Ex-Leader of Planned Mosque Near Ground Zero Settles Suit With Donor

The former leader of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Lower Manhattan has settled a lawsuit in which a donor accused him of spending charitable contributions on himself, both sides confirmed on Friday.

The donor, Robert Leslie Deak, had accused the former leader, Feisal Abdul Rauf, of diverting millions of dollars in charitable donations – meant for the Cordoba Initiative, founded by the imam, as well as the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is led by the imam’s wife, Daisy Khan – to buy real estate, luxury vacations and a fancy car. It also accused Mr. Abdul Rauf of failing to report approximately $3 million in donations from the Malaysian government.

Mr. Deak, in a statement, said of Mr. Abdul Rauf: “We are now satisfied that neither he nor his wife were involved in any wrongdoing and that the charitable contributions made to the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA were used for proper, charitable purposes. Notwithstanding our differences, we respect the work being carried out by Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan.”

Mr. Abdul Rauf was the spiritual leader of a proposed 13-story Islamic center on Park Place that became a touchstone of post-Sept. 11 controversy, as opponents argued that its proximity to the site of the former World Trade Center was disrespectful to those who died there. Mr. Abdul Rauf stepped down as its leader in 2011 after a falling out with the center’s developer. While the building has recently served as a prayer space, the full center has not been built.

Five myths about Muslims in America

By Feisal Abdul Rauf, Published: April 1, 2011

I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore not surprising that they have become the target of attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than build them, and the subject of recent congressional hearings exploring their “radicalization.”
What myths are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States and that they threaten its security?

1. American Muslims are foreigners
2. American Muslims are ethnically, culturally and politically monolithic.
3. American Muslims oppress women.
4. American Muslims often become “homegrown” terrorists.
5. American Muslims want to bring sharia law to the United States

Protesting Hearings on Muslim Extremism: “Today I am a Muslim too”

In advance of Thursday’s Congressional hearings on homegrown terrorism, hundreds protested in Times Square on Sunday, as a Long Island congressman dealt with a political firestorm over his specific focus on Muslims for the hearings.

Many protesters held signs reading “Today I am a Muslim too” at a rainy protest to voice concerns that Representative Peter T. King, a Republican, is unfairly singling out Muslims in his hearings, as well as in interviews in Washington over the weekend.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a founder of a project to develop an Islamic community center near ground zero, spoke at the protests.

2nd imam is out at Islamic center near WTC site

Shaykh Abdallah Adhami, a Muslim scholar who on Jan 14 was named as the new senior imam at the Islamic center being built near the World Trade Center site has given up the job. The 44-year-old had been announced as the new imam on Jan. 14, after its co-founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, was given a reduced role.

Shaykh Abdallah Adhami said Friday in a joint statement with the center’s developer that he will no longer serve as a religious adviser to the center. “It is important for me now to devote my time to the completion of my book, which assists English readers in understanding and facilitating the language of the Quran. I wish the project leaders well,” said Adhami.

However, shortly after his appointment, news reports questioned his views on homosexuality. In one recorded lecture, he said he believed that homosexuality was linked to childhood abuse.
That prompted El-Gamal to issue a statement last month in which he said that Adhami would not be a leader of the center, called Park51, but just one of a number of religious figures invited to participate in programming.

Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Has New Imam

Amid rift, Imam’s role in Islam Center is sharply cut. Long-simmering tensions between co-founders of the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero led to a parting of the ways on Friday that sharply reduced the role of one: the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, long the project’s public face.

To Mr. Abdul Rauf’s surprise, the split was announced unilaterally by Sharif el-Gamal, the real estate investor who owns the former coat store at 51 Park Place where the 13-story center is planned. “While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”

The break-up sent ripples of uncertainty through a community of religious and political leaders in New York who rallied last summer to the side of Mr. Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, when opponents assailed the plan to build near the site of the 9/11 attacks.

But the divide was most apparent in the different names each leader has used for the project. The imam has always referred to the proposed Islamic center and mosque as the Cordoba House. To Mr. Gamal, a businessman and real estate developer, it is Park51.

Saudi’s Prince Alwaleed urges moving planned NYC mosque to respect 9/11 memory

In interview excerpts published by the Dubai-based Arabian Business magazine, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was quoted as saying that moving the planned mosque, health club and cultural center would respect the memory of those killed in the 2001 attacks and allow American Muslims to choose a more suitable location.

