NEW YORK — It is “unethical, insensitive, and inhumane’’ to oppose the planned mosque near ground zero, more than 50 leading Muslim organizations said yesterday as they cast the intense debate as a symptom of religious intolerance in America.
The imam behind the project, meanwhile, was preparing to return to the United States after a taxpayer-funded goodwill tour to the Mideast, where he said the debate is about much more than “a piece of real estate.’’ Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf sidestepped questions about whether he would consider moving the $100 million mosque and Islamic community center farther from where Islamic terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center. Instead, he stressed the need to embrace religious and political freedoms.
Leaders of the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York, an Islamic leadership council that represents a broad spectrum of Muslims in the city, gathered at City Hall to issue a statement calling for a stop to religious intolerance and affirming the right of the center’s developers to build two blocks north of the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“We support the right of our Muslim brothers who wish to build that center there,’’ said Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif, president of the Majlis Ash-Shura. “However, the bigger issue and the broader issue is the issue of ethnic and religious hatred being spread by groups trying to stop the building of mosques and Islamic institutions across the country.’’
This is the first time that the council as a body has spoken out on the weeks-old debate over the proposed center.
“When the issue became hotter and hotter, and people made more statements against the mosques, then we decided to get involved in it,’’ said Syed Sajid Husain, the council’s secretary general.
Leaders of the council said that they were calling attention to what they contended was an anti-Islamic climate, and that the development of a center near ground zero is only one example.
They also cited a suspicious fire that damaged construction equipment at the site of a future mosque in Tennessee. The FBI is investigating that fire.
Islamic leaders yesterday said they would support a move to another location, if that’s what the imam and his supporters choose to do. But they emphasized that Muslims also were killed in the terrorist attacks and were first responders.
Early plans for the Islamic center call for a swimming pool, a Sept. 11 memorial open to the public, and a prayer space.
Rauf has been on a US State Department-sponsored interfaith tour of the Middle East for several weeks He was expected to return to the United States today.