21 Aug

Feisal Abdul Rauf, The vilified cleric behind the Manhattan plan

The vilified cleric behind the Manhattan plan

 The Imam 

By Jerome Taylor, Saturday, 21 August 2010 

 He is a 62-year-old imam who follows Sufism, runs a charity dedicated to “improving Muslim-West relations” and wants to build an Islamic community centre based on a Jewish version of a YMCA he once visited. 

 But in the eyes of those American politicians who have jumped on to the “Ground Zero mosque” bandwagon, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a dangerous extremist who is determined to build a victory monument to terrorism. 

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‘People against it are just not open-minded. I think they have been brainwashed’

Yesterday the imam was 6,000 miles away from his home in New York delivering Friday prayers in Bahrain as part of a US government-sponsored tour of the Middle East. 

He has been careful to avoid any mention of the Ground Zero mosque but he was willing to talk about the dangers posed to the world by Islamic extremism. 

“This issue of extremism is something that has been a national security issue – not only for the United States but also for many countries and nations in the Muslim world,” he said. “This is why this particular trip has a great importance because all countries in the Muslim world – as well as the Western world – are facing this … major security challenge.” 

Mr Feisal moved to the US as a teenager with his father from Egypt. Until last year he was the Friday prayer leader at the Masjid al Farah, which follows the Sufi tradition, the mystical branch of Islam that emphasises love and tolerance. 

In Islamic circles he is regarded as an integrated moderate who has dedicated his life to improving relations between Muslims and the West. William Dalrymple recently described him as a “New Agey Muslim Deepak Chopra”. 

“In the eyes of Bin Laden and the Taliban,” he wrote, “[Imam Feisal] is an infidel-loving, grave-worshipping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.” 

All of this, however, is lost on opponents of the Ground Zero mosque who have vilified him in right-wing blogs and Islamophobic rants whilst paying little attention to the scholar’s Islamic pedigree or ideology. 

Excerpts From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (Arabic), born in 1948, in Kuwait) is an Arab-American Sufi[1] imam, author, and activist whose stated goal is to improve relations between the Muslim World and the West.[2] He has been Imam of Masjid al-Farah, a New York City mosque, since 1983.[3][4]

He has written three books on Islam and its place in contemporary Western society, including What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America, and founded two non-profit organizations whose stated missions are to enhance the discourse on Islam in society. He has condemned the 9/11 attacks as un-Islamic and called on the U.S. government to reduce the threat of terrorism by altering its Middle Eastern foreign policy.[5][6] Author Karen Armstrong, among others, has praised him for his attempts to build bridges between the West and the Muslim world.[7]

In 2010, Abdul Rauf received national attention for his plans to build Cordoba House, an Islamic community center, two blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan. Amid an ensuing national debate, critics such as former politicians Rudy Giuliani, Rick Lazio, and Sarah Palin questioned his leadership of the initiative, criticizing remarks he previously made about 9/11 and Hamas.

Abdul Rauf wrote three books on Islam and its place in contemporary Western society, including What’s Right with Islam, which was later printed in paperback with the changed title What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.[8] Abdul Rauf has been Imam of Masjid al-Farah at at 245 West Broadway in New York City’s Tribeca district since 1983.[2]

Abdul Rauf worked to build bridges between American society, the American Muslim community and the wider Muslim world. In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement (originally named the American Sufi Muslim Association[9]), a civil society organization aimed at promoting positive engagement between American society and American Muslims. The organization is now headed by his wife, Daisy Khan, an interior designer by profession.[2]

In 2003, Abdul Rauf founded the Cordoba Initiative, another registered nonprofit organization with offices in both New York and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As CEO of Cordoba Initiative, Abdul Rauf coordinates projects that emphasize the bonds that connect the Muslim world and the West.

