The organization planning to build an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center said the imam who has been the public face of the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, will be playing a reduced role in the facility.
The nonprofit group Park51 announced Friday that it had named a new imam to help lead religious programing so that Rauf could focus on other initiatives.
Rauf announced late this fall that he would be starting a global movement that would fight extremism and promote better relations between people of different faiths and cultures. He is set to start a national speaking tour Saturday in Detroit.
Rauf will remain on the Islamic center's board, Park51 said in a statement, but the group needed someone who could be more focused on 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 group said.
The group said that while his 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."
The backers of the community center and mosque are planning on 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.
The group named another New York City imam, Abdullah Adhami, as its senior adviser.
Adhami was born in Washington, D.C., and earned an architecture degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He has already performed guest lectures at the site of the planned center, and has had a presence in lower Manhattan since the early 1990s.
Park51, which is controlled by the Manhattan real estate investor who owns the site of the planned center, Sharif El-Gamal, said Adhami would be one of several imams who would eventually be picked to coordinate religious services in the building.