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Imam for Islamic community center now considering 'every option'

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

At the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City on Monday, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said that his advisers are considering multiple scenarios involving the proposed Islamic community center, also known as the Cordoba House, near Ground Zero.

One of those options involves moving the location of the project.

"We are exploring all options as we speak," said Abdul Rauf. "Everything is on the table."

Abdul Rauf also expressed his belief that something even more interesting can come out of all of the hoopla surrounding the proposed religious facility. "In a paradoxical sense, maybe in a poignant sense, this is an opportunity," he said when considering the possible lessons that could be taught on tolerance.

But Abdul Rauf didn't mince words for those critics who have called the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "hallowed ground." Abdul Rauf reminded everyone what surrounded the area of the former World Trade Center. "There is a strip joint around the corner, betting parlors," he said. "It is hallowed in one sense, but it doesn't add up. Let's clarify that misperception. This is a house with multi-faith partners, intended to work together towards building peace.

"This is an opportunity that we must capitalize on, so those who teach moderation will have a mega horn," continued Abdul Rauf. "What began as a dispute over a community center in Lower Manhattan has spawned and grown into a much larger controversy about the relationship between my beloved religion and my beloved country, between Islam and America."

Despite his best efforts at pragmatism, Abdul Rauf finds himself in a climate where hyperbole is the game in town. Last Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--and protests from both sides of the Islamic community center debate were vocal and loud.

Arguments about religious tolerance and the validity of Islam as a religion erupted spontaneously in the Lower Manhattan streets surrounding the 9/11 anniversary memorial ceremony. According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, those arguments won't subside anytime soon.

In Quinnipiac's study, 70 percent of Americans believe that Muslims have a right to build a mosque near Ground Zero, but 63 percent believe that it's wrong to actually do it.

Talking to Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday, Abdul Rauf also addressed what he felt was blatant Islamophobia on behalf of right-wing pundits like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. "We are doctors, we are investment bankers, we are taxi drivers, we are storekeepers, we are lawyers," he said. "We are the fabric of America. And the way that America today treats its Muslims is being watched by over a billion Muslims worldwide."

Despite being thrown into the public eye this year, mosques and Lower Manhattan aren't new to Abdul Rauf. He's served as an imam of a mosque in Tribeca since 1983, located 12 blocks away from the World Trade Center. According to Abdul Rauf, several of his congregants perished in the World Trade Center as well.

Despite all of this, Abdul Rauf believes the controversy over the Cordoba House could be a stepping-stone for the acceptance of Muslims in America. Citing the struggles of Blacks, Latinos, Catholics and Jews as inspiration, Abdul Rauf said, "Now it's our turn, as Muslims, to drink from this cup."