The imam leading the effort to build an Islamic centre and mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks said he was exploring all options for a solution.
“We are exploring all options as we speak right now, and we are working to what will be a solution, God willing, that will resolve this crisis, defuse it and not create any unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said.
He was answering questions following a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations.
He did not elaborate on whether the options included moving the centre from a site two blocks from the World Trade Centre in New York.
But in response to a later question, Rauf said the proposed location, while controversial, was important.
“We need a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims can be amplified. ... This is an opportunity that we must capitalise on so the voice of moderate Muslims will have a megaphone,” he said.
The imam said he wanted to clarify a “misperception” that the Islamic centre’s proposed site was sacred ground.
“It is absolutely disingenuous as some have suggested that the block is hallowed ground,” he said, noting its proximity to strip clubs and betting shops.
The controversy over the project was inflamed by a row over a Florida pastor’s plans, later cancelled, to burn copies of the Koran on 9/11.
Rauf raised the question of whether the project was worth the controversy.
“The answer is a categorical yes,” he said. “Why? Because this centre will be a place for all faiths to come together in mutual respect.”
He noted: “The world will be watching what we do here.”
He also decried some aspects of the debate surrounding the proposal.
“Let us therefore reject those who would use this crisis ... for political gain or even for fame,” he said.
Critics of the proposal say putting a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Centre in 2001 shows disrespect for the dead. Supporters cite religious freedom.