The comments are reportedly the prince’s first public views on the dispute, which has stirred street protests and fiery debates between religious and political leaders over America’s freedom of worship versus the lingering anger over the 9/11 attacks.

Imam Rauf said in a written statement that the project would go forward as planned. “While we respect the points of view of other interested observers, we plan to build the community center in this location because we have been part of Lower Manhattan for decades and we want to better serve the needs of our neighbors of all faith traditions,” he said.

Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Foundation has contributed to the group run by New York’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, but said he has given no funds to the planned center.

Muslim Center’s Developer to Use Islamic Loan Plan

Sharif el-Gamal, the developer, of the planned Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero envisions raising $140 million project by utilizing instruments developed to allow many Muslim investors to comply with religious prohibitions on interest. Most of the financing, Mr. Gamal said on Wednesday, would come through religiously sanctioned bondlike investments known as sukuk, devised in Muslim nations to allow religious Muslims to take part in the global economy and increasingly explored by American banks. Sukuk and other Islamic banking instruments are tracked on the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index.

Of the $140 million, Gamal, is hoping to raise $27 million through a nationwide campaign which will focus on small donations from Muslims and other supporters. The remaining bill will be financed, to build the 15-story center, which will eventually have about 4,330 paying members. Most of that core group, Mr. Gamal expects, would be non-Muslim neighborhood residents and commuters. Muslims from around the region would make up a larger but less frequently visiting group — what he calls the “dinner and a date” crowd — many of them choosing the cheapest $375 family membership for cultural programs.

Mr. Gamal and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is his planning partner in the project, have promised that they will invite the federal government to review all the donations.

“As Americans were are not—and never will be—at war with Islam”

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11; thousands packed the makeshift plaza alongside a construction site sprouting cranes and American flags on a crystal-clear morning for memorial and prayers services for the deceased. The names of the 3,000 victims were read while bells tolled at 8:46, the precise moment at which the first plane hit the north tower.

At the Pentagon, President Obama called for tolerance and said, “As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” as he addressed the ensuing debate over the construction of an Islamic Center near ground zero. During the ceremony, knots of protesters wandered the area, sometimes arguing. In the afternoon, a few blocks away, police officers and barricades separated demonstrations, both for and against the Muslim center, that each drew about 2,000 people.

The mosque debate pits advocates of religious freedom against critics who say putting an Islamic
center so close to ground zero disrespects the dead. While the rallies planned in New York embroiled victims’ family members in a feud over whether to play politics, a threat to burn copies of the Quran was apparently called off. The effects of which could be felt all the way in Afghanistan, where on Saturday shops and police checkpoints had been set afire as thousands of people protested the planned burning and chanted “Death to America” in Logar province. At least 11 people were injured Friday in similar protests in Badakhshan province.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshipers at Friday prayers that whether or not Jones burns the Quran, he already has “hurt the heart of the Muslim world.”
Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who had announced, and then suspended, plans to burn copies of the Koran, arrived in New York on Friday seeking a meeting with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Muslim center. The pastor’s presence in the city, under police protection, only added to the day’s drama.

Nationally, speeches and memorial services were addressed a slew of national and international figures, ranging from former first lady Laura Bush to Michelle Obama. John R. Bolton, the former Unites States ambassador the UN, addressed a New York rally against the planned Muslim center via video, and Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who tried to ban the Koran in his country, described Islam as an intolerant “power of darkness,” saying, “We must draw the line, so that New York, rooted in Dutch tolerance, will never become New Mecca.”

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s articulation of peace based on Quranic verses

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative that works to improve Muslim-West relations, argues that religion is a key part of the solution in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He uses the Sacred Text of Islam, the Quran, to show how Muslims and Jews are united and are capable of reaching out to each other through “Abrahamic ethics” as the core of monotheism.

Jewish-Muslim Relations: Using Qur’anic Narratives in Pursuit of Peace

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf maintains that religion holds one of the keys to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While religion is not the primary problem in Israel-Palestine, Rauf says, it is a primary part of the solution

photo: Cordoba Initiative I consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the single biggest obstacle to eliminating Muslim-Jewish antipathy. Although this dispute is fundamentally about the distribution of assets and the power to control decisions, it is frequently portrayed as a religious conflict. And too often, opposing sides have used erroneous or out-of-context interpretations of their scriptures to demonizes the other and to provide justification for not striving towards a just peace.

