In this Aug. 22, 2010 file photo, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf addresses guests at an iftar dinner hosted by the U.S. Embassy's deputy chief of mission Stephanie Williams, at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Saar, Bahrain, west of the capital Manama. Rauf is now in the midst of a polarizing political, religious and cultural debate over his plans for a multi-story Islamic center that will feature a mosque, health club and theater about two blocks north of ground zero in New York.
The man at the center of the raging controversy that has become known as the "Ground Zero Mosque" -- really, a YMCA-like Islamic cultural center that is two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center -- has finally spoken out.
In a relatively long Op-Ed piece on the New York Times website posted Tuesday night, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam for the proposed Park51 community center, writes of his surprise at the opposition to the mosque as well as the support that he has received from various sides -- and he emphatically states that the project will not be stopped.
"As my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan," he begins. "I have been away from home for two months, speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels."
Rauf's silence had been deafening in the past few weeks as the roar surrounding the controversial center grew louder. He was on a goodwill mission sponsored by the U.S. government.
"We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House," Rauf writes. "More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons."
He also answers critics, such as gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio, who have called for an investigation into the funding for the Islamic center.
"I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet,)" he writes. "I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers."
In the end, Rauf notes that the center could be a rallying point for a future filled with more understanding between all religions, writing, "How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?"