British author Karen Armstrong supported him in the Introduction to Abdul Rauf’s book:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf … is a bridge figure because he has deep roots in both worlds. He was educated in Egypt, England, Malaysia and the United States, and his mosque in New York City is only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. After September 11, people often asked me, “Where are the moderate Muslims? why are they not speaking out?” In Imam Rauf, we have a Muslim who can speak to Western people in a way they can understand.”[7]

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria praised Feisal for speaking of “the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religions,” for emphasizing the commonalities among all faiths, for advocating equal rights for women and opposing laws that in any way punish non-Muslims.[10]

Walter Isaacson, head of The Aspen Institute, says Feisal “has participated at the Aspen Institute in Muslim-Christian-Jewish working groups looking at ways to promote greater religious tolerance. He has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam.”[11]

During an interview on New York WABC radio in June 2010, Abdul Rauf declined to say whether he agreed with the U.S. State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Responding to the question, Rauf said, “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question… I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”[24][25] Sarah Palin and Lazio criticized his refusal to agree with the assessment of the United States that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Abdul Rauf had supported radical causes that sympathized with Islamic terrorism.[26][27][27][28][29]

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg was asked to comment on whether Abdul Rauf is a man of peace, given his background “where he’s supposedly supported Hamas, [and] blamed the U.S. for 9/11 attacks”.[30] Bloomberg responded:

My job is not to vet clergy in this city…. Everybody has a right to their opinions. You don’t have to worship there…. this country is not built around … only those … clergy people that we agree with. It’s built around freedom. That’s the wonderful thing about the First Amendment—you can say anything you want.[30]

Cordoba House

In December 2009, Feisal announced plans to build Cordoba House, a 13-story community center, including a mosque that would accommodate 1,000–2,000 Muslims in prayer, two blocks from Ground Zero. He won non-binding support from the local Community Board. He also received both support and opposition from some 9/11 families, politicians, organizations, academics, and others. The building of the mosque and community center, as well as the initiative itself, was supported by some Muslim American leaders and organizations, including CAIR, and criticized by some Muslims such as Sufi mystic Suleiman Schwartz, who said that a building built by Rauf barely two blocks from ground zero, is inconsistent with Sufi philosophy of simplicity of faith and sensitivity towards others.[31] Supporters for Cordoba House point out that two Mosques in Lower Manhattan have firm roots, and one of them was founded in 1970, pre-dating the World Trade Center.[32]

Select works


  • What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West (HarperCollins, 2004) ISBN 978-0060582722 (An Indonesian language edition was published in 2007, titled Seruan Azan Dari Puing WTC: Dakwah Islam di Jantung Amerika Pasca 9/11, which translates as A Call to Prayer from the WTC Rubble: Islamic Dawah from the Heart of America Post 911)[34]
  • Islam: A Sacred Law (Threshold books, 2000) ISBN 978-0939660704
  • Islam: A Search for Meaning (Mazda, 1996) ISBN 978-1568590370
  • Quran for Children (Kazi, 1985) ISBN 978-0935782080

Chapters and other pieces in publications:

  • “Preventing Chaos.” The Star (Malaysia). 9 Mar. 2008.
  • “Asceticism in Islam.” Cross Currents. Winter, 2008, (vol. 57 No. 4) ed. by Pederson, Kusumita.
  • “The Ideals We Share.” Newsweek. 31 July 2007. with Khan, Daisy.
  • “The End of Barbarism: The Phenomenon of Torture and the Search for Common Good.” Pursuing the Global Common Good: Principle and Practice in US Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, 2007. with William F. Schulz, ed. by Steenland, Sally et al.
  • “What is Sunni Islam?” in Voices of Islam: Voices of Tradition, vol. 1 of 3, ed. Vincent J. Cornell. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007.
  • “Al-Qaeda’s Greatest Fear may be US Leaving Iraq.” Aspen Times. 11 Oct. 2006. with Bennett, John.
  • Arab Reform Final Report. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2005. with Albright, Madeleine, et al.
  • “Bringing Muslim Nations into the Global Century.” Fortune Magazine. 18 Oct. 2004.