From an Islamic perspective, this could not be more misguided, as we are given a number of powerful principles and narratives in the Qur’an that propel us towards justice, peace and communal harmony. It is my belief, therefore, that while religion is not the primary problem in Israel-Palestine, it is a primary part of the solution.

“A common ethic”

Scripturally, Muslims and Jews are united by the Prophet Abraham’s legacy embodied in the “Abrahamic ethic”, which is at its core a monotheism which asserts human liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Qur’an never tires of repeating that its task is to re-establish this ethic and that Muhammad and all the prior prophets came to do just that: “The nearest of people to Abraham are those who follow him, and this Prophet [Muhammad] and those who believe,” (The Qur’an, 3:68).

Man reading the Koran (photo: dpa) Islam defines itself not so much as the religion of Muhammad, but the religion of God, originally established by Abraham. Stemming from this shared heritage, Jews (as well as Christians) are described by a special name in the Qur’an: “People of the Book”, ahl al-kitab, or a “scriptured people”. Muslims believe that God sent the Jewish people scriptures containing the divine teachings of God’s message through their prophets. As such, they have the true religion.

To deny this is to contradict the Qur’an, which does not merely recognize the similarity of Jews to Muslims; it identifies Islam with them. “Say [to the People of the Book]: We believe in that which was revealed to us as well as that which was revealed to you. Our God and your God is One and the same. We all submit to Him,” (The Qur’an, 29:46). This unity means that although disagreements between us certainly exist, these are no more than family disputes.

The Qur’an does criticize Jews for failure to uphold the Torah and for excessive legalism and exaggerated authoritarianism by some rabbis. These passages and others have been manipulated to typecast Jews and unfairly implicate them in contemporary problems. However, there is no criticism that the Qur’an has addressed to Jews that Jews have not addressed to themselves or to their tradition.

Universal faults

Furthermore, no Muslim can deny that many of these faults are universal ones, shortcomings that are present in any religious community, including our Muslim community. In fact, the Qur’an never totally condemns any people, since the critical verses stand side by side with those verses that justify the righteous.

photo: AP Our mandate, therefore, is to not divide our communities into hostile factions on account of religion, precisely as some have done. God’s call in the Qur’an to Jews and Christians, as well as to Muslims, still stands as proper, relevant and necessary today as it was when it was first revealed some fourteen centuries ago:

“O People of the Book! Let us now come together under a fair principle common to all of us – that we worship none but God, that we associate nothing with Him, and that we take not one another as lords beside God,” (The Qur’an, 3:64). This passage and others provide profound inspiration for dialogue, collaboration and, ultimately, peace.

Dialogue, the first step, offers the opportunity for uncovering the common ground of the shared values and goals that resonate in each of our faiths and forge personal bonds and relationships of trust, which carry the potential to enable collaborative efforts. I advocate for such an action-oriented dialogue that moves beyond talk.

Transforming Jewish-Muslim relations globally

Muslim and Jewish organizations and institutions must build coalitions to partner in peace. Although this should take place within numerous sectors, it is especially critical at the level of religious leadership – between rabbis and imams and among faith-based activists. It is these friendships and partnerships that can help bring a just peace to Israel, Palestine and the broader region and, furthermore, they can transform the relationship between Muslims and Jews globally.

Such work towards transformation could draw its inspiration from the remarkable period of the Cordoba Caliphate in present-day Spain. During its peak in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Cordoba was the most enlightened, pluralistic and tolerant society on earth, one where Muslims and Jews enjoyed a special relationship.

My own organisation, the Cordoba Initiative, draws upon this legacy to once again shift Jewish-Muslim relations towards collaboration around our common values and interests. We are utilising a powerful model of action-oriented and faith-based partnership to create a tipping point in Muslim World-West relations within the next decade, including in the context of Israel and Palestine. I believe that this is our Abrahamic mandate.

Feisal Abdul Rauf

© Common Ground News Service 2010

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative which works to improve Muslim-West relations. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other’s narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).