New York imams say Muslims are Americans, too
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Muslims declared themselves just as American as opponents of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center on Wednesday in a bid to seize control of a debate they appear to be losing.
Leaders of some 55 New York mosques and Islamic organizations gathered on the City Hall steps in the face of growing opposition to the proposed $100 million Islamic center that would stand two blocks from the site where the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001.
A Quinnipiac University poll on Tuesday showed 71 percent of New Yorkers said it should be built further from the site known as "Ground Zero," where 2,752 died.
Republican politicians hoping to wrest control of Congress from President Barack Obama's Democrats in the November 2 election have latched onto other polls showing a majority of Americans oppose building a mosque near what they consider sacred land.
With Democratic defenders of the mosque taking a more cautious tone in the face of those same polls, New York Muslims staged Wednesday's rally to defend themselves. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have joined in opposing locating the center near Ground Zero.
"We are not strangers to this country and this country is not a stranger to us. Rather we have a long history and heritage of Muslims in this land," said Zaheer Uddin, executive director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.
One of the imams said 300 Muslims died in the attacks, and there were Muslims among the police and fire department first responders and the chaplains who aided survivors following the attacks by al Qaeda suicide hijackers nine years ago.
"We do not believe that we are good enough to die, that we are good enough to minister to others, that we are good enough to respond to tragedy, but we are not good enough to build a place where we can pray right where we worked and died," said Talib Abdur Rashid, another imam with the council.
Other speakers expressed sympathy for the families of those who died on September 11 but questioned whether proximity to "Ground Zero" was the issue considering opposition to Islamic centers or mosques elsewhere in New York City and in California, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Illinois and Kentucky.
"This kind of verbal assault on Islam and Muslims is unprecedented in our history in this country," said Al-Amin Abdul Latif.
"This nation was founded on the values of religious freedom and tolerance and fairness and justice and pluralism. We're going backwards."
(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Jerry Norton)
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