It was just two years after 9/11 when I met Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when we jointly served the new coalition dedicated to uniting American religious leaders in expressing a shared vision for peace between Israel and Palestine, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (we call it NILI for short.)  I was immediately impressed with Imam Rauf’s gentle, quiet manner, his articulate and nuanced approach to Jewish-Christian-Muslim collaboration, and his progressive, peace-minded approach.  His leadership was evident to all of us, and was reinforced when we read his (then) new book “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”

Imam Rauf and I became colleagues and friends, and I was pleased to invite him to join my congregation for Shabbat worship and to address us, teaching an appreciation for the peace-loving, respectful, kind and universal messages of Islam. Coming from the Sufi Muslim tradition, a mystical strain within Islam that focuses on the shared love of all of humanity, Imam Rauf taught us of the perspectives of ASMA, the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Our community was warmed and impressed. We felt the political backlash against Muslims after 9/11 could and would be moderated through our partnership with communities such as those led by Imam Rauf. We felt hope in the face of our country’s fear.

I had the privilege of sitting with Imam Rauf and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, our friend through NILI, for a BBC interview. We chatted amiably as friends, expressing hope for a collaborative approach to a negotiated Mideast peace.  We weren’t being naïve; we understood the obstacles. But our friendship and shared concern emboldened us to feel optimistic.

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Imam Rauf very much since then, as he has been traveling the country and the world teaching this peaceful, inspiring message.  He has been tending to his community, long resident in Manhattan, as they grew and expanded their mission as peace-loving Muslims in a torn and traumatized city.

Imam Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, who is the Executive Director of ASMA, has made a significant name for herself as a teacher, leader and community organizer. She has many media credits, with a reputation for bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims together. As her bio says, “Khan frequently organizes and co-sponsors interfaith cultural events, including an interfaith banquet called The Cordoba Bread Fest in which Muslims, Christians and Jews — Children of Abraham – join to celebrate their common traditions as represented by a simple food: bread.”

Having been a friend and supporter of the work of Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy, I was particularly distressed to read reports of the opposition to their community’s efforts to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. In a way toward promoting reconciliation and transformation, their community sought to bring the presence of loyal American, compassionate and peaceful Muslims to a place marred by the hateful people who used their distorted version of Islam to murder and destroy. This redemption is not for them alone; it is a contribution of neighborly friendship to a community emerging from mourning to rebuilding.

Yes, there are hateful, angry radical Muslims who threaten us.  This is a frightening, painful, difficult international problem. But Imam Rauf and his community are not them. They do not threaten us. On the contrary, they seek to work with us to wipe out hate. They offer friendship and a contribution to American society. This is reminiscent of the generations of immigrants, our grandparents, who made America the rich multi-cultural tapestry that we cherish.

Those who speak angrily of Imam Rauf are spewing the very hate they seek to suppress from others. It is my hope that we can work together to expose the fallacies of this opposition. It is hope that we can join hands with our brothers and sisters of different faiths to bring about a new era of collaboration, friendship and healing.

I quote below Imam Rauf’s letter to his mailing list after the Community Board voted to allow his mosque’s project to proceed.  Congratulations, my friend.  Let us know how we can help!

Cordoba House – Community Board One Approves Community Center

By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

May 27, 2010


As-Salamu Al-Aykum,

Many of you have been reading about the Cordoba House: our plan to build a world-class community center in Lower Manhattan.  I am pleased to announce that on May 26th, Manhattan Community Board One has given their overwhelming endorsement, with a vote of 29 to 1 (with ten abstentions) for the Cordoba House project. See images of Community Board meeting

Their vote of confidence represents a community that shares our excitement in assisting with the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan by providing a model for robust interreligious cooperation that will be open to all.

I have worked as the Imam of Farah Mosque in Lower Manhattan for 27 years, I am tremendously grateful to Community Board One and Chairperson Julie Menin for allowing us the opportunity to give back to a community that has given us so much over the past three decades.

The goal of Cordoba House is to help individuals move past mere tolerance and into a realm of acceptance, peace and interdependence.  The decision of Community Board One represents a watershed moment in acknowledging the important nature of religious freedom in America.

As our project continues to progress, I continue to share my deepest thanks to you for your support of a brighter future for all of us.  I am beyond thankful to have politicians such as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Councilman Robert Jackson, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Comptroller John Liu who have offered their unequivocal support for Cordoba House and the fundamental American freedoms for which it stands.

With Warmest Regards,
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. ( He is the author of “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”