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WASHINGTON – A New York imam and his proposed mosque near ground zero are being demonized by political candidates — mostly Republicans — despite the fact that Islam is already very much a part of the World Trade Center neighborhood.
And that Muslims pray inside the Pentagon, too, less than 80 feet from where terrorists attacked. And that the imam who's being branded an extremist has been valued by both Republican and Democratic administrations as a moderate face of the faith.
Even so, the project stirs complicated emotions, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a complex figure who defies easy categorization in the American Muslim world.
He's devoted much of his career to working closely with Christians, Jews and secular leaders to advance interfaith understanding. He's scolded his own religion for being in some ways in the "Dark Ages."
Yet he's also accused the U.S. of spilling more innocent blood than al-Qaida, the terrorist network that turned the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon and four hijacked airplanes to apocalyptic rubble.
No mosque is going up at ground zero. The center would be established at 45-51 Park Place, just over two blocks from the northern edge of the sprawling, 16-acre World Trade Center site. Its location is roughly half a dozen normal Lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower, the nearest of the two destroyed in the attacks.
The center's location, in a former Burlington Coat Factory store, is already used by the cleric for worship, drawing a spillover from the imam's former main place for prayers, the al-Farah mosque. That mosque, at 245 West Broadway, is about a dozen blocks north of the World Trade Center grounds.
Another, the Manhattan Mosque, stands five blocks from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site.
To be sure, the center's association with 9/11 is intentional and its location is no geographic coincidence. The building was damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks and the center's planners say they want the center to stand as a statement against terrorism. ___