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August 27, 2010

Information Regarding the Cordoba Initiative and the Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan


A Statement from Cordoba Initiative regarding the planned Community Center at 51 Park Place in lower Manhattan

Cordoba Initiative is a multi-faith, non-profit [501(c)(3)] organization. The mission of Cordoba Initiative has always been to build trust and understanding between the Muslim World and the United States. Under our corporate bylaws, the members of any one religion may not occupy more than 50% of the seats on our Board of Directors. (Our Board is currently 50% Muslim and 50% non-Muslim.)

Cordoba Initiative has no formal or legal connection to the Muslim Community Center that has recently been proposed for lower Manhattan. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a founder of Cordoba Initiative and serves as its board chair. As a major proponent of interfaith dialogue and better relations between religions, he has been invited to speak in countless churches and synagogues over the last two decades. At the FBIs request after 9/11, he provided cultural training to hundreds of its agents, and the U.S. State Department under presidents George W. Bush and Barak Obama has invited him on several extended overseas speaking tours to represent a positive view of the United States and build international respect for our nation.

Daisy Khan is the founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA). Daisy Khan is also Imam Feisals wife. ASMAs mission is to foster an American Muslim identity and build bridges between Muslims and Americans. Committed to pluralism, ASMA focuses on helping Muslim women and youth to improving their lives within their communities through projects on contemporary issues. Daisy is also a board member of the Cordoba Initiative.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan developed the original idea for a cultural center in lower Manhattan, where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has had a mosque for 27 years. (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf originally proposed calling the new center the Cordoba House. That name created the impression that the Cordoba Initiative was sponsoring the proposed community center, but this was not the case.)

Both Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are proud to be American citizens.

Below are Imam Feisal Abdul Raufs and Daisy Khans personal responses to questions that are frequently asked

Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Community Center Project in Lower Manhattan

Who is organizing this project?
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan originally proposed the idea of a Muslim Community Center in lower Manhattan, where Imam Feisal has had a mosque for 27 years. A real estate developer, Sharif Gamal, was a member of Imam Feisals congregation and suggested that a building located at 51 Park Place. might be a good location for the future community center. That was the beginning of the plan. Before any fundraising begins, a new non-profit organization will be formed to raise funds and organize the community center.

Whats the purpose of the Community Center?
Since no comparable Muslim community center exists in New York City, Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan wished to create for Muslim New Yorkers something similar to a YMCA or the 92nd St. Y; and they wanted to include a space for interfaith dialogues and a separate prayer space on one of the floors.

The proposed community center in Lower Manhattan will serve as a platform for multi-faith dialogue. It will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America and globally.

Both Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Ms. Khan are strong advocates for multi-faith collaboration. They share a vision of a community center in which various religious leaders and civil society will work closely together to foster community cohesion and advance the shared goals of moderation, peace and understanding. Through multicultural programs offered by the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA, the community center would crystallize this shared vision of peace into bricks and mortar.

 It will be a multi-floor community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center (JCC) with a designated prayer space in one area to serve the needs of the large existing community of American Muslims in the neighborhood.

The community center will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their culture or background, will find a place of learning, arts and culture, and, most importantly, a community center guided by the universal values of all religions in their truest form peace, compassion, generosity, and respect for all.

Why are you building a mosque near Ground zero?
Strictly speaking, it will not be a mosque, although it would have a prayer space on one of its 15 floors. At the beginning, no one considered the fact that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf Abdul Raufs current mosque is 12 blocks from the Ground Zero site, while the Park51 Community Center location is only 2 and one-half blocks away. We never discussed wanting to be close to Ground Zero; our goal was to find a good real estate opportunity for a community center. 51 Park seemed to fit the bill.

But why so close to Ground Zero?
We were always close to the World Trade Center. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been the Imam of a mosque twelve blocks from the Twin Towers for the last 27 years. American Muslims have been peacefully living, working and worshipping in this neighborhood all along and were also terribly affected by the horrific events of 9/11.

We wanted to build a community center in our old neighborhood, and the Park51 location became available. (In our part of lower Manhattan, its hard not to be close to Ground Zero.) As Muslim New Yorkers and Americans, we want to help and be part of rebuilding our neighborhood. It is important for everyone to show the world that Americans will not be frightened or deterred by the extremist forces of hatred.

