Amid protests, imam tours as Muslim envoy for U.S.
The furor over the planned Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero has put Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in a curious position: At the same time he is being vilified by some in the U.S. for spearheading the project, he is traveling the Mideast on a State Department mission as a symbol of American religious freedom.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The furor over the planned Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero has put Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in a curious position: At the same time he is being vilified by some in the U.S. for spearheading the project, he is traveling the Mideast on a State Department mission as a symbol of American religious freedom.
At his first event Friday in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, Rauf refused to discuss the uproar over plans for the community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has said Rauf understands he cannot solicit funds for the project on his 15-day tour.
But in New York, Rauf's wife and a co-leader of the proposed project known as Park51 — or Cordoba House — said Friday that organizers are sticking with the plan despite protests. "Dropping the plan is definitely not an option at all," said Daisy Khan, head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
Rauf preferred to focus on shared concerns while in the Mideast. Speaking after leading Friday prayers at a neighborhood mosque outside Bahrain's capital, Manama, he said radical religious views pose a security threat in the West and the Muslim world.
"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," Rauf said.
Details of the imam's trip have been closely guarded, possibly in reaction to the rancor in the United States over the plans by his organization, The Cordoba Initiative, for the center in New York City.
In Bahrain, Rauf also said he has been working on a way to "Americanize Islam." While he did not elaborate on what an American version of Islam might look like, he noted that different interpretations of the faith have emerged over the religion's 1,400-year existence.
This is Rauf's fourth U.S.-government-sponsored trip to the region, according to the State Department. He traveled twice to the Mideast in 2007 during the Bush administration and once this year. He also will visit Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to talk about Muslim life in America.
The trip is estimated to cost $16,000 and is funded by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs.
Rauf will get a daily $200 honorarium for the tour. Airfare is included and the standard government per diem for expenses and lodging in each of the cities he will visit, Crowley said. The per diem ranges from $400 to nearly $500.
Associated Press writer Hasan Jamali in Bahrain contributed to this report.
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