesville and elsewhere in the country do not support the church's plan to burn Qurans.