Ground Zero Imam Champions Church-State Separation

By Richard Yeakley
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- The imam who has faced resistance for plans to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero said Tuesday (March 1) that pro-democracy movements across the Arab world need to be open to all faiths.

"Government's coercive powers should not be used against one religion," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said at a panel on "Religion in American Politics and Society" hosted by Georgetown University.

Rauf spoke alongside Asma Uddin, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Islamic gender issues website, and Ed Husain, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The panel addressed whether or not the American model of faith and politics should be a template for emerging democracies -- even as Rauf has faced pressure not to build an Islamic center near a site that a majority of Americans consider "sacred ground."

Building a society around a "homogenous" set of ideas is dangerous and is not what the United States was founded on, said Rauf.

At the same time, the artwork or symbols of other faiths should never be insulted or mocked, added Rauf. "We must respect others' traditions."

The imam only briefly mentioned the controversial Park51 center, saying he wanted to show sensitivity to victims and families of the 9/11 attacks and saying his dream for the center is still alive.