NEW YORK (AP) — The imam who co-led the effort to build an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center has been given a reduced role in the project that made him one of the nation’s most polarizing figures, the organization behind the plan announced Friday.

The nonprofit group Park51 said Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is set to start a national speaking tour Saturday and spends much of his time out of the country, was focused on other initiatives and didn’t have enough time to spend on the center.

The group announced it had named a new senior adviser to help lead religious programing: Shaykh Abdallah Adhami, a 44-year-old scholar with an architecture degree known for his lectures on gender relations. It said Adhami would be among a number of imams with a role in the project.

Rauf helped come up with the idea for the center and his political connections won over influential supporters like the city’s mayor.

He later promoted the center amid fierce controversy over its location, but he was never the driving force behind the plan. That role fell to the Manhattan real estate investor who controls the site, Sharif El-Gamal, who has spent recent months lining up financing and organizing the operation while Rauf served as the project’s public face.

Rauf announced late this fall that he would be starting a global movement to oppose extremism and promote better relations between people of different faiths.

He will remain on the Islamic center’s board and involved in the project, but Park51 said in a statement that it needed someone who could be more involved in the day-to-day business of building a local congregation.

“Due to the fact that Imam Feisal is focusing most of his energies and passion on launching this new and separate initiative, it is important that the needs of Park51, the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, take precedence,” the statement said.

The group said that while Rauf’s vision is “truly exceptional, our community in lower Manhattan is local. Our focus is and must remain the residents of lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”

Rauf’s publicist released a statement saying that since he planned to spend the next few months traveling, a change made sense.

“Imam Feisal wants to meet the people of America where they are, to help build broader connection and understanding among all people of faith. To make that vision a reality, he is stepping back from the day to day details and operations of Cordoba House,” the statement said.

Cordoba House was an original name for the planned community center that was dropped months ago by El-Gamal.

Rauf’s continued use of the name was one of the many quirks of the complicated relationship between the two men. El-Gamal, who is also president of Park51 and controls its board, is a member of Rauf’s congregation and has credited the imam with helping him find direction in his life.

Current plans for the center call for replacing a defunct clothing store two blocks from ground zero with a 13- to 16-story building that would hold athletic facilities, a day care center, art galleries, an auditorium for cultural events, a 9/11 memorial and a prayer space with room for a congregation of about 1,000.

Critics have assailed the project as insensitive, saying it is improper for a Muslim institution to be located so close to the site of an attack by Islamic extremists.

It is unclear whether Rauf’s reduced role in the center will help or hurt its chances of getting built.

An unknown in the U.S. before the controversy, he emerged as possibly the country’s best-known Muslim cleric and found himself listed alongside world leaders and celebrities as one of 2010’s most influential figures, even as he was vilified by critics of the project.

Rauf, though, had also been criticized by some of the project’s supporters for being absent at crucial moments.

Last summer he left for a long, State Department-funded trip to the Middle East just as the frenzy over the mosque was exploding at home. Then, he stayed silent for weeks, leaving mostly his wife, the community activist Daisy Khan, to respond.

His congregation in New York City was also small, and his life’s work had revolved around interfaith relationships, meaning he often found himself working more closely with Jewish and Christian leaders in the city or figures in Washington or abroad, than with local imams.

Adhami has already performed guest lectures at the site of the planned center while Rauf has been away. One of his appearances there came in August, at the height of media coverage of the project.

At the time, Adhami seemed to take the crush of attention with nonchalance. His representatives invited reporters to cover his speech, only to have El-Gamal, who was unaware of the invitation, toss them out after they arrived. Adhami shrugged it off afterward as a misunderstanding and calmly fielded questions.

In a statement released by a Park51 publicist Friday, Adhami said he was being given “an extraordinary opportunity to be a key adviser on a project going forward that has enormous creative and healing potential for the collective good in New York City and in our nation.”

Everyone associated with the project has had to endure intense, sometimes savage scrutiny, and Adhami is likely to be no different.

Born in Washington, D.C., he began his religious education as a child in Syria, and later earned an architecture degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He now lectures widely on issues of religious law, family and sexuality.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (29)
  1. Freedom Wars says:

    I’m just your regular American. I say build it. It would be a victory of American Freedom. Muslims didn’t attack us. Terrorist did. Freedom for all the just people in this world please.

  2. Bo Latham says:

    From Shariah-The Threat to America (Team B Report) very interesting read!

    “The concept of sacred space also explains why Muslims
    who conquer enemy territory traditionally erect mosques and Is93
    lamic centers literally on top of the destroyed sacred places of
    other faiths. Examples of this practice include: the great Hagia
    Sophia mosque in Istanbul (formerly the Cathedral of St. Sophia
    in Constantinople); the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock
    Mosque, both built on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, directly above
    the remnants of the Jewish Second Temple; and the Cordoba
    mosque complex – the third largest in the world – which transformed
    a Christian cathedral in the capital city of the Moorish
    kingdom. The city was conquered in the 8th Century and was the
    headquarters of what came to be known as the “Cordoba Caliphate”
    for the next 500 years.
    Most recently, plans were announced to construct a $100
    million, 13-story Islamic center and mega-mosque complex two
    blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, the site of the World
    Trade Center, which was destroyed in jihadi attacks on September
    11, 2001. The name of the organization leading the Ground
    Zero mosque project is likewise revealing of Islamic traditions: it
    is called the “Cordoba Initiative.”

  3. L I Nerd says:

    its the location not the building it self, to close to ground zero.all religion is just a fairy tale anyway. Just another way goverments control the people.

