Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: moving beyond the Ground Zero mosque

(RNS) Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has spent most of his adult life trying to build interfaith and international bridges. But to many Americans, he is the public face of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” one of the most controversial religious projects in recent U.S. history.

Rauf reflects on that turmoil in his new book, “Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America.” But as the book’s subtitle suggests, the longtime imam spends most of his time facing forward – toward the development of a distinctly American brand of Islam. He spoke recently with Religion News Service. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I wrote this book because the American public saw me and heard me, but really didn’t get to know me very well, or to understand what my work was all about. This book is my calling card to the American public.

Q: Are you still involved in the project to build an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan?

A: The dream is still alive to build a center that, programmatically, will parallel the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center and includes a (Muslim) house of worship, but also reaches out to broader community. But I am not involved with Sharif El-Gamal’s (Park51) project any longer.

Q: Is that because he wanted a more Muslim-focused building, and you envisioned a broader community center?

A: Yes.

Q: You write that the turmoil over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” actually increased America’s standing among Muslims abroad. How so?

A: The opposition tried to brand us as the “Ground Zero megamosque.” The language was deliberately wordsmithed in order to arouse hostility against us. But the idea that the Jewish mayor of New York City and the president of the United States supported a mosque at Ground Zero, and took a lot of flak for it, raised their stature in the Muslim world. Many acknowledged that the same thing could not have happened in many Muslim-majority countries.

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