In a New York Times editorial Tuesday, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, acknowledged widespread "furor" in America over plans to build a mosque just feet from Ground Zero, but insists that the project will proceed as planned. "I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons," he wrote.
Up until now, Rauf has largely been silent on the controversy surrounding the project. He has been out of the United States for the past two months, traveling on a U.S. State Department-sponsored talking circuit about religious tolerance and cooperation. In his editorial, Rauf said that he and "nearly everyone" he met on his trip had "been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become."
"The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship," Rauf wrote. "We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons."
Rauf went on to praise President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for their support of the project. "Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations."
The imam also acknowledged some critics' calls for transparency in the project's funding. "I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion" he wrote. "I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers."
In the end, as Rauf noted, the greatest divisions surrounding the project are among those who view the project as an affront to the memories of those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. However, the imam remains determined to move forward with the project.
After claiming that he is "very sensitive to the feelings" of 9/11 survivors and family members, Rauf said they will continue to "seek the support of those families" as they finalize construction plans. "Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing," he concludes.
The most recent public opinion polls have found that nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers believe Muslims have a right to build the Cordoba mosque, but a majority of city residents would prefer the mosque be moved to a location farther from Ground Zero.
With the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks just days away, controversy will likely only continue to grow. Rallies for and against the mosque are set for Saturday in New York, to be held after a memorial ceremony at Ground Zero.