  1. ^ Dalrymple, William (2010-8-16). “The Muslims in the Middle”. New York Times (New York Times Commpany): pp. A27. Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
  2. ^ a b c ASMA SOCIETY | American Society for Muslim Advancement
  3. ^ “Godtalk: travels in spiritual America – Google Books”. June 23, 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b “Man in the middle, Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has devoted himself to rapprochement between the Islamic world and the West”. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  5. ^ Frank Walker (March 21, 2004). “West must act to end jihad: Imam”. Herald Sun.
  6. ^ a b “Prominent American Muslims denounce terror committed in the name of Islam”. 60 Minutes. September 30, 2001. Retrieved July 22, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b “What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and”. Retrieved August 9, 2010. 
  8. ^ “Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey … – Google Books”. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  9. ^ p Sufism, the West, and Modernity], Dr. Alan Godlas, Professor, University of Georgia
  10. ^ by Fareed ZakariaAugust 06, 2010 (August 6, 2010). “Fareed Zakaria: Build the Ground Zero Mosque”. Newsweek. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  11. ^ “‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Imam Helped FBI With Counterterrorism Efforts”. The Huffington Post.
  12. ^ Hernandez, Javier C. (July 13, 2010). “Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead”. The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 
  13. ^ Topousis, Tom (June 19, 2010). “Muslim Imam leading push to build a mosque near Ground Zero wavers on questions about Hamas as a terror group”. New York Post. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  14. ^ Shafey, Mohammed Al (May 18, 2010). “Controversy Rages in NYC over Planned Mosque Near Ground Zero”. Asharq Al-Awsat. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  15. ^ “Staff Bios”. Cordoba Initiative. July 31, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2010. 
  16. ^ Frank Walker (March 21, 2004). “West must act to end jihad: Imam”. Herald Sun.
  17. ^ a b “Islam Has Been Hijacked, And Only Muslims Can Save It by Jonathan Rauch”. Retrieved August 7, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b c Dean, Nick (September 30, 2001). “NY Congressman Calls for Probe of Funding for Mosque Near Ground Zero and Its Promoter”. CNS News. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 
  19. ^ a b Comment (July 27, 2010). “Monument to Jihad; Ground Zero Mosque No Joke”. Toronto Sun. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 
  20. ^ Gershman, Jacob (August 2, 2010). “Sides Dig in Over Ground Zero Mosque”. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  21. ^ Jeff Glor (July 20, 2010). “Proposed Mosque Near Ground Zero Stokes Debate”. CBS News.;lst;2. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  22. ^ “Bloggingheads: The Mosque (and Rangel, and Socialism, and Christie) – The Corner”. National Review. August 6, 2010. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  23. ^ The Editors (August 4, 2010). “Not at Ground Zero”. National Review. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  24. ^ Tom Topousis (June 19, 2010). “Imam terror error”. New York Post.
  25. ^ “‘Ground Zero’ imam makes stunning terror comments”. WorldNetDaily. June 20, 2010.
  26. ^ Weaver, Carolyn (July 22, 2010). “Muslim Group Faces Opposition Near New York’s Ground Zero”. Voice of America. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 
  27. ^ a b Baribeau, Simone; Levitt, David; Johnston, Nicholas; Servetah, Stacie; Schoifet, Mark (August 3, 2010). “Ground Zero Mosque Plans Move Forward After Key Vote”. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  28. ^ Haberman, Maggie (August 2, 2010). “Rudy: GZ Mosque is a ‘desecration,’ ‘decent Muslims’ won’t be offended”. Politico. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  29. ^ Matthews, Karen; Fouhy, Beth (August 3, 2010). “NYC panel clears way for mosque near ground zero”. The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  30. ^ a b Katz, Celeste (August 3, 2010). “Mayor Bloomberg: Asking Mosque Developers To Move Project “Would Be Handing The Terrorists A Victory””. Daily News (New York). Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  31. ^ A mosque at ground zero?
  32. ^ “In Lower Manhattan, 2 Mosques Have Firm Roots”. New York Times. August 13, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010. 
  33. ^ Book Review: What’s right with Islam IS What’s Right with America by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
  34. ^ “Seruan Azan Dari Puing WTC: Dakwah Islam di Jantung Amerika Pasca 9/11 – Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf”. Mizan.Com. Retrieved August 14, 2010.

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