Defenders of Feisal Abdul Rauf—the imam who plans to construct a 13-story Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan—often cite his reputation as a “moderate” Muslim cleric as justification for the continuation of the controversial project.
The State Department in both the Bush and Obama Administrations have also used the moderate tag to justify sponsoring outreach efforts in the Muslim world by Imam Rauf on behalf of the United States. Rauf is currently overseas in the Middle East on another such outreach trip.
But new information about Rauf’s association with another Manhattan mosque with a history of inflammatory rhetoric about the September 11 attacks could undermine the imam’s credibility as a spokesperson for moderate Islamic thought.
The Islamic Cultural Center of New York (ICCNY) was conceived of and built by Rauf’s father, Mohammad Rauf. The elder Rauf sought donations from around the world for the center, much as his son plans to do. Land for the Upper East Side mosque was purchased with donations from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, and construction of the mosque and cultural center was funded with monies donated from over 46 nations, including from foreign government sources.
According to press reports, Feisal Rauf remains a member of the ICCNY’s board. That connection, and the controversial statements attributed to past spiritual leaders at the ICCNY, is now focusing more scrutiny on Rauf’s own personal beliefs and his motivation for his planned center near Ground Zero.
Two weeks after September 11 attacks, the imam at the ICCNY, Egyptian-born Sheikh Muhammad Gemeaha, said in an interview given to Al-Azhar University that the attacks were the result of a Jewish conspiracy.
“If the Americans knew that the Jews carried out the September 11 attacks, they would do to them what Hitler did,” he said. Al-Azhar is one of the oldest and influential Islamic universities in the world.
Gemeaha resigned his position at the ICCNY soon afterward and returned to Egypt. But doubts about the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks did not leave the ICCNY with him. Just one month later, his replacement, Imam Omar Saleem Abu-Namous, said that the role of Islamic extremists in the attacks had not been sufficiently proven.
It remains unclear whether Rauf, as a board member of the ICCNY, was aware of these statements at the time they were made. Also unknown is whether the imam took any action publicly or privately to repudiate the clerics who made them. Repeated attempts by HUMAN EVENTS to obtain comment from Park 51, the developer of the Ground Zero mosque, and the Cordoba Initiative, which is to provide the funding for the center, went unanswered.
Park 51 and Cordoba also would not respond to inquiries about the source of the funding for the proposed development. The developers have acknowledged that foreign sources will provide a portion of the estimated $100 million needed for the center, but have refused to publicly rule out accepting money from terrorist sponsoring nations like Iran. “I can’t comment on that,” spokesman Oz Sultan was quoted as saying.
While Rauf is out of the country on his government-sponsored outreach mission, his wife, Daisy Khan, has taken the lead in defending the center. In an interview this week, Khan said that there were no plans to move the center farther away from Ground Zero absent a discussion involving the project’s “stakeholders,” thus rejecting an offer by New York Gov. David Paterson to negotiate a deal for state land at another location. But she seemed to acknowledge that the stated purpose for building the center has been compromised.
“It is private property. To walk away without taking everything into consideration would be irresponsible,” Khan said. “We are debating about having a healing dialogue, building bridges, and this whole thing has turned into the opposite of what we have envisioned.”
Polls consistently show large majorities, up to 70%, of Americans are opposed to building the center so close to Ground Zero. Still, Khan insisted that the public outcry has not had an effect on the developers’ determination to see the center built.
“[The controversy] only strengthened our supporters. None of them have caved. They are circling the wagons around us. They know they could be next,” she said. “We have too important a moment to back down. We have to take our opponents and transform them. We have to convince people that not all Muslims are extremists.”
Her husband’s association with the ICCNY, however, and his apparent unwillingness to condemn the radical statements of two of its prior imams, will almost certainly strengthen opposition to this particular mosque at this particular location in New York City.