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Muslim Groups Back Islamic Center Near Ground Zero

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Imam Mahdi Bray, center, executive director of the Muslim American Society, speaks at a news conference in front of the proposed Islamic center and mosque site near ground zero, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, in New York. A number of local and national American Muslim leaders spoke at the site to support efforts to build an Islamic center at 51 Park Place. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

Imam Mahdi Bray, center, executive director of the Muslim American Society, speaks at a news conference in front of the proposed Islamic center and mosque site near ground zero, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, in New York. A number of local and national American Muslim leaders spoke at the site to support efforts to build an Islamic center at 51 Park Place. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

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NEW YORK (AP) – A coalition of Muslim groups called Monday for interfaith dialogue to combat religious intolerance and said they support the right to build a controversial Islamic center near ground zero.

“We stand for the constitutional right of Muslims, and Americans of all faiths, to build houses of worship anywhere in our nation as allowed by local laws and regulations,” the Muslim leaders said in a statement delivered at the site of the proposed Islamic center in downtown Manhattan, to be called Park51.

They called for a “week of dialogue” on the weekend of Oct. 22-24, during which Muslims would conduct open houses at their places of worship to help ease tensions.

“This might indeed be another teachable moment for America,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of a Washington, D.C.-based group called Muslim American Society Freedom.

The Muslim leaders spoke after a daylong summit meeting Sunday at a hotel near Kennedy Airport.

Groups participating in the summit included the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations.

The developers of the Islamic center did not attend the news conference, but speakers said they support the proposed center.

“Ground zero belongs to all Americans,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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