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Who Is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Man Behind the Ground Zero Mosque?

Question: Who Is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Man Behind the Ground Zero Mosque?


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is an American Sufi Muslim community leader and prayer leader who, from 1985 to 2009, led prayers at Masjid al-Farah, a mosque on West Broadway in Lower Manhattan, about 12 blocks from Ground Zero, the site where terrorists demolished the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2010. Born in Egypt in 1948, Abdul Rauf moved to the United States when he was a teenager, with his father, who was also an imam.

He graduated from Columbia University.

In Manhattan, "his sermons were infused with a 'sweet spirituality,' not focused on 'rules and regulations' or politics," according to Adem Carroll, director of the Muslim Consultative Network, an advocacy group based in New York. Carroll's comments were quoted in The New York Times in August 2010.

By then, the imam had become embroiled in a firestorm over his plan to build a 15-story Islamic community center, which would include a mosque, on the grounds of a building that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory business. That $100 million project, named Park51, was to be developed by Sharif el-Gamal,. owner of SoHo Properties, and located two blocks from Ground Zero. The project is also known as the Cordoba Initiative. To politicians such as Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, the project was an offense to the families of victims of the attack on the Twin Towers.

Legally, however, the project was always on firm ground, winning the approval of city regulatory agencies and community boards.

In 1999, Abdul Rauf had tried to buy the former McBurney Y.M.C.A. on 23rd Street in Manhattan in order to convert it to a Muslim Y. He did not succeed.

Detractors have leveled numerous and universally false and slanderous accusations at Abdul Rauf, charging that he had ties to groups that may have ties to terrorism. None of the charges have been substantiated, and have in fact been refuted. The cfharges also stand in direct opposition to the imam's Sufi spirituality.

As William Darlymple wrote in a New York Times column on Aug. 16, 2010,
Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.
For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.
In May 2010, standing outside the planned community center, Imam Abdul Rauf said: "This is not a mosque. This is a cultural center. This is a center like 92nd Street Y or the Jewish Community Center. It is planned to have programs. To serve the community, to serve both the non-Muslim community and the Muslim community. This is also our expression of the 99.9999 percent of Muslims all over the world including in America, who have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism. This is about our stand as the Muslim community which has been part of this community. I have been Imam of the mosque 10 blocks from here for the last 27 years. Our congregation, our faith community, has been as much a victim of 9/11. From my congregation there have been people who died. From my congregation, my community, we were part of those who gave water to the firefighters. We are part of this community, and we intend to be part of this community. We want to rebuild this community. We are working with the other faith communities, because this is what this is all about. This is about the vast majority of moderate Muslims who have been and want to continue to be part of the solution."

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