Who is funding the Community Center?
No funds for this project have been raised to date. Before fundraising can begin, a new nonprofit organization will be formed. A project of this scale will require very diverse fundraising sources, including individuals from all faiths and beliefs, including Christians and Jews, who are committed to peace and understanding. We expect that our sources of funding will include individuals of different religions, charitable organizations, public funds, institutional and corporate sponsors.

 You will need a lot of contributors. Who will review your donor list?
We will invite the New York Charities Bureau and the US Treasury Department to review our donor list to ensure that all funding sources are vetted to their satisfaction and approved. In addition, the new non-profits Trustees and Advisory Board will include a multi-faith group of distinguished individuals who will ensure that the community center stays true to its objectives of peace, tolerance and understanding between all.

How did you purchase the building?
SoHo Properties, a New York real estate development firm based in lower Manhattan, acquired the property a couple of years ago. Sharif El Gamal, owner of SoHo Properties, is a member of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf s lower Manhattan congregation, which has been in the neighborhood for decades.

Isnt the location insensitive given that the 9/11 attackers were Muslims?

The events of 9/11 were horrific. What happened that day was terrorism, and it shames us that it was cloaked in the guise of Islam. It was inhumane, un-Islamic and is indefensible regardless of ones religious persuasion. Not only Americans but also all Muslims are threatened by the lies and actions being perpetrated by these self-serving extremists and their perverted view of Islam.

The community center will be a platform to amplify the voices of the overwhelming majority of Muslims whose love for America and commitment to peace gets drowned out by the actions of a few extremists. It will become a platform where the voices of those who resist religious extremism and terrorism can be amplified and celebrated.

But, why not build it a little bit farther away? Lets say a mile away?
No one should be driven out of his or her own neighborhood especially for religious reasons. It is unconstitutional and un-American. Our congregation has been peacefully worshipping in this area for almost three decades. Our neighbors have encouraged us to remain here, and the City and the Community Board have encouraged our continued presence here. The community has backed up their support by approving every resolution and challenge in the community centers favor.

What about the 9/11 families? Dont you see their pain?
Like all New Yorkers and Americans we too were devastated by 9/11. We share and respect the incredible pain and loss suffered by the victims of 9/11. We fully recognize their legitimate concerns and sensitivity to the community center. It shames us that extremists who profess to be Muslim perpetrated murder on such a horrific scale for political and financial gain in the name of Islam. We look forward to actively engaging with leaders of the victims of 9/11 to respond to their concerns and obtain their support for our efforts.

Will the extremists take over the Community Center once its built?
Extremism on both sides is the danger its what were working against. A community center that celebrates diversity and multi-faith collaboration is antithetical to the extremists worldview. This center will be a blow to all extremists. In addition, the new organizations multi-faith Trustees and Board of Advisors will ensure that our good intentions are not hijacked by extremist elements who reject our vision of peace, tolerance and understanding.

Are you not building a project that will be one of conquest? Isnt this a victory for the extremists?
The community center is opposed to religious extremists of all faiths. It demonstrates that Americans cannot be intimidated and will join together to promote moderation, peace and understanding when challenged. The extremists will not find victory or comfort in a community center whose sole purpose is to bring peace through multi-faith collaboration and celebrate the diversity of views in our world.

This center is an important step towards building understanding and peace. Just as we strive to understand the faith and traditions of our neighbors, this center will invite others to learn about the true nature of Islam. A religion of peace, tolerance, and understanding.

So what will happen at this community center?
The community center will reach out to all New Yorkers with six programmatic areas: 

1. Culture and Arts - 500-seat auditorium, exhibition

2. Education - Lecture hall, conference rooms, library, classrooms

3. Social Cohesion - cooking classes, senior citizens space, childcare, banquet hall

4. Religion + Healing - Muslim prayer space, Contemplation and reflection area, 9/11 victims memorial

5. Global Engagement - Mapping studies on trends in the Muslim world, providing resources on good governance and principles of liberal democracy, promoting womens empowerment issues, encouraging youth development, countering religious extremism.

6. Recreation - pool, gym, medical education and wellness programs

Clearing Up False Charges Made Against Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf:

On 60 Minutes, the Imam said that American Foreign policy is an accessory to terrorism The 60 Minutes piece was completely incorrect as the statement was edited out of context. In the full interview, Imam Feisal describes the mistake the CIA made in the 1980s by financing Osama Bin Laden and strengthening the Taliban. This view is widely shared today by journalists, foreign policy experts and the US government. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf underlines the importance of not supporting friends of convenience who may later become our enemies. This is common sense.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is an American who takes his role as a citizen-ambassador very seriously. He is frequently requested by the US State Department to tour Muslim majority and western countries to speak about the merits of American ideals and Muslim integration into Western society. At the request of the FBI after 9/11, he provided cultural training to hundreds of FBI agents.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wont condemn terrorism Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has always condemned terrorism. Here are his words from his 2004 book, Whats Right with Islam is Whats Right with America: The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people; no faith tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth. God does not want us to kill each other. He has repeated the same thing in hundreds of speeches around the world.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has not condemned Hamas Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic. In his 2004 book, he even went so far as to include a copy of the Fatwa issued after 9/11 by the most respected clerics of Egypt defining the 9/11 attack as an un-Islamic act of terror and giving permission to Muslims in the U.S. armed forces to fight against those Muslims who committed this act of terror. Imam Feisal included this in his book to prove that terrorism must be fought even if Muslims have to fight fellow Muslims to stop it.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood because his book was translated into Arabic by a publisher with ties to the Brotherhood. Both charges are false. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has never had any connection whatsoever to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arabic translation rights to his 2004 book were arranged by the Arabic book program at the United States Embassy in Cairo.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a member of the Perdana Global Peace Organization, which is a funder of the flotilla that attempted to deliver aid to residents of Gaza. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has never been a member of this group. Several years ago, Imam Feisal was invited to Malaysia, the most moderate Islamic country in the world, to participate in a Peace Conference sponsored by the Perdana Peace Group. He was one of the hundreds of speakers present. He has no political, advisory or business affiliation of any nature with the Perdana group. A photo of Imam Feisal was taken at the conference, and this has been used to prove his membership in the Perdana Global Peace Organization, but the allegation is false. Because of the controversy surrounding Perdana, we have requested the Perdana Group to remove the photo of him from their publicity.

Imam Feisal wants to establish a shariah state in America. Actually, quite the contrary. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf believes that all Muslims must adhere to the laws of the land in which they reside, including in America. This is a basic tenet of Islam. He has repeatedly stated that America is already one of the most Shariah compliant countries in the world because of Americas adherence to our Bill of Rights and because we allow members of all religions, including Muslims and Jews, to practice their faith freely. In other words, Imam Feisal believes that Muslims practice Shariah when they fast, pray, give to charity and uphold the commandments to protect life, liberty, dignity, the pursuit of happiness and the right to freedom of worship.

Why isnt Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf currently in New York? Isnt he supporting this? Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf often travels the world in his life-long endeavor to bring the message of moderation, peace and understanding to both Western and Islamic countries.

Currently, he is on a tour organized by the U.S. State Department of three Middle East nations. The purpose of this speaking tour is to further Imam Feisals moderate Islamic message of peace and understanding with scholars, religious leaders and political leaders in the region. He has participated in these State Department tours under both President George W. Bush and President Barak Obama.

His absence should not be construed in any way as a diminution of his deep commitment and concern regarding the issues surrounding the Community Center.

It is unfortunate that some events related to the center transpired during his extended travels, but he has full confidence in his staff and and partners including the team at SoHo Properties and Daisy Khan, his wife and Executive Director of ASMA to carry on in his absence.

For more information about Park51, please visit: http://www.park51.org.


Thank You!

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan express their heartfelt thanks to the following organizations for their support:
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
J Street
The Arab American Family Support Center
CLALThe National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership
Auburn Seminary
American Jewish Committee
Cause New York
Chautauqua Institute
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
Faith House Manhattan
Friends of the Arava Institute
Interfaith Youth Core
Interfaith Center of New York
The Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Community Center in Manhattan
Lutheran Seafarers and International House
New York Buddhist Church
Odyssey Networks
New Seminary
Out of Cordoba, Averros and Miamonides
NY interfaith Disaster Services
One Voice
One Spirit
St. Bartholomew's Church
Same Difference Interfaith Alliance
The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
The Tanenbaum Center
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
Trinity Wall Church
The Healing of the Nations Foundation
The Migration Policy Institute
Union Theological Seminary
St. Peters Church
UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific

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