BEIRUT — The leader of the proposed Islamic cultural center near the site of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks told a Persian Gulf newspaper that there was no conflict between Islam and the United States, and he dismissed the opponents of the Park51 project as being led by "very small, loud and vociferous voices."
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's interview with the Abu Dhabi-based daily newspaper The National, which was published Monday, provided the first extensive comments he has made about the controversy over the community center, which will include a prayer room, in the weeks since a New York City planning board gave it final approval.
He's currently in the Middle East on a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, where he is speaking to groups of Muslims in an attempt to boost relations between the United States and Islam.
Last week, several hundred activists protested the placement of the proposed center so close to Ground Zero as insensitive to the victims. Cable-news channels have been giving the issue extensive coverage, and some guests have accused Abdul Rauf of harboring sympathies for radical Islam. Some worry that the heated rhetoric is harming America's reputation in the Muslim world.
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But Abdul Rauf said the clash over the proposed center, formerly called the Cordoba House, is not "between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between moderates of all the faith traditions and the radicals of all the faith traditions."
He said there were "very small, loud and vociferous voices who are beating the drum for the opposite kind of discourse."
The scholar attributed part of the opposition to election-year grandstanding over a local issue. "The fact of the matter is the local community board recognizes and understands the vision, the politicians in New York understand the vision, and there is broad-based support for these objectives," he said.
He said he planned to speak out more about the controversy when he's back home.
"As it is, my trust and conviction in the wisdom of the American people and political leadership and the American people at large is that they will act in accordance with the highest principles of our Constitution and the fundamental American belief in justice and protection of everybody's rights," he said.