  4. Daniel says:

    Sarah Palin and crew are feeling un justly blamed for the actions of an extremist. Maybe they can ask the builders of Park 51 for advice on how to deal with that?

    1. DanTe says:

      Can’t take the logical rebuttals, so you divert. Typical brainless stoops.

  5. Nick says:

    To all you imbecilic self-rightious holier-than-thou T ARDS. How come I didn’t hear the likes of you complaining about “religious freedom” when we cracked down on the houses of worship for neo-nazi groups? HYPOCRITES.

    Yes, we have freedom of religion here. But last I checked, we have no freedom of homicidal cult practices. Idiots.

  6. rodney k. says:

    Hatred breeds hatred – it is a two way street.

    1. Nick says:

      Gee I don’t know. Someone likes to kill people. You want to “understand” them. I guess there’s always a holier-than-thou sanctimonious imbecile in any crowd.

  7. Daniel says:

    Also, there isn’t a country in the world where Al Qaeda or the Taliban have popular support. Not even in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They kill more Muslims than they kill anyone else for not being “true muslims.” That’s like saying the hutare militia or Timothy McVey represent all Christians.

  8. Daniel says:

    Doesn’t anyone relaize that there are islamic FDNY firemen? Including some who went into the towers? There were also 70 muslims that died while working in and around the towers. Also, these guys a Sufi Muslims. Al Qaeda has killed hundreds of Sufi muslims for not being right-wing enough. While this whole controversy was going on a few month ago, Al Qaeda bomed a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. So these people are regularly killed by Al Qaeda and we don’t want them to build because of something Al Qaeda did??? How is that American and how does that even make sense?

    1. Michael H. says:

      Daniel, don’t you know that sound reasoning and intelligent thought are not welcome around these parts?

      1. Nick says:

        Gee. We have white supremacists as firemen too. Does that mean we should allow the neo-nazis to build their temples?

        Stupid logic from stupid people.

      2. Daniel says:

        I’m from Texas. I’ve seen the Klan center in Pasedena….and I don’t think all Christians are like them, obviously, but the Klan has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in history. Why would I think 1.5 billion muslims are all like the few hundred al Qaeda when the KKK, a self-described Christian group just like Al Qaeda is a self-described Muslim group, have killed more Americans and have more members than Al Qaeda?

      3. DanTe says:

        You dum dum daniel just proved Nick’s point.

        DUM DUM

  9. Glenn says:

    Why is everyone so insensitve? Muslims have the right to build it there and should! This is America and everyone has a right to practice their own religion. As a Catholic, and am American I think its totally unjust for people to be against this Mosque!

    1. Nick says:

      You should work in tall burning buildings. Than maybe you’ll have the brains to see what folks with an IQ larger than your shoe size sees.

      1. Michael H. says:

        BRILLIANT response! You should be on the Harvard debate team. Yale will never see you coming!

        Glenn is absolutely right. We have freedom of religion here and while you are entitled to your opinion of the location of this community center and mosque, they have every right to put it there.

      2. Nick says:

        No problem with freedom of religion. But last I heard, there’s no such thing as freedom of homicidal cult practices. I didn’t hear the likes you complaining when we cracked down on neo-nazi religious groups. HYPOCRITE.

    2. American born says:

      Daniel and Glen have their point. First, muslims, like any other group have the right to build their house of worship where ever the feel necessary, should the regulations allow. Second, among people who died on 9/11 where also muslims. While it is true we look at people from the middle east with resentment, it is also true and we should know it is not fair for them.

  10. Michael says:

    youtube (dot) com/watch?v=QZpT2Muxoo0&feature=related

  11. RITA says:


    1. Michael H. says:

      Yes…because moderate Muslims who were a part of this community on 9/11 and who spoke out and continue to speak out against radicalism and extremism should be equated to Al Qaeda.

      Does being that ignorant hurt?

  12. akhdulha says:

    Enough with holy wars. God loves everyone.

    1. Nick says:

      No thanks. Your kind of “love” have consisted mainly of burning people alive, beheadings, and general murder.

      Keep your disease, called Islam, to yourself please. Us humans have enough infestations to deal with as it is.

      1. Daniel says:

        Yeah, like the violent right-wing Timothy McVey party we have going on in this country. We have our own extremists to worry about and I guarantee you the radical right in this country is just a few square meals and a regular job away from being just like Al Qaeda.

      2. Michael H. says:

        Nick, you seem to forget the VERY bloody histories of Christianity and Judaism. In fact, you’ve still got plenty of Christian and Jewish extremists committing atrocities in the name of their respective gods (Yahweh in Judaism and the Trinity in Christianity).

        Religious extremism is the disease, not Islam.

      3. otto says:

        Michael is correct. It is the extremism that is the problem – not the religions themselves.

        Historically, I believe more people have been killed in the name of Christianity than any other religion (the crusades, the inquisitions, etc.).

        Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism – just different paths leading to the same destination. But none preach about violence – only love. Once we as a people realize this, we move closer to enlightenment.

        Deus Te Amat 🙂

      4. Nick says:

        Always some imbecile who likes to quote “history”. All the “atrocities” committed in the past were due to expansion and conquest. What are the muslimes doing? Not conquest. They’re just killing for the allah of it.

        Why don’t you sanctimonious T ARDS go to Islam country and try an “intellectual” discussion with them. Take all your like minded imbeciles with you. It’ll do this society good when you’re shown the muslime method of “discussion”.

  13. Josh says:

    Kareem Abdul Jabbar could be the imam for all we care. Still doesn’t change the fact that the proposed location is provacative and unneccesary.

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