The dispute over the mosque near Ground Zero in New York is not a battle over "real estate" but it will have an impact on Islam in America, according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the main developer of the controversial Islamic Centre.
The latest poll shows that 70 per cent of people in New York state are against building the mosque so close to the World Trade Centre, which was attacked by terrorists on 9/11. The majority of New Yorkers recognise that Muslims have a constitutional right of religious freedom to build the mosque but they want the developers of the Islamic Centre to voluntarily shift it.
"The story has expanded far beyond a piece of real estate, it has expanded to the issues of Islam in America and what it means for us," said Imam Rauf, adding "The scope of the discourse has expanded rapidly in a season which is also politicised."
"We have to be careful... but I can assure you we will do all we can...for a course of increased harmony, peace and well-being in our city and country," he was quoted as saying by the UAE-based daily The National.
The Imam, who is on a State Department sponsored tour of the Middle East to promote goodwill between the US and the Muslim nations, was speaking at the Dubai School of Government. "It is important to us to shift the discourse from the discourse of identity politics. We have to elevate the discourse because there is far more that bonds us," said Imam Feisal.
He said the battlefront is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. "It is between moderates...against extremists and radicals of all the faith traditions," the controversial cleric underlined. The opposition against the mosque, however, has spread across political party lines in the US. Prominent Republican party leaders like Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich have already spoken out against the mosque as have Democrats like Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
Besides the general opposition to the mosque, the latest Quinnipac University poll found that 70 per cent of New York state voters wanted New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate where the money to fund the project was coming from. New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is one of the few politicians supporting the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero, has rebuffed calls to probe into the finances.
"I think it's a terrible precedent," he said, adding "You don't want them investigating donations to religious organisations, and there's no reason for the government to do so."
Sharif El Gamal, another developer of the controversial Islamic Centre, has said that there are no plans to get funds from Iran or Islamist group Hamas for building the mosque. "We will not take money from Iran. We will not take money from Hamas," El Gamal told CBS's '60 Minutes.' "We will not take money from organisations that have un-American values."
Responding to the widespread opposition against the mosque in the US, Imam Feisal said: "Americans are by and large a tolerant people...if they are informed properly what the actual facts of the situation are, they will always make the right decision." He also pointed out an absence of cultural and religious diversity in the Muslim world.
"If you look back at Islamic history until Ottoman times, our societies were multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-denominational. We have lost that and it is important for us to recreate that in our societies," he underlined.