A New York City imam says he deeply regrets the upheaval sparked by a proposed Islamic center blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, and would not have embarked on the project had he known the hostility it would engender.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says he never imagined his proposal to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York would lead to protests and divisive debate across the United States and the world. But what if he had known?
"I would never have done it [proposed the project]," Rauf said. "I am a man of peace. The whole objective of peace work is not to do something that will provoke controversy."
Imam Rauf spoke on ABC's This Week program. But despite his regrets, he says - now that the proposal has been made - the Islamic center must not be scrapped or moved elsewhere in the city, as some have suggested.
"My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be: 'Islam is under attack in America'. This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment. This will put our people, soldiers, troops, embassies, our citizens under attack in the Muslim world," Rauf said.
Late last week, a Florida Christian pastor canceled plans to burn the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, claiming that he reached a agreement with representatives of Imam Rauf that the proposed New York Islamic center would be constructed in another part of the city. The imam denied any such deal had been struck.
In a press conference Friday, President Obama made an impassioned plea against religious divisiveness in the United States. The president's advisor on interfaith matters, Eboo Patel also appeared on This Week, and predicted the Islamic center controversy will be overcome.
"This is a blip in the broader arc of inclusiveness that is America," Patel said. "And the history books will read, as they have read before, that the forces of inclusiveness will defeat the forces of intolerance."
And those disparate forces of intolerance have a symbiotic relationship, according to Imam Rauf.
"The radicals on both sides - the radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world - feed off each other," Rauf said. "And to a certain extent, the attention they have been able to get through the [news] media has aggravated the problem."
The imam added that Muslims in the United States enjoy tremendous religious liberties - a fact, he said, that is not well understood by their fellow-Muslims